Idaho History

It was barely the 20th century when Julia Davis Park started a grand Boise movement

“This city should have a park,” observed the Idaho Statesman in July 1889, and in April 1890 it asked: “Will Boise ever have a public park? Yes, but it will be after the land will have attained great value. Perhaps the city will be better able to bear the expense then than now.”

In September 1889, Thomas Jefferson Davis appeared before the City Council and offered to donate between 30 and 40 acres of riverside land west of the Cottonwood Creek flume for a park – if the city would care for and protect the property from the ravages of high water and would call it Davis Park. This matter was referred to the committee on flumes and gulches with the city engineer, city attorney and mayor.

The city did not accept this gift of 40 acres along the river, to be named Julia Davis Park in memory of Thomas Davis’ late wife, until November 1907, when Mayor John M. Haines signed the agreement.

Tom Davis was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, on Jan. 2, 1838. In 1861 he and his brother, Frank, came west across the plains in a band of 75 men who were bent on finding their fortunes in the newly discovered gold mines of Idaho. On July 7, 1863, Tom became a founding father when a band of eight men met in the Davis cabin and laid out the town to be called Boise City after the nearby Boise River. Tom soon saw that there was a promising market for fruit and vegetables in the fast-growing little burg. He planted a garden, and as soon he could get the seedlings, he started an orchard.

In the summer of 1869, a young woman named Julia McCrumb came to Boise City from Ontario, Canada, to visit relatives. Julia married Tom Davis in 1871, and by then he was a prominent orchardist and major land owner. The couple would have six children. Julia was 60 when she died in the fall of 1907.

In February 1908, a crew from the city engineer’s department set to work platting the land and calculating the steps to be taken to protect it from flood damage. Stone walls were considered as part of the plan to divert the water away from the park. “In recent years there have been overflows, but no serious ones, although they served to give an idea of what might happen if more water than on these occasions might come down the river.”

“CHAIN OF PARKS PROPOSED,” was the Statesman’s headline on March 28, 1908. “An initial step toward beautifying Boise the Beautiful was taken at the meeting of the city council last night when the report of A.E. Carlson’s committee on parks was submitted. It recommends the establishment of a chain of parks that will afford breathing places for the older folks and playgrounds for children from all parts of the city and the construction of a boulevard along the river that will not only serve as a driveway but protect the city from all danger of overflow in time of high water.”

By March 1919, Julia Davis Park was developing in several directions. The Statesman reported that month: “Park Zoo Attains Dignity; Baby Lions Arrive Today. These were not African lions but American mountain lions, otherwise known as cougars. Soon Julia Davis Park will resound with a new variety of mews, barks, or whatever sound mountain lions are supposed to emit when they express their thoughts aloud.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email

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