Photo courtesy Idaho State Historical Society, 358
John McClellan, Boise Homesteader c. 1863
One of the first white settlers to inhabit what we now call the River Street neighborhood was John McClellan. He was a native of Ohio who had emigrated with his parents and siblings to Oregon in 1850. In the early 1860s McClellan made some unsuccessful attempts at mining and prospecting in Idaho. In 1863 he claimed 80 acres on the north side of the Boise River to the west of the present day 9th Street. He built a cabin with Dr. William J. Thompson who had an adjoining homestead claim. There was an established ford across the river used by Native Americans.
By April 1864 McClellan and Dr. Thompson petitioned the Territorial Legislature to franchise the Ada Ferry Company, which gave them a monopoly on river crossing 1 mile either side of 8th Street. The rope drawn ferry boat was built by McClellan out of Logs he had floated down the river and sawed into lumber. In 1866 with a newly renewed ferry license plans were made to build a toll bridge. When the Boise City Bridge Company (McClellan and Thompson) opened their bridge for use in December 1867 the ferry was taken apart. It was a profitable business but they sold their controlling interest by October of the next year.
After the sale of the business McClellan spent his time farming and bee keeping. He developed the Riverside Addition which was platted in December 1890. He built a frame house at 525 S. 12th Street and lived there with his sister Letta Ann. In 1910 at age 83 he was honored along with other Idaho Pioneers at the 75th birthday celebration of James A. Pinney(the mayor of Boise when Idaho Territory became a state).
“Brief Local News.” The Idaho Daily Statesman, 28 February 1910
Johnson, Richard Z., ed. Illustrated History of The State of Idaho. Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1899
“Pioneers of Idaho Around the Festal Board.” The Idaho Daily Statesman, 2 October 1910
Witherell, Jim. History Along the Greenbelt. Idaho State Historical Society, 1989

In 1864 homesteaders John McClellan and William L. Thompson established the Ferry service, depicted here, at the well-travelled ford where Capitol and Ninth Streets cross the river today.
Image from The Founding Fathers of Boise by Hugh H. Hartman Boise, Idaho: H.H. Hartman, 1989

By 1864 the newly formed city of Boise had developed around the site of Fort Boise and could claim over 1,600 residents within its city limits. With such tremendous growth, Boise replaced Lewiston as the capital of the newly formed Idaho Territory.  Immediately the founding fathers and leaders of Boise, knowing how vital railroads were to the stability of the community and economy of any developing settlement, began to make plans for the railroad to come to Boise.  They secured right-of-way along Front Street for construction of a rail line hoping that the Union Pacific might  come to town.  Then they started to build ditches.

New York Canal

The irrigation projects in Boise enabled locals to transport water from the Boise River to farms on the Boise Bench and other remote areas. Before significant irrigation in the valley, farmers had to locate their farmstead within close proximity to a substantial water source, usually the Boise River. Tom Davis, for example, settled alongside the river in current day Julia Davis Park where he dug a ditch from the river to his orchard. In fact, farmers utilized much of the land along the Boise River in the early years of Boise history as few deemed it worthy of little else due to flooding. As county population grew, however, citizens realized the need for irrigable land beyond the riverbanks. Many looked to the large expanse of land south of Boise just below the Boise Bench as well as downstream to the west.
In the early 1880s, led by Arthur D. Foote, engineer, New York investors set about planning a much larger and more acceptable scheme to irrigate the Boise Valley. Foote surveyed the site and proposed a main canal departing the Boise River east of the city with several lateral ditches connecting to various locations throughout the valley. Financial problems plagued the project from the beginning as several different parties took turns controlling the endeavor.
The diversion of much of the Boise River allowed settlers to begin developing residential space along the river bed.  As early as 1885, the northern boundary of John McClellan’s and Dr. William L. Thompson’s riverside property was sold to developers like future Boise Mayor and “Beer Baron”* John Lemp.
 *Beer Baron of Boise is a book by Dr. Carol MacGregor
John Lemp Portrait, Idaho State Historical Society, 430-A
Available at Ethnic Landmarks

