Campbell, who was from Scotland, studied architecture at the University of Edinburgh. He opened his Boise firm in 1889. It wasn’t long after, 1891, that talk began about building a $200,000 federal building in Boise. It would remain little more than talk for another ten years.
Meanwhile, Campbell began making his mark. His first major public building was Swanger Hall at the Albion Normal School. Designed in 1896 and completed the following year, it was a Queen Anne verging on classical style building that was the centerpiece of the campus until it burned in 1947.
Back in Boise, Campbell designed the Telephone Building, now the home of Main Street Bistro, at 609 W. Main. Built in about three months in 1900, the two-story building with its distinctive row of four rounded arch windows on the main floor is built from Boise sandstone and still retains the name TELEPHONE centered and carved in the stone above the second story. It was the Boise office American Bell Telephone Company.
The Idanha is Campbell’s best-known building. He visited every major hotel between Boise and New York City for inspiration, and it shows. The six-story brick and sandstone hotel was the tallest building in town when it went up in 1900, and it has been a beloved landmark ever since.
In September of 1901, Campbell’s firm began work on the new Federal Building in Boise. That it would use sandstone was no surprise. W. S. Campbell owned a sandstone quarry near Idaho City. During the course of construction, a 10,000-pound block of stone was brought down for the federal building steps.
While that building was going up, Campbell’s firm got the contract for the Adelman Building at 624 West Idaho. Built in 1902, Its corner turret reminiscent of those on the Idanha, the building houses Dharma Sushi & Thai today.
The Central Fire Station at 522 W. Idaho Street was next on Campbells list. Built in 1903, the Central Fire Station was Boise’s first big move away from a volunteer fire department. Today, the Melting Pot restaurant occupies part of the building. For a decade CSHQA architects, who trace their beginning back to Campbell, called it home.
Ah, but the Federal Building. Things were not going well for the project. Contractors were clamoring for their pay and the project was months, then years behind.
Following Campbell’s career in the papers of the time his name shows up on February 26, 1904 when his firm received a third-place prize in a design competition for the new Carnegie Library. Then on March 22 of that same year, the Capital News ran a story that began, “W.S. Campbell, the architect whose disappearance has caused considerable alarm, has been located in Scotland.”
The paper went on: “No word… has been received from him and no reason is advanced by his family or friends as to why he should so suddenly disappear. When he left Boise several weeks ago, he stated that he was going to Omaha, St. Louis and Chicago to see about material for the federal building.”
Campbell was a big name in Boise, and his disappearance was met with puzzlement. Some thought he had met with foul play or had fallen ill.
The paper noted that his “various accounts” were “all straight.” Maybe. But H.A. Riddenbaugh, who took over the contract for the federal building, sued Campbell for some $7,000, winning a judgment in the case.
The Capital News noted that there was “a rumor that his domestic affairs were not pleasant.” The article ended with the observation that intimate friends of Campbell thought he would never return to Boise.
But he did return to the city he clearly loved, though not in life. William S. Campbell died in British Columbia in 1930. He was interred at Morris Hill Cemetery. His wife, Minnie, died in 1962 and is buried at Dry Creek Cemetery.
Campbell’s reasons for disappearing for all those years are still open for speculation.