Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Boise Residents Officially Celebrate the Arrival of Train Service [otd 9/13]

On September 13, 1887, crowds gathered at the rough plank structure that served as the Idaho Central Railway depot. They came to celebrate the recently-completed branch line that connected Boise City to the Oregon Short Line (OSL) station in Nampa.

The tracks had arrived earlier in the month and several loads of passengers and freight had already taken advantage of the new connection. [Click here to see a photo taken on the arrival day.]*

By the time OSL rails reached central Idaho, nearly five years before, residents of Boise City knew that the main line would not pass through their town. The elevation change between the plains to the south and southwest and the Boise Valley was simply too much. Without extensive, and costly cut and fill work, the grade would have been too great for the locomotives of the day. Instead, the tracks ran through Kuna, Caldwell, and on across the state.

Thwarted by topography, Boise leaders sought alternatives. A branch from the closest OSL station, fifteen miles away at Kuna, was rejected because even the best route passed over substantial grades. The longer stretch from Nampa had no such grade, especially if the rails stayed on the bench that lay roughly 60 feet above the river plain.

Incorporated in 1886, the Idaho Central Railway began construction in July 1887. Workers finished laying track in early September and soon the first two-car train chugged into town from Nampa. Locating the tracks and depot on the bench caused no end of trouble. Townspeople had to build more than a mile of road, with two bridges to span legs of the Boise River. Then they had to cut a manageable incline to climb up onto the bench. Rain turned the dirt track into a quagmire.

Almost immediately, the depot drew business away from downtown: some modest shops, several warehouses, and a small hotel. Still, despite its relatively isolated connection, the branch line quickly developed a booming traffic flow. Unwilling to see their town drain away toward the depot, Boise City leaders pushed for a closer line.

Finally, in 1893, construction crews split a new sub-branch off from the spur line three miles west of downtown Boise. From there, they headed about 1.5 miles to the edge of the bench, descended a ramp at the face, and bridged the river. The rails ran along Front Street, within walking distance of downtown.

Front Street Depot, Boise City, ca 1895.
Library of Congress.
The railway company built a fine stone depot at the corner of Tenth and Front streets, and the number of service and switching tracks grew considerably. As could be expected, residential tracts moved elsewhere, to be replaced by hotels, restaurants, and saloons. The area nearest the rail yards became a typically grubby warehouse and factory district.

Thus matters remained for over a quarter century. Finally, in 1925, Boise got its “hearts desire” – a place on the Union Pacific main line, made possible by more powerful locomotives and better construction equipment.

* The Idaho State Historical Society holds the copyright on this photo and charges a usage fee. (As a member, I know the organization needs the money, but since my blog generates no income, I am not in a position to pay.)
                                                                                                                                     
References: [B&W]
Johnny Hester, Reinventing Boise: Changing Influences on Boise’s Growth Pattern … , Boise State University (2009).
Carrie Adell Strahorn, Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage, The Knickerbocker Press, C.P. Putnam & Sons. (1911).
Thorton Waite, “On the Main Line at Last,” The Streamliner, Vol. 11, No. 1, Union Pacific Historical Society, Cheyenne, Wyoming (1997).

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