Sanborn map, 1885, courtesy Pam Demo
The Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, but it bypassed not only Boise, but the Idaho Territory altogether. In 1884 the Union Pacific began construction on the Oregon Short Line, but Boise was once again bypassed when they chose to build the line through Kuna and Nampa instead. The city finally got its wish when a branch line was built from Nampa, although it was unique in the fact that trains had to back up the entire twenty miles from Nampa.
In 1887 the city constructed  a simple board and batten gable roof depot on the Boise Bench, and citizens celebrated the arrival:
“The long hoped for railroad has reached Boise City.  The novelty of seeing a train of cars on the opposite side of Boise River was enjoyed by the people on Saturday last [. . .] On Sunday the road from town to the depot was lined with people nearly all day.  This distance is about a mile, and the more fortunate ones rode in carriages, others in lumber wagons, and others on horseback, while hundreds of men, women and children walked over.  It is safe to say that 1000 visited the railroad Sunday.”
Idaho Daily Statesman, July 9 and 28, 1887
The depot was located south of downtown Boise at the end of a mile long dirt road and across two different bridges, one crossing the Boise River and then another at the steep climb up the bench, terminating at the depot, the journey was loathed by many of the citizens of Boise who dreaded the dusty or sometimes muddy one-mile journey to and from “the stub,” a name callously applied by locals.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Company, 1893

Miller’s Addition, 1890
Before the completion of the downtown depot, River Street area developed into a white middle class neighborhood. Many early families owned businesses or establishments downtown.

A Bird’s-eye View of Boise City, 1890
Available at Special Collections, Albertsons Library

Marie and Charles Hummel, 1882

Image from:

Charles Hummel

Charles F. Hummel was one of the influential architects of many of Boise’s early buildings. He was born in Germany and was trained in architecture, civil engineering, and drafting. He and his wife Marie were married in 1882. They came with 2 children to Chicago in 1885 where he worked in carpentry. By 1890 they headed to Seattle, then Anacortes, then Everett doing house building and drafting. The Financial Panic of 1893 left the family in very poor circumstances. Charles and Marie found a promotional flyer about prosperity in the Boise Valley which encouraged their move to Boise in 1895. Hummel went to work with the J.E. Tourtellotte Company.

In January 1899 three lots in the City Park Addition were sold to Marie Hummel. The Hummel’s home was on S. 13th Street. According to their son F. C. (Fritz) Hummel, “Thirteenth Street included many of the better medium-priced homes in the neighborhood.” In January 1902 J.E. Tourtellotte announced in the Idaho Daily Statesman that Mr. C. F. Hummel had become a partner in the company. Hummel was an integral part of the planning for the Idaho State Capitol building and many other Boise landmarks. Two of the Hummel sons joined the architectural firm as well as a grandson, also Charles F. Hummel. The name Tourellotte is no longer connected with the company, but Hummel Architects PLLC still exists.

Hummel, Charles and Woodward, Tim. Quintessential Boise: An Architectural Journey. Boise State University College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs, 2010
Williams, Royce A. “Stacking the Stone”. Capitol of Light.
Zarkin, David. “Once Proud River Street Area Hosted Boise’s Cultural, Sporting Activities.” The Idaho Daily Statesman, 11 March 1968, p. 14

Hummel Residence 411 S. 13th Street, built c. 1899

Boise celebrated when the impressive new stone depot was erected at 10th and Front Streets near the town’s center. The structure and corresponding tracks, completed in 1893, brought immediate change to the city of Boise as the tracks brought the trains alongside Front Street through town.

