Boise is a thriving city in the high desert with a continually evolving economic base and growing population. Native Americans first lived in the Boise valley and developed a unique culture over thousands of years. Despite hardships, their descendants remain here and in the region. People with roots from all over the world have called Boise home, their reasons for coming as varied as their backgrounds. The abundance of some natural resources have attracted industry and scarcity of other has cultivated ingenuity and adaption. Boise is known for its picturesque environment, which has both been neglected and treasured.
Boise Valley before 1863
The Boise River formed a fertile valley nestled between mountains to the north and the Bench lands to the south. This geography created a natural trade corridor for indigenous people where they hunted, gathered plants, and fished for salmon. The Shoshone, Bannock, and Paiutes gathered every year in the valley to trade with other tribes and visit sacred sites for healing.
European and American explorers and missionaries began arriving in the early 1800s. Their presence eventually destroyed the traditional ways of life of the local native people by introducing new disease, overusing natural resources, and inciting violence. After Boise City was founded, soldiers forcibly remove the native people from the area in the spring of 1869 to the reservation at Fort Hall.
Founding & Growing a City, 1863-1917
Boise was a part of the Oregon Trail during the 1840s, but most pioneers stopped temporarily on their way to the coast. Gold fever hit the region in 1862 after discoveries in the Boise Basin. The influx of people prompted the U.S. military to establish Fort Boise on July 4, 1863.
On July 7, 1863, Colonel Pinckney Lugenbeel, of Fort Boise, his officers, and eight homesteaders gathered to plat a ten-block townsite on the north side of the river, which marked the beginning of Boise City. By 1867 the town consisted of 140 blocks; population almost tripled between 1900 and 1910. Settlers took advantage of the opportunity offered from the development of an irrigation system.
Throughout the early part of the twentieth century Boise benefited from private and federal investments, and continued to grow through efforts from civic organizations, benevolent societies (Masons, I.O.O.F, Shriners, etc.). During this era, orchestra and theater groups flourished.
WWI to WWII, 1918-1945
Boiseans engaged in bond drives and other support programs on the home-front during World War I. The war ended in 1918 and Boise residents suffered from the worldwide flu epidemic that same year. Farm profits collapsed and Boise’s population growth slowed down. After a brief economic boom in the 1920s the Great Depression of 1929 resulted in the closing of banks and industries.
Federal projects from the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal were essential for Boise and Idaho. The face of the city changed due to many construction projects, including the construction of the Oregon Trail Memorial Bridge on Capitol Boulevard, the Old Ada County Courthouse, the Armory, Boise Jr. College (now BSU), the Boise Art Museum, the State Historical Museum, and sidewalks, roads, and canals.
During WWII, Boiseans participated in war rationing and war-bond drives. Gowen Field Air Force Base boomed during the war, and Boise’s community welcomed the itinerant soldiers like they once had done with Fort Boise servicemen.
Post War, 1945-1980
After World War II, Boise’s economy strengthened as new local corporations formed and other expanded, including Ore-Ida, Boise Cascade, Morrison-Knudsen, Simplot, Trus Joist, and Albertsons.
New concerns arose during the postwar economic expansion. Boise suburban development consumed agricultural lands and drained resources from Boise’s downtown core. Decades of using the river as a waste disposal system turned it into a major health hazard. Property owners and the redevelopment agency tore down historic buildings in downtown, including Boise’s Chinatown. In reaction to the demolition, concerned citizens found ways to save Old Boise and the Egyptian Theater.
Boise’s boundaries expanded in the 1960s and 1970s because a new charter allowed for annexation of suburbs, which doubled the population. Boise Junior College expanded and became Boise State University. Federal programs invested in Boise’s interstate highway construction, modernization of the airport, a Veterans Hospital, and improvements in Boise’s schools, parks, and housing.
The Most Livable City in the Country, 1980 to Present
Following an economic slump in the early 1980s, Boise grew in population, economic opportunities, and community amenities. Hewlett-Packard and Micron Technology expanded throughout the 1990s, which resulted in the Boise area offering world-wide leadership in technological advancements.
Increased appreciation of the natural environment led to community efforts to preserve the Boise Foothills, to increase parks and open space within the city, and to better care for the Boise River and surrounding desert. Recreational enthusiasts and others began to call Boise home. New residents also sought cultural opportunities. Boise’s creative energy and artistic entrepreneurship helped the city blossom in the late twentieth century into the modern complex city that it is today.
- People used the Boise River to dispose of garbage, sewage, detergents, and processing plant waste.
- Boise was organized as a city seventeen years before Idaho became a state.
- The first public school in Boise opened in 1865.
- The Oregon Short Line came to Boise in 1887.
- Before construction of the Connector, railroad tracks ran along Myrtle and Front Streets.
- Idaho’s first capital city was Lewiston, a busy mining town in the north. In 1864 the seat moved to Boise after a heated debate and, some say, nefarious plots.
- The original Fort Boise was constructed as a Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post on the shores of the Boise River near Parma in 1834.
- Boise’s first subdivision, Arnold’s Addition, was platted in 1878.
- Kelly Hot Springs, east of Tablerock, was a Shoshone winter camp and gathering place.