Special Reports

150 Boise Icons: O'Farrell Cabin

Did you know? When the O'Farrells built their cabin, they chinked the spaces between the cottonwood logs with small branches and clay, said city historians. They covered the inside walls with fabric. The floor was dirt until O'Farrell covered it with planks in 1864. The cabin stands near an interestingly incongruous neighbor — the U.S. Federal Building, a classic of modern, mid-century style — designed by Charles Hummel.
Did you know? When the O'Farrells built their cabin, they chinked the spaces between the cottonwood logs with small branches and clay, said city historians. They covered the inside walls with fabric. The floor was dirt until O'Farrell covered it with planks in 1864. The cabin stands near an interestingly incongruous neighbor — the U.S. Federal Building, a classic of modern, mid-century style — designed by Charles Hummel. Idaho Statesman file

The O'Farrell Cabin is the oldest family home in Boise. And like the city and Fort Boise, it's 150 years old.

John O'Farrell arrived in New York City from Ireland in 1843. After serving in the British Navy and earning a medal of valor in the Crimean War, he returned to the U.S. and became a prospector. In 1863, he and his wife, Mary, traveled to the Boise Valley by wagon, said city historians.

In June of that year, just weeks before pioneers platted Boise's first 10 blocks, O'Farrell cleared land on what's now Fort Street and built his cabin of cottonwood. According to old maps, it originally sat across the street from where it is now, just east of the U.S. Courthouse at 450 W. Fort St.

The O'Farrells became prominent citizens. Mary was responsible for the first Catholic services in Boise after she noticed priests passing by the cabin and asked them in. Clergymen held services at the cabin for several years.

John O'Farrell was one of the original investors in the New York Canal and served a term in the Territorial Legislature. The O'Farrells eventually moved out of the cabin into a frame house before moving into the large white brick house that stands today at the corner of 4th and Franklin streets. The couple raised seven children and adopted seven more.

The cabin has had many owners. In 1910, the O'Farrell children donated it to the Daughters of the American Revolution. In 1957, ownership passed to the Sons and Daughters of the Idaho Pioneers, then to the city.

In 1999, third-generation Boise architect Charles Hummel and the Columbian Club, one of the city's oldest service clubs, organized a drive to save the cabin. The city's Millennium Fund also contributed.

In 2002, at a cost of $51,000, craftsmen restored the cabin to its 1912 condition, down to its roof shingles and original paint colors.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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