What we think of today as a roller skate came along in 1863, when James Plimpton of Massachusetts invented the familiar four-wheel design we know today. It was easier to turn because each wheel turned independently, allowing one to turn by putting one’s weight to one side of the skate. To say that they caught on would be an understatement. By 1871, even that outpost of civilization, Boise, had a skating rink.
Ads for the roller-skating rink at Templar Hall proclaimed that one could skate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays during specified hours, with a “special assembly for the ladies” each of those days from 1 to 3 pm. After paying a quarter for admission you could pay another quarter to rent skates, if you didn’t have a pair of your own.
The rink pointed out that they had “the exclusive right for Plimpton’s Patent Roller Skates for Idaho Territory, same as used at the Pavilion Rink, San Francisco.”
In 1884 another rink opened in the city for “a multitude of excellent manipulators of the rollers” according to The Statesman. The rink was located in the newly converted opera house, and reportedly well managed. “In the evening the crowd was so large that the greatest precaution was necessary in order to preserve due regularity in the movements of skaters and Mr. P. F. Beal performed the duty of floor manager with commendable care and courtesy.”
A few mishaps were bound to occur. “The number of new beginners present was large and some falls were the result of too much haste and confidence.” Some were eager to take advantage of the newbies of a certain gender. “The young gentlemen who were masters of the rollers took the greatest imaginable delight in teaching young lady beginners the art and evidently the rink will be ‘all the rage’ this winter.”
But all was not perfection in the world of skating. A few weeks before statehood in 1890 The Statesman reported that “The walk to the Capitol from the corner of Seventh and Jefferson was taken possession of by boys with roller skates before it had become sufficiently hardened, and as a result it is very much creased and disfigured.” Cracks had also appeared in the concrete, perhaps likewise caused by unrestrained hooligan skaters. “Those cracks and creases will probably be an ‘eye-sore’ for years,” the paper concluded.
Today the wheels of skateboards are more often blamed for damage, real or imagined, but roller skates and enticing stretches of concrete are still with us.