What were once sleepy, rural villages are now considered Boise's bedroom communities, including Meridian, Eagle, Nampa and Caldwell, all located west of Boise off Interstate 84. Boise proper is built around breathtaking mountains and sagebrush desert. Seven distinct districts, each with its own feel and attraction, introduce old Boise to new.
North End: Boise's Soul
Tree-lined Harrison Boulevard's historic mansions set the tone for this old neighborhood. Including the downtown area, this northern district is referred to by locals as the North End. Young couples looking for charm are fixing up North End homes, creating a renewed interest in one of Boise's original neighborhoods.
In the middle of the North End, is Hyde Park with its boutiques and popular eateries like Lucky 13. For more than 20 years the Hyde Park Street Fair, has set the tone for this funky neighborhood. Spilling into Camel's Back Park, one of Boise's more popular open spaces, the fair attracts visitors from all over the Treasure Valley.
East End: Mixing Old With New
Like the North End, northeastern Boise's highlight is a historic street, Warm Springs Avenue. Posh Victorian homes, many among Boise's first residences, make the Avenue a tourist attraction. Many of the homes are geothermally heated, taking advantage of hot water sources for heat. This neighborhood, often referred to as the East End, dates even further back than the Victorian residences. Oregon Trail emigrants, following the Boise River, rambled through the area long before the mansions were built.
However, old Boise is preparing to meet with new Boise. A large community, Harris Ranch, is in the planning. What will be the Boise's biggest development project is not without controversy. Harris Ranch will not be northeastern Boise's only new neighborhood. Stretching high into the foothills, this northeastern district includes many modern homes with enviable views of the city.
The district also boasts some of Boise's most impressive parks. Julia Davis Park, hugs the neighborhood's southern boundary while Municipal Park reaches its eastern extreme. The educational Morrison-Knudsen Nature Center is one of northeastern Boise's main attractions.
Northwest: Horses and High Prices
Merging farmland with modern subdivisions, this northwestern district is a good example of the changes Boise is undergoing. From its eastern boundary at 36th Street, it almost touches the Boise River to the south and stretches north to include one of Boise's most exclusive subdivisions, Quail Ridge.
Although new homes punctuate the landscape, there is still plenty of room for horse pastures and older farm homes in this neighborhood, dating back to the 1880s. One of the main roads, Collister, is named for Dr. George Collister, a Boise pioneer. Pierce Park Road takes its name from Walter Pierce whose park-building efforts have been transformed into the Plantation Golf Course.
Garden City: City Within City
Named for historic gardens raised by Chinese immigrants, this small city within Boise's boundaries stretches along Chinden Boulevard, also named for a Chinese garden. The 50-year-old city has a tarnished past from legalized gambling in the late 1940s to adult bookstores. However, much of Garden City's shady past is a thing for the history books.
Today its main attraction is the Western Idaho Fairgrounds, home to the Western Idaho Fair. Les Bois Park offers horse racing while professional baseball can be found at the Hawks Memorial Stadium. Park and history lovers can both enjoy Centennial Park, honoring Garden City's original Chinese residents.
Boise Bench: 1950s Suburbia Meets Hewlett-Packard
Not that long ago, the Boise Bench was a mishmash of 1950s brick bungalows and grander homes overlooking downtown Boise and its string of parks. Today, the Bench's character has changed because of Hewlett-Packard (HP), Boise's second largest employer, and the Boise Towne Square Mall.
Divided by Highway 184, the Bench falls into the West Bench, dominated by HP and the Mall, and the Central Bench, home to 1950s suburbia. Boise's largest parks, Ann Morrison Park and Kathryn Albertson Park, can be found in the Central Bench. The Boise Train Depot with its Platt Gardens is also located here, offering visitors priceless views of downtown Boise and the surrounding mountains.
One word says it all for this southeastern district. Micron Technology's complex dominates the far eastern corner of this new Boise neighborhood. Growing along with Micron, the area has sprouted new subdivisions, housing Micron employees, and the 150-acre Simplot Sports Complex.
