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
Marie and Charles Hummel, 1882
Image from: http://idahoptv.org/productions/specials/capitoloflight/article-02.cfm
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
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: http://www.searsarchives.com/homes/images/1908-1914/1908_0115.jpg
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