Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Boise Developer and Saloon Owner Madison Smith [03/15]

Madison Smith. H. T. French photo
Boise pioneer Madison C. Smith was born March 15, 1839 in Richmond, Missouri, about 35 miles northeast of Kansas City. The family moved West in 1851, crossing Idaho in a wagon train. Local Indian unrest was rising at that time, but the party had no trouble. They settled in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. Unfortunately, Indians killed Madison’s father in 1856, so he had to work the family ranch until his mother remarried.

Madison was out on his own by 1860, and had built up a small stake. In 1864, he and his brother-in-law loaded a mule train with freight for the gold camps near Idaho City. That area was apparently well-supplied when they arrived, so they moved on to profitably sell their goods in Boise City. Although Smith retained some property and a house in Oregon, he made his home in Boise for most of his remaining years.

Smith found odd jobs where he could for awhile, and then settled into working at a popular saloon. Finally, the Idaho Statesman reported (August 14, 1873) that “Jim Lawrence and M. C. Smith will open out, this week, a saloon in the brick building formerly occupied by … a barber shop. … They understand the business, have many friends, and will endeavor to please their patrons.”

They moved into a larger space after six years or so, but the Lawrence & Smith Saloon remained a fixture on Main Street for at least 15-18 years. It appears that Madison went into business by himself around 1890. We do know he bought a lot near downtown a year after that (Idaho Statesman, June 14, 1891).

In 1893, Smith took a minor flyer in politics: He ran for Boise City Tax Collector on the Populist Party ticket led by his nephew, who was running for Mayor. (His brother-in-law, Peter J. Pefley, had been elected mayor in 1887.) Voters crushed the Populist slate and there's no evidence that Smith took any further interest in politics.

Madison, who never married, largely held aloof from the “boom" mentality of many frontier city developers. His conservative approach was surely influenced by a disappointment in 1896-1897. Smith had loaned money to his brother-in-law and sister to invest in a saddlery company. But the firm collapsed (Idaho Statesman, September 6, 1896), and he recovered less than half his investment.

Even so, Madison was comfortable enough in his financial circumstances that he listed himself as “capitalist" in the U. S. Census for 1900. At that point, he still owned at least one saloon, and may have had property in Lewiston, where his brother-in-law had moved.
Union Block, Boise. Library of Congress
Smith closely followed the building boom that gripped Boise in 1902. Various organizations initiated ten major projects that year, including a new Episcopal Cathedral, a high school, and several commercial blocks.

One such project was the so-called “Union Block," on the northeast side of Idaho Street between Seventh and Eight, and one street over from Madison's saloon property on Main. Three years later, Smith sold the saloon and used the proceeds to buy an interest in the Union Block (Idaho Statesman, October 4 and November 29, 1905).

Madison soon moved into an apartment in the Union Block and managed his leased properties from there. He passed away from pneumonia in June 1921, after a year of increasingly poor health.

Today, the Union Block –  still in use –  is on the National Register of Historic Places. Also, according to the Idaho State Historical Society, the Society now owns a fancy hardwood bar that once belong to Smith. He reportedly ordered it from “the Brunswick Company" around 1890, and it continued in use at various locations for about seventy years. The bar is now the centerpiece of the “M. C. Smith Saloon," a meeting facility at the Historical Museum.
                                                                                
References: French, [Hawley]
“Boise Building Chronology, ” References Series No. 672, Idaho State Historical Society (1983).

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