Even though the new threatens to overshadow the old here, southeastern Boise is also home to Barber Park, the official beginning for the longtime summer tradition of rafting the Boise River. Boise State University and the picturesque Park Center Boulevard are also found in southeastern Boise. Park Center hosts many corporate offices, hotels, posh eateries and the exclusive Boise River neighborhood, River Run.
Southwest: Big Sky
Just across Interstate 84, this southwestern neighborhood unfolds across a high desert plain with endless views. There is less of everything in this area; less development, less shopping and less services. The Boise Municipal Airport, Idaho Military History Museum, and National Interagency Fire Center are the tourist highlights. Planning is underway for a 163-acre park, which would make it Boise's largest.
Southwest Boise also offers little in the way of transportation services. In fact, bus services are limited in Boise, but improving each year. The Boise Urban Stages (BUS) offers a comprehensive system through downtown Boise and the main shopping corridors. However, Idahoans, like most Americans, love their cars and until recently traffic jams were unknown. With growth have come the typical city problems of rush hour traffic and crowded streets on a road system that was not designed for heavy traffic.
Growth has actually emphasized Boise's natural features. The imposing Boise Ridge, with its brown mountains reaching about 8,000-feet in height, is more important to Boiseans because of the growth spurt. In the winter residents dash to nearby Bogus Basin for a few hours of night skiing or explore the Ridge to River Trail System on foot or by bicycle. Boise's recreation hub, the Boise River and Greenbelt Pathway, links the downtown area and a string of parks for fishing, in-line skating, biking, or picnicking. As more people make Boise home, local efforts to preserve Boise's main attraction, its outdoors, will become more important.
Who would have predicted Boise's growth? From the butt of late night comedians' jokes to repeated listings on best places to live lists, Boise defies classification. Its humble homesteading beginnings continue to be seen in the polite, hospitable approach its residents take to visitors. Regardless of its future, Boise will always offer visitors historic and modern neighborhoods that brush up against some of the most spectacular scenery in the United States.
History of BoiseA lush green valley appeared in front of the early 1800s French-Canadian fur-trappers like an oasis rising out of the dry, brown high desert. Overcome with excitement, they are rumored to have exclaimed "Les Bois! Les Bois!", literally translated as "the wooded" in French. This historic utterance not only named a city, but also established Boise's nickname, "City of Trees."
It wasn't long before the Hudson Bay Company, also drawn to the Boise River's fertile ground, established Fort Boise in 1834 near present-day Parma, about 40 miles from Boise. The Fort hosted a wide range of travelers from professional soldiers to fur-trappers.
The Fort's most famous guests were thousands of people making the long journey from Missouri to Oregon on the Oregon Trail. After 1,554 miles of travel, the immigrants arrived at Fort Boise's protective gates. An 1843 immigrant remarked that his stay at the Fort had been "exceedingly polite, courteous, and hospitable." Continuing on their journey, the Oregon travelers followed the Boise River's southern bank.
Overwhelmed by Indian attacks, Fort Boise closed in 1854. Interest in Fort Boise was renewed when gold was discovered in the Boise Basin. A new fort was built in the crossroads of the Oregon Trail and Boise Basin and Owyhee gold mines. With this kind of traffic, Boise prospered and soon became known as a bustling commercial hub.
One German immigrant saw the miners and cowboys trampling through Boise as thirsty customers. Opening his brewery in 1864, John Lemp eventually became known as the "Beer King of Idaho." When he died in 1912, he had lived in Boise longer than any other resident. Today, visitors can stroll along Lemp Street in Boise's North End.
The same year Lemp began peddling his brew, Boise was incorporated and named Idaho's territorial capital. Except for a short decline in population after the end of the gold rush, Boise has been growing ever since. Prosperity brought the need for a federal mint or assay office, and in 1872, after one year of construction, the US Assay Office opened in Boise. Compared to a villa or chateau, this National Historic Landmark today houses the State Historic Preservation Office.
Unfortunately, the good times also brought organized crime and petty criminals. On July 4, 1870 construction for the Idaho Penitentiary began. Local newspapers noted that it was ironic that the end of freedom for many began on Independence Day. Taking more than a decade to complete, the structure was mostly built with convict labor. The prison closed in 1973, but the Old Idaho Penitentiary is open today as a historic landmark and home to the Idaho Botanical Gardens. The Idaho Transportation Museum is also found in the complex along with Ken Reese's Gospel Trailer, representing the time of traveling preachers.