Oregon Shortline Train at Old Passenger Depot, Boise, Idaho Front and 10th Streets ca. 1900. Courtesy Idaho Historical Society 69-4.40/B

close up of a Sanborn map from 1893 showing the location of the new depot

Detail of “Oregon Short Line Railroad Boise Branch” 1907
Oregon Short Line Railroad
Collection: Boise City Archives

Detail of “Railroad through Town, Original Map” c.1893
Collection: Boise City Archives
The population explosion in Boise between 1890 and 1920 is mainly attributed to the railroads, which made plausible a federal works program that not only provided irrigation water to more and more distant desert farming operations, but also provided a number of blue-collar trades to immigrants and other minorities as well as war veterans and out-of-work laborers. The right of way cut through downtown Boise, and River Street residents found themselves on the south side of the tracks.

Lee’s Addition 1903
By the turn of the century, the orchards and open spaces that were once owned by men such as Thompson, McClellan, and Miller were subdivided and developed for residential housing. In 1903-1906 homes in these additions were being built to accommodate the arrival of tenant laborers, and working class families.  The homes themselves are quite representative of the forces that drew its residents and reflect the industry that created the neighborhood.
The completion of the transcontinental rail services allowed goods to be shipped across the country quicker than had ever been possible.  Entrepreneurs took advantage of this expedition and by 1906-1910 warehouse companies like Sears Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, and Aladdin Homes were selling and shipping prefabricated homes across the nation.  Alonzo Eastman was a carpenter employed at a Coast Lumber, a local lumber yard, who built several homes in and around Lee Street in the early twentieth century.

Sears Home Catalogue, Model No. 115; ($452 to $1,096)

Image used with permission from:

Amos Lee

Amos Lee and his wife Lelia bought and developed the Lee’s Addition in the present day River Street neighborhood. He was born in 1841 in Iowa. He served as a member of Company M of the 3rd Colorado Calvary at the Battle of Sand Creek (also known as the Sand Creek Massacre) in Colorado in 1864. By the early 1890s he was in Idaho mining in the Neal District 15 miles east of Boise. He was one of the owners of the successful Hidden Treasure Mine. Amos came to Boise on occasion with gold to be assayed and stayed at the Overland Hotel. In July 1895 he and his wife Lelia were married and lived in the Neal District. They had two daughters, Eila and Lilah.
In the first few years of the 1900s Amos and Lelia started buying property in Boise. As it turned out their marriage was a troubled one. A 1901 notice in the Idaho Daily Statesman Amos Lee advised “To Whom it May Concern” that he would not be responsible for any of his wife’s debts. In January of 1904 Lelia filed for divorce on the charges of cruel and inhuman treatment which Amos contested. Lelia asked for equitable division of their property, alimony, custody of the children and a restraining order. By the time the divorce was final an agreement had been reached that Amos would receive all the property but would make payments to Lelia. From 1906 to 1907 Amos lived in a house at 1115 Lee Street which had been built in 1904. In 1907 he moved to the Idaho Soldiers’ Home. He died there in 1909 and was interred in the Fort Boise Military Cemetery.
“Hotel Arrivals.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 11 October 1892, p.2
“Hotel Arrivals.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 1 June 1893, p.5
“A Rich Strike.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 22 July 1894, p. 3
“Notice.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 29 November 1901, p. 6
“Past Week’s Sales.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 1 January 1903, p. 8
“Asks Divorce for Cruelty.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 1 January 1904, p.7
“Lee Case Settled.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 26 June 1904, p. 8
“Hicks Acquitted.” Idaho Daily Statesman, 23 December 1905, p.3

Photo Courtesy Idaho State Historical Society,  71-185.9

Riverside Park est. 1902

Riverside Park was a private park opened in April 1902. There was a fee for all the amusements except family picnicking. The amusements included a dance pavilion, a bandstand, an outdoor roller rink and two major attractions, a theater and a baseball field. Patrons entered the park on Miller Street between 10th and 11th.
The park housed two early exhibition baseball teams, the Shamrocks and the Senators. When newer parks in the city gained popularity (Pierce Park and White City Park) Riverside Park declined in use. Riverside Park closed in 1912. The vacant lot was used to host traveling circuses and then was divided and sold. Between the 1930s and 1950s the baseball field was redeveloped and used again for little league and community sponsored teams.
Wells, Merle. Boise: An Illustrated History. Woodland Hills, CA: Windsor Publications, Inc., 1982
Witherell, Jim. History Along the Greenbelt. Idaho State Historical Society, 1989
Zarkin, David. “Once Proud River Street Area Hosted Boise’s Cultural, Sporting Activities.” The Idaho Daily Statesman, 11 March 1968, p. 14
 Photo courtesy Idaho State Historical Society, 74-105.23

