Friday, April 21, 2017

Boise Brewer and Capitalist John Lemp, Early Idaho Millionaire [otd 04/21]

Brewer, investor and eventual millionaire John Lemp was born in a small town about twenty miles north of Frankfurt, Germany, on April 21, 1838. His father died when he was twelve years old and, two years later, young John emigrated to the United States. He then made his way to Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked as a clerk for seven years.

John Lemp.[Illust-State]
In 1859, Lemp joined a band of hopeful prospectors headed for Colorado and the Pike’s Peak gold fields. He was able to locate a claim but met only indifferent success with it. When gold was discovered in what soon became Idaho Territory, he began to consider relocating. That interest rose as news came of many other gold discoveries in the region.

Thus, in 1863, Lemp joined a group whose initial destination was Bannack, then in Idaho Territory but in Montana Territory after May 1864 [blog, May 26]. They must have learned more along the way because, around June, the group split and Lemp stayed with the party headed for the Boise Basin fields.

They reached a spot on the Boise River where, four days earlier, Major Pinkney Lugenbeel had decided to build an Army encampment [blog July 4]. Troopers were busy assembling a corral for their stock, and building a blacksmith shop and other structures. Aside from that, the party saw only a few rude cabins and the tent-store run by Henry Riggs [blog, May 14]. So the party turned east into the mountains and visited Bannock City, today’s Idaho City.

Later, Lemp said little about his time in the mining camps, but he soon returned to the little settlement that sprang up near Fort Boise. There, in 1864, he built a brewery to serve the usual thriving saloon trade. Lemp’s brewery became the basis for a growing range of property and business investments. The structure would remain the core of Lemp's financial empire for over forty years, until it was severely damaged by fire. One of his earliest investments was a large brick warehouse built for lease on Main Street (Idaho Statesman; March 9, 1871).

In 1875, the citizens of Boise elected John for a term as mayor. Besides that, he would serve on the city council for around twenty years. The Idaho Statesman (April 6, 1875) quoted Lemp about mining prospects at South Mountain (a camp about twenty miles south of Silver City). It also reported, “Mr. Lemp will have his brewery started in about three weeks, and make the first beer in South Mountain.”

Downtown Boise, ca 1898 [Illustrated-State]
Lemp continued to invest in development projects. In 1890, he financed construction of the Capitol Hotel. At a prime location in downtown Boise, the hotel had all the most modern features. When the dining room had its formal opening, the Idaho Statesman reported (January 16, 1891), “The favorable anticipations which have been excited were amply fulfilled by the excellent repast … set before the guests last evening.”

Guests for the repast came from all over the state Idaho, from Portland and Spokane, and from as far away as New York City.

Lemp eventually had extensive real estate holdings in Boise, as well as over five thousand acres of ranch and farm property. He financed considerable development in the city, including the “Lemp Block” and various residential areas. He was one of Idaho's first millionaires, and one of the wealthiest men in the Pacific Northwest upon his death in July 1912.

References: [French], [Hawley], [Illustrated-State]
Carolyn Thomas Foreman, “Colonel Pinkney Lugenbeel,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 24, No. 4, Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma City (1946).
“John Lemp: April 21, 1838-July 18, 1912,” Reference Series No. 582, Idaho State Historical Society (1981).

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