Fort Boise's Historic Transitions

During the nineteenth century, the Boise Basin hosted an abundance of natural resources. These resources, specifically furs and gold, attracted settlers from the East, triggering a massive migration out West. Settlers, miners, and fur traders traveled the nearby Oregon Trail. A series of fort locations were employed starting in 1834 near the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers to provide support and stimulate economic growth by enabling settlers to trade goods with each other and nearby Native tribes.

Snake Fort, founded in 1834 by Thomas McKay of the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company, was originally located at the confluence of the Snake and Boise River near present-day Parma, Idaho, at the Oregon border. Later renamed Fort Boise, the fur trading post directly competed with Fort Hall, established by Nathaniel Wyeth, upriver in what is now present-day Pocatello, Idaho. The adobe style structure was highly susceptible to flooding, and Fort Boise was relocated several times within the general vicinity to reduce flooding risk. Within a few years, regional fur trading sharply declined, and the economy of Fort Boise transitioned to salmon fisheries. The great flood of 1853, along with escalating conflicts among settlers and Native Americans in 1854, contributed to its demise. The old fort was abandoned in 1855.

The new Fort Boise, situated in the heart of downtown Boise, Idaho, was established as a military post by the U.S. government in 1863 under the guidance of Major Pinkney Lugenbeel. Gold mining prevailed in the Boise Basin, and the military post provided a protective buffer to settlers and miners, reducing conflicts between them and surrounding tribes. Inspiration for the design came from brick buildings in Walla Walla, Washington, where Major Lugenbeel stopped on his way to the Boise Basin. Charles May, the builder responsible for the construction of the brick buildings, was hired to assist in the construction of Fort Boise. He used strong materials that consisted of brick and sandstone quarried from the nearby foothills and Table Rock.

In 1879, Fort Boise was renamed the Boise Barracks and served as a military base and a community center by hosting numerous social events such as theatrical performances, religious services, concerts, balls, tea and dinner parties, dancing, and tennis matches. The fort played a vital role in establishing the city and providing a center for diverse activities, meeting the needs of military and civilian. In the early twentieth century, the decision by the U.S. War Department to reduce small military bases and forts resulted in the fort’s second abandonment. Following several years of vacancy, Governor D.W. Davis loaned the property to the U.S. Public Health Service, enabling World War I veterans to receive treatments from postwar injuries. Passed in 1922, the Hospital Bill qualified veterans to receive medical treatments regardless of active status. The Public Health Service later turned the hospital over to the Veterans Bureau and in 1930 to the Veterans Administration.

Despite its many shortcomings, Fort Boise became a fundamental component to the development of the current city. Initially facilitating economic growth and prosperity in the region through the trade of natural capital, the fort later transitioned to a protective force, a location for social interaction among settlers and finally a place of healing for the wounded.

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