Today’s piece is a picture postcard of the Idaho governor’s residence.
The Pierce House was built in 1914 as a wedding present for the bride of Walter E. Pierce. Pierce had come to Boise in 1890 with ambitions to be instrumental in the building of a city. He was a young developer itching to ply his trade in the West. He probably picked Boise because it was about to become the capitol city of the country’s newest state.
With his partners, Lindley H. Cox and John M. Haines, doing business as W.E. Pierce and Company, he developed most of the North End’s subdivisions and platted others along State Street and in the East End. He was at one time the owner of Boise’s Natatorium and was a principle in the Boise & Interurban. Pierce was also instrumental in the development of the Hotel Boise, today known as the Hoff Building.
But this is about Pierce House, which served as the Governor’s House from 1947 to 1989. Built for $11,000 in 1914, it was sold it to the State of Idaho by a subsequent owner in 1947 for $25,000. It needed some major upgrades, including a new heating system.
Having a residence for a governor at all was novel for Idaho. Governors lived in their own homes during most of Idaho’s early history. If they didn’t already live in Boise, finding housing was sometimes difficult. C.A. Bottleson, a newspaper publisher from Arco, lived in the Owyhee Hotel during his first term and at the Hotel Boise (thank you Walter Pierce) during his second term. His successor, Arnold Williams, lived with his wife in a remodeled garage while serving as governor.
C.A. Robbins was the first Idaho governor to take up residence at 21st and Irene. The Len B. Jordan family was next. The Robert E. Smylie family called the place home for three terms. When the Samuelsons moved in, Ruby Samuelson took it on as a project to equip the house with the necessities for hosting state dinners, this in spite of the fact that hosting much more than a family dinner was a challenge in the home. She raised funds for the purchase of china, crystal, sliver, and other permanent furnishings for the Governor’s House, much of it featuring the state seal. Mrs. Samuelson raised more than $4,000 for that purpose.
Having a nice set of dinnerware didn’t make the house much more useable for state functions in the opinion of Carol Andrus, the next first lady to live there. It was still small, and as Mrs. Andrus said, “If you plug two teapots into one plug-in in the kitchen, you blow a fuse.”
When Andrus was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Jimmy Carter in 1977—the first Idahoan to hold a cabinet position—John and Lola Evans moved into the Pierce House. They were the last governor and first lady to occupy it. Andrus was elected governor again and began serving the third of his four terms in 1987. He and Carol were not interested in moving back into the Pierce House, and it was sold in 1989.
Though J.R. Simplot donated his grand house on the hill overlooking Boise in 2004 for use as the governor’s mansion, it had a lot of issues that precluded that use. It was given back to the Simplot family in 2016 and soon after demolished.
Providing Idaho’s governor with an official residence has not been a burning issue for many years.