Table Rock sandstone makes up the greater part of the old Idaho State Penitentiary, and is used to good effect in the Emmanuel Lutheran Church, the Bown House, St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, the Union Block, Boise City National Bank, the United States Assay Office, Temple Beth Israel, the Borah Building, St. John’s Cathedral, and many others.
In 1906, the Capitol Commission, in charge of building Idaho’s statehouse, purchased one of the Jellison Brothers’ quarries on Table Rock in order to facilitate the construction of Idaho’s seat of government. The Idaho State Capitol is probably the most visible and dramatic use of Table Rock sandstone in Boise.
Sandstone from Table Rock found its way to major buildings all over the state, including the First Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls, the Administration Building and Brink Hall at the University of Idaho, and Strahorn Hall at the College of Idaho in Caldwell.
Out of state the stone went to a building on the campus of Yale University and was a popular construction material for several downtown Portland buildings.
Working in a quarry is dangerous, and it was often left to inmates at the Idaho State Penitentiary in the early days. In 1903, two inmates were “hurled into eternity” while working on a troublesome boulder. The 10-foot-high rock, said to be 25 feet square, had a crack running through the middle of it. Workers set charges in the split, hoping to blow the rock apart. The blasts had little effect. Inmates John Stewart and William Maney scrambled up to the top of the boulder to clear away rubble for another go at it. That was when the rock came apart, splitting in two and throwing the men 40 feet down the side of the ridge. Neither survived.
Manpower and horsepower moved a lot of rock from the quarries. In 1912, a new owner of one of the quarries, put electrical power to work. Harry K. Fritchman, a former mayor of Boise, constructed a tramway on rails from the quarry to the Oregon Shortline Railroad, more than a mile away. You can still see the scar of the tramway line on the southeast side of Table Rock.
Ambitious as the tramway was, it was not nearly as aspirational as an idea born in 1907. That year one of the Jellison brothers announced that he was going to build a luxury hotel on top of Table Rock. He envisioned spectacular views from the resort which would rise up from the center of a 685-acre parcel appropriately landscaped. An extension from the Boise Valley Electric line would run to the top of Table Rock and circle around the perimeter. One can imagine geothermal water from nearby wells heating pools and spas in the development. The quarry would be stubbed into the line for transport of stone.
Alas, 1907 was also the year of the “Banker’s Panic,” which sank big money plans like a rock. So, Table Rock is not known today for its splendid hotel. Its history is written in rock, though, still providing sandstone for Boise and beyond.