Monday, May 23, 2016

Cornerstone Laid for Idaho Soldiers Home in Boise [otd 05/23]

On May 23, 1893, dignitaries gathered in Boise City to lay the cornerstone for the new Idaho Soldiers’ Home. Meant to care for Union Army veterans of the Civil War who were “aged and in want,” the Home was completed the following year.
Union soldiers, ca. 1862. Library of Congress.

Idaho, of course, wasn’t even organized when the War started, and provided no Volunteer units for the conflict. However, by the time Idaho became a state, several thousand veterans had settled there. Not too surprisingly, 70 percent of them came from the midwestern states. (Nearly 85 percent came from the Midwest, Pennsylvania, or New York.)

Thus, the Idaho legislature appropriated funds for a soldiers’ home, and designated acreage from Federal land grants to create an operating endowment fund. The Act also authorized the governor to appoint a Board of Trustees. The appropriation stretched further after Ada County citizens donated the money to buy forty acres of land where the home could be sited. Builders completed the structure in November, 1894.

Officials staged a formal opening in May 1895. By then, the legislature had authorized funds for more buildings, including a hospital. Two years later, the state modified the eligibility requirements to include veterans of the Mexican War and National Guard soldiers who were disabled in the line of duty. That provided a “side door” for some who fought for the losing side of what some still called, in 1901, “the war of the rebellion.”

Idaho Soldiers Home, ca. 1914. H. T. French photo.
Fire damaged the main building in October 1900 and took the life of one resident veteran. The structure was rebuilt, reportedly better than ever. Certainly, it was different. The original Home had been built in the style, more or less, of a French chateau, with numerous gables and conical turrets at the front corners. The new design sported an onion-shaped dome that dominated the center front of the building, and the corner turrets had been reshaped. (The results seem rather akin to a Russian-Orthodox church.)

Another fire in October 1917 caused major damage. The state made arrangements to house the residents at Boise Barracks, which then had only minimal use. The aged veterans found their “temporary” quarters comfortable enough, but commented that they never felt like home. Because the country and the state were on a war footing, it took quite a long time for the old home to be rebuilt: It was not reopened until 1920 (Idaho Statesman, May 10, 1920). Perhaps to reduce costs, the repairs did not include the exotic domes and turrets.

As time, and old soldiers, passed, more and more residents of the Home were veterans of the 1898 Spanish-American War, then World War I, and so on. Age also took its toll on the building and finally, in 1966, officials dedicated a new “Boise Veterans Home” a half mile east of the capitol building.
Statuary in Veterans Memorial Park.

Eventually, city workers leveled the structures at the old site and created Veterans Memorial Park. Besides the usual recreational areas, the park contains monuments to war dead in several conflicts, those Missing in Action, and prisoners of war. It also has commemorative plaques for veterans’ groups and various military activities.
                                                                                 
References: [Hawley], [Illust-State]
Nancy DeHamer, "Idaho Soldiers Home," Reference Series No. 713, Idaho State Historical Society (1985).
Rod House, Steve Barrett, and Wilma Jager, Civil War Veterans in Idaho, Idaho State Historical Society (2006).
"News of the States: Tuesday, October 9," Colfax Gazette, Colfax, Washington (October 12, 1900).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Evan, for this info on the Soldiers' Home. I have a relative in the Ft Boise Cemetery and I think he was a resident of the Soldiers' Home as well. I'm trying to confirm that.

    I look forward to reading more of your articles here.

    Bill

    ReplyDelete