Another important edifice, the original brick Capitol building, located between Sixth and Seventh and Jefferson and State streets, was built in 1886. Four years later, Idaho was named a state. The late 1800s are well preserved in the magnificent homes along Warm Springs Avenue. A walk along tree-lined Warm Springs Avenue is like being transported back in time.
Idaho's new government soon outgrew the Capitol, and in 1905 a new building was commissioned. Local sandstone from east Boise's Tablerock Quarry was used as well as convict labor. The sandstone and marble Capitol was completed in 1920, costing tax payers a little over $2 million.
Like many other high desert cities, Boise's growth depended on water. The expanding use of irrigation in the early 1900s brought farming families to the Boise Valley. Plans were made by the Boise Irrigation Project to construct the Arrowrock Dam, the tallest dam in the world, and other Boise River dams.
The early 1900s brought other firsts to Boise. In 1914 Boise welcomed Moses Alexander as Idaho's governor, the first Jewish governor in the United States. Another first in the nation took place in 1926 when Boise received commercial airmail.
One of Boise's most prominent companies also saw its beginnings in the early 1900s. In 1912 Harry W. Morrison and Morris Han Knudson joined forces to start Morrison-Knudsen, an engineering, construction and manufacturing company. Morrison-Knudsen had its hand in some of the century's largest construction projects, including the Hoover Dam, San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Trans Alaska Pipeline.
Always a hospitable host to immigrants, Boise opened its gates in the 1930s to Basque travelers leaving their home in the Western Pyrenees Mountains for America's fortunes. Although the Basque started migrating to Idaho in the 1800s, the 1930s saw the largest migration, making Idaho home to the most Basque immigrants in the United States.
Even the Great Depression couldn't hold back Boise's growth. Boise State University welcomed its first students in 1932. Joe Albertson opened his first grocery store in Boise in 1939, marking the beginning of Albertsons Supermarkets. J.R. Simplot started processing potatoes in nearby Caldwell in 1941. Today both Simplot and Albertsons are among Idaho's largest employers.
During World War II, Boise's Gowen Field hosted airmen as they trained for battle. Nearby Mountain Home opened the Mountain Home Air Force Base in 1942. Unfortunately, not all of Idaho's WWII history is worth bragging about. Japanese-Americans spent part of WWII in an internment camp near Eden, about an hour's drive from Boise.
Boise continued to prosper during the years following WWII. In 1957 two smaller lumber companies combined forces, creating Boise Cascade. Today the pulp and paper products company has two million acres of timberland under its control. It isn't surprising that in 1959 Pete Oleson, president of the local Chambers of Commerce, coined Boise valley's nickname, the Treasure Valley. He said that the name emphasized the "treasure chest of resources and opportunities in the area."
Boise was slow to respond to the tumultuous 1960s. The first civil rights march did not take place until 1968, after Martin Luther King's assassination. But it didn't take the Boise legislature long to catch on, creating the Idaho Human Rights Commission in 1969.
The past 20 years of Boise's history have seen tremendous growth closely linked with two companies, Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology. Hewlett-Packard created its Boise Division in 1973, specializing in scanners and printers. Today, it is Boise's second largest employer.
The honor of largest employer goes to Micron Technology. Founded in 1978 by three engineers, Micron Technology designs and manufactures semiconductor memory components. Micron celebrated its 20th anniversary as one of the largest memory chip producers in the world.
While Boise's high-tech industries continue to grow into the 21st century, it is easy to get lost in the busy fast-paced world of corporate culture. However, Idahoans are constantly reminded of their westward expansion roots.
Visitors need only take a stroll through the Pioneer Village at Julia Davis Park to feel Boise's humble beginnings. Two 1863 log cabins with dovetail joinery are open for exploration. The 1909 Colson Homestead Shack is typical of the wood houses that homesteaders built across southern Idaho.
Compare this home to the large Micron complex flanking I-84 and you will understand how far Boise has come in a relatively short time. Boise's future, as its past has proven, should be spectacular.
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