 #34, Riverside Park, Sanborn map, 1903

In the News

“All records for attendance at Riverside were broken yesterday when the popular resort entertained at different times more than 20,000 people.  At the exercises in the morning the park held fully 7000 people, while not less than 5000 saw the ball-game and attended the dance in the afternoon.  During the evening crowds surged into the park by the thousand and almost every inch of space was occupied.  Despite the enormous crush, not a single unpleasantness occurred, which speaks well for the management of the city’s breathing place.  The vaudeville performance attracted a prodigious gathering and every number received great applause [sic].  The dancing pavilion was packed until late at night with a merry throng and the floor capacity was taxed to the utmost to accommodate the dancers.”

Idaho Daily Statesman, July 5, 1903 (parade pictured below.)

Photo Courtesy Idaho State Historical Society 360-B
In the summer of 1906, after the earthquake and fire in San Francisco, the San Francisco Opera company was left without a venue, so they performed at the Riverside Park Theater for three months.

Idaho Daily Statesman July 26,1906

San Francisco Opera advertisement on the trolley for Riverside Park, 1906.

Photo courtesy Idaho State Historical Society, 62-53.4

Boise, 1917

Sanborn map, 1922

Between 1917 and 1938 at the intersection of Pioneer, Ash and Lee Streets (highlighted above),  lived a Basque family who let their home to borders, Basque sheepherders who were gone for long periods of time. The long structure at the rear was reportedly a barn where the owner, a sheep farmer, Mr. Aldecocea housed his sheep.
Photo Above:  Henry and Eustaquio “Stack” Yribar, dressed to play pala (1939)
Photo Below: Henry and Espe Alegria (1979)
Pictures courtesy of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center
Henry Alegria
Henry Alegria was born July 15, 1900 in a fishing village in Ondarroa, Spain.  His father ran a horse stable, and his mother ran a grocery store which was below their living quarters.  Alegria was one of nine children.  His father and some of his siblings moved to America, and the rest of the family followed later.  At the age of 11, he moved with his family to Boise, Idaho.  Alegria and his father worked at several Basque boarding houses, hauled bed roles to several homes, and hauled trash to the city dump, now Julia Davis Park.  Alegria also delivered milk and bakery items to several Basque homes, and boarding houses.
While in Boise he went to school and learned English.  In 1913 his parents died, and he stayed with family friends for a short time.  He later moved to Los Angles to be with his sister.  Years later, in 1936 he moved back to Boise and opened a service station business with three of his brothers, at 5th and Main in Boise.  Alegria was very involved with sports, and for over 60 years he was connected with boxing, amateur and professional.  He trained them, managed them, and worked as a judge and referee.  For 40 years he also played amateur handball and paddle ball in the United States.  The paddle he used from 1916-1919 is in the Idaho Historical Museum.
It was very common for Basques to stay at boarding houses.  Many of the early Basques in Boise, were sheepherders, and they chose to live in a community with other Basques who shared their language, food, and culture.  By living with other Basques they had their own community and a home away from home.  Often men immigrated to Boise alone, and saved their money to send for their wives and children at a later time.  The boarding houses were a temporary family unit for men away from their families.
Alegria, Henry.  75 Years of Memoirs.  The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, ID 1981.

