Thursday, September 29, 2016

Packer, Merchant, Theater Enthusiast, and Boise Mayor James Pinney [otd 9/29]

James Pinney. H. T. French photo.
James A. Pinney – dubbed the “Father of Modern Boise” by historian Hiram T. French – was born September 29, 1835, near Columbus, Ohio. The family later moved to Iowa, and from there James traveled to California. He spent many years in California, returned to Iowa, then prospected around Pike’s Peak in Colorado and the Rogue River in Oregon. He saw some action in the Rogue River Indian War.

In 1862, he led pack trains from Oregon into the lower Salmon River gold fields. The following year, he moved to Idaho City and opened a general store. Pinney also built a theater there. Unfortunately, he had to rebuild his store after one of the fires that swept through the town [blog, May 17] burned him out. In 1872, Pinney moved to Boise City to operate a bookstore he had opened there three years earlier.

The Owyhee Avalanche in Silver City, Idaho told (August 26, 1876) its readers that James Pinney & Co. had forwarded the “latest numbers of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated and Harper’s Weekly. Messrs. P. & Co. are agents for these and many other publications and will fill all orders that may be forwarded [to] them for any of the same from any section of the Territory.”

In 1881, Boise City voters elected Pinney as their mayor and he set out to correct some deficiencies in the town’s infrastructure: The city purchased the main private bridge across the river and did away with its toll schedule. It also designated a new area for the cemetery, today’s Morris Hill Cemetery.

Leading by example, Pinney personally paid for a concrete sidewalk on the block in front of his own home. Others soon followed his lead. During a second term, the mayor directed the construction of Boise’s first sewer system, and grew the town by annexing a half-mile wide area extending to the river itself.

Boise City had made do with various small schools – some subscription, some free. In 1881, the Territorial Legislature created the Boise Independent School District. Under Pinney, the city opened the all-grades “Central School” near downtown. Critics complained that the facility was too large … a waste of tax dollars. A rapidly growing student population soon proved the administration’s far-sighted wisdom.

Pinney declined to run for the next two mayoral terms, but served two more starting in 1889. The mayor again encouraged progressive developments around the city. That included several private facilities – an electric trolley, a Natatorium that used natural geothermal waters, and a fine new bank. Pinney also spearheaded construction of a new City Hall, opened for use in May 1893.
Downtown Boise, ca 1898. [Illust-State]
Pinney did not run again for mayor until 1903, when he lost. He won two years later. During this, his final term, Pinney focused on expanding and upgrading the sewer system, and improving Boise’s streets. Traffic jams due to increased automobile use had already been reported in several cities. The mayor saw that thoroughfares of graded dirt and gravel would soon be unacceptable.

A committed theater fan, Pinney gave Boise City the Columbia (a state-of-the-art, for 1892, opera house) and then the Pinney Theater in 1908. French’s History asserted that The Pinney “would do credit to a city of several times Boise’s population.”

Although James seemed in good health for a man of 78, he took ill and died suddenly in February 1914.
                                                                                                                                     
References: [French], [Illust-State]
Sue Paseman, Ann Felton, “Father of Modern Boise: James Alonzo Pinney,” Mayoral Albums – Portraits of Boise Mayors, Boise State University (2004-2009).

1 comment:

  1. In 1966 I saw "Jungle Book" at that theater when I was three, It was also the last movie shown there I believe. I remember the side balconies.

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