Boise, founded in 1863, was content—maybe resigned—in the early days to dusty roads on dry days and mud bogs when it rained. In 1867 the Idaho Statesman expressed pleasure to see a “nice piece of pavement” in from of Mr. Blossom and Bloch, Miller & Co. The paper asked, “When shall we see a mile of it in Boise City?” I can provide the answer from my time machine: about 30 years.
“Pavement” could mean a lot of things, depending on the situation. We think of asphalt today, or maybe concrete. In 1874, there was some paving of gutters in front of C.W. Moore’s First National Bank. The Statesman welcomed that but cautioned that no one should get the idea of hauling gravel in to make a roadbed. “There is no road so heavy and unpleasant in dry weather as deep gravel and sand. Our season is dry for two-thirds to three-fourths of the year. Suppose we have mud one-third or a fourth of the year, it is better go bear a bad road one-fourth of the time than three-fourths.”
In 1880, the Statesman was lauding “handsome wood pavement” in front of the Valley Store. This brings up another point of confusion. “Pavement” could also refer to sidewalks, not just streets. Three years later, the paper was chiding a local restaurant for the badly dilapidated condition of the wooden pavement in front of its location.
One consequence of having dirt cum mud streets got notice in the Statesman in 1895. The paper cautioned gentlemen to watch were they stepped because of the high number of toads in the road, especially at night. In the same edition, the columnist was relieved to see smoother pavement in front of Dangel’s because the walkway had become a bad place for sober gentlemen.
Throughout the early years of Boise, it was up to merchants to provide improved footing for customers. The Falk Brothers put in stone pavement in front of their store in 1888.
A big improvement in paving technology came along in 1889. As the Statesman said, “It seems somewhat surprising that an artificial compound should prove more durable than, and every way preferable to natural stone for pavement; but it is nevertheless a fact that the pavements made from Portland Cement excel the natural stone pavement in every respect.”
That was the same year W.A. Culver began advertising his services in artificial stone paving and cement pavements.
In 1890, the Statesman—which was dead set against gravel a few years earlier—called for the use of pulverized stone for the streets around town. And who would do the pulverizing? “the ‘vags’ and other petty criminals (could) be put to work breaking stone for such purpose.”
Finally, on April 18, 1897, the headline read, “Street Paving District Definitely Settled.” Sections of Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Twelfth, Idaho, Main, Grove, Bannock, Jefferson and some related alleys were to be paved. The city council would require the contractor to employ Boise laborers exclusively, excepting the foreman. No wages would be less than $2 a day. Councilors wrote up the specifications and determined it would cost $4.50 a front foot.
The Statesman editorialized in its April 21 edition that the council was making a mistake in planning to do so much street paving. They wanted an emphasis on sidewalks, not street paving.
Alas, by May 4, the Council had a change of heart. Only five blocks of Main Street, from Fifth to Tenth, would get pavement.
But by June, paving that single street was going so well that local property owners began clambering more extensions to the paving district.
In July, the paper ran one of its “As Others See Us” columns, a reprint of an article from the Caldwell Record. “Main Street is being paved and it is certainly to the credit of its citizens that they are determined to retrieve the city from the mud and dust to which it has been subject and to make the capital of Idaho worthy of the name Boise the beautiful. It is to be remarked that trees and lawns are now bright and green and free from dust, something never before known at mid-summer in Boise.”
Now, more than 130 years later, as residents know, all the streets of Boise are paved and one never encounters a rough spot or controversy about the streets.