A day visiting Boise

We took the long way into Boise instead of the 30 minute drive on I-84, so we could see what the area was like, which is mostly farm land and housing developments once you get past Meridian.

Boise is the state capital and most populated city in Idaho. It’s 41 miles east of the Oregon border and 110 miles north of the Nevada border.

Upon arriving our first stop was The Old Idaho State Penitentiary.

The Old Idaho State Penitentiary was a functional prison from 1872 to 1973. The first building, also known as the Territorial Prison, was constructed in the Territory of Idaho in 1870; the territory was seven years old when the prison was built, a full two decades before statehood. From its beginnings as a single cell house, the penitentiary grew to a complex of several distinctive buildings surrounded by a 17-foot-high sandstone wall. The stone was quarried from the nearby ridges by the resident convicts, who also assisted in later construction.

Over its 101 years of operation, the penitentiary received more than 13,000 inmates, with a maximum population of a little over 600. Two hundred and sixteen of the inmates were women. Two famous inmates were Harry Orchard and Lyda Southard. Orchard assassinated former Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905 and Southard was known as Idaho’s Lady Bluebeard for killing several of her husbands to collect their life insurance.

Serious riots occurred in 1952, 1971, and 1973 over living conditions in the prison. The 416 resident inmates were moved to the new Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise and the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed on December 3, 1973.

We then drove over to the State Capital building, the home of the government of the state of Idaho. Although Lewiston briefly served as Idaho’s capital from the formation of Idaho Territory in 1863, the territorial legislature moved it to Boise on December 24, 1864. Construction of the first portion of the capitol building began in the summer of 1905, fifteen years after statehood. The final cost of the building was just over $2 million, and it was completed in 1920.

After leaving the capital, we drove to two places but unfortunately there was nowhere to park so we could take pictures. 

The first was the Freak Ally Gallery which claims to be the largest outdoor art gallery in the northwest United States. In 2002, local artist Colby Akers painted the back alley doorway of Moon’s Cafe. When businesses next door saw his work, many were so impressed that they too wanted the artist to paint their buildings. 

So began Freak Alley. In the time since its establishment, the alley has blossomed from a single drawing to include an entire alley and adjacent parking lot of art. It’s now filled with an extraordinary range of beautiful murals and vibrant graffiti for the public to enjoy. Along the way, Freak Alley cemented itself as a beloved city landmark.

The second stop was the Basque Block a small cluster of buildings dedicated to preserving the culture of Europe’s mysterious Basque people.

The Basque Block in Boise consists of a small number of cultural centers and businesses that maintain every aspect of Basque culture as accurately as possible, from its hearty culinary traditions on down to the charming plaster and wood-frame “etxea” architecture.  Some of the businesses on the Block include two boarding houses and meeting centers, the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House and the Anduiza Fronton building, where visitors can witness Basque dance recitals or play the original Basque version of the sport of jai alai. There is also a Basque Cultural Center, called “Euzkaldunak,” where many of the community’s elderly members gather to play “mus,” a traditional card game. The Block also features two unique eateries: Bar Gernika, named for the small town immortalized by Picasso following its destruction by Nazi firebombing, and Leku Ona, a more upscale dining destination.    Bar Gernika is known for its famous beef tongue, which is only served on Saturdays until they run out.  There is also a Basque market nearby.  Finally, the Basque Museum & Cultural Center offers visitors a comprehensive history of the Basque homeland and dispersion.

Our final stop was the Boise Depot which overlooks the city of Boise and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The depot was built in 1925 by the Union Pacific Railroad and ended service in 1996 when the city took it over and opened it for tours and special events.

We had a great time touring the city and, on our way back, we chose the southern route to again check out the area, which was mostly horse farms and residential neighborhoods.

Until next time

Safe travels