photo courtesy Idaho State Historical Society, Photo #81-19.5
Clara and Warner Lewis Terrell
Clara Stevens was born to a farming family in Rigby, Idaho.  Her parents were born in Utah and her great grandfather migrated with Brigham Young to Utah.  Her father grew potatoes and sugar beets.  The Stevens were the only African Americans in the area.  Clara and her two brothers attended the neighborhood school and were the only colored children there.  Occasionally they were called names; however they stood up for themselves.  Clara once was expelled for fighting with another student who picked on her.  Both students were expelled, but were allowed back to school after apologizing. She was raised Mormon, but later attended a Methodist church in Boise.
Clara Stevens married Warner Lewis Terrell in 1935.  Warner was born and raised in Boise, Idaho and attended Boise High School.  Schools were not segregated then, however some families did not approve of integration.
Clara married in 1935, and lived at 527 S. 14th St., Boise, Idaho.  The Terrells lived in the diverse River Street neighborhood.  They had two children, a daughter, Zenobia, and a son, Warner Jr.  During their time in Boise the children attended the neighborhood school, because schools were not segregated.  Mr. Terrell had attended Boise High School.  Both Clara and her husband Warner worked at the Owyhee Hotel.  Clara checked wraps at the Owyhee Hotel, the Hillcrest Country Club, and the Arid Club.  She worked when they had banquets and dances at the various clubs.  There were also other African Americans who worked at the clubs as waiters, and janitors.
According to Clara Terrell’s experiences in Boise, discrimination was rare, and she rarely experienced it herself. She did notice, however, that when African Americans were looking for a place to rent, they would call for an appointment and would hear that the property had already been rented.  During World War II, there was an increase of African Americans living and working in the Boise area.
Washington State University Archives & Oral Histories

Mr. & Mrs. Terrell Wedding photo courtesy Idaho State Historical Society Photo, # 81-19.2

Idaho State Historical Society, Photo # 81-91.16b Bud Stevens (left) &
Warner Terrell (right) working at the Arid Club, Boise, c. 1940

Terrell Family photo courtesy of the Idaho State Historical Society, Photo #81-19.10

Signs of Decay

Ballgame Advertisement Riverisde Park
Idaho Daily Statesman 3 august 1902, p.5
The baseball field was rezoned in 1928 to accommodate the commercial interests in the city.  In the 1960s the city sold the baseball fields to a trucking warehouse firm.  The massive structure consumed what was left of the open space by the river, and the neighborhood was officially surrounded by industry.
 In 1966 River Street became a through-street from Americana Boulevard on the west all the way to Capitol and Ninth Streets on the east.  The city “reclaimed” several homes on Ash and Pioneer Streets in order to connect the east and west side of River Street between Americana Boulevard and Ninth and Capitol Streets.  Americana was quickly being zoned to embrace commercial buildings, like K-Mart, which quickly put the local River Street grocers out of business.  This left the neighborhood truly isolated, without access to transportation, recreation, and even resources like food and home products.
The decline of the railroad began in the late1960s when the construction of the interstate 80 (later 84) cut into the rail’s profits.  The ‘connector’, I-184 leading right downtown followed in the defunct railroad’s track.
The transformation of River Street is often referred to solely within the framework of Boise’s larger Urban Renewal issue.  In the 1970s the city was looking for a way to modernize and accommodate big business.  This poorly managed operation demolished blocks of historic buildings in the hopes of luring in business developers.  In several cases the empty lots remain that way today, and the program’s board has been severely criticized for their decisions (see below).
The history and the decline of this particular neighborhood, viewed alongside its economic and social development is much older than Urban Development, which was mainly concerned with an eight block section of downtown Boise, north of the tracks.  The neighborhood has a rich history that is underscored by its impersonal and run-down quality is one created by neglect, not nature.

“They tore down Chinatown. The idiots tore down Chinatown.“ J.L. Davis, 1974
Further Reading for Boise Urban Renewal:

Sanborn and city plat maps were courtesy of “Boise’s River Street Neighborhood: Lee, Ash, Lover’s Lane/Pioneer Streets, the south side of the tracks”, a thesis by Pam Demo, University of Idaho, 2006.