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Historical Archaeology at the Basque Block, Boise

June 30, 2012

The Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boarding House is one of the few remaining examples of Basque boardinghouses in the West and it is a part of the Basque Museum & Cultural Center's complex, the only such museum in the United States that is open to the public.  The house remains as the oldest surviving brick structure in the city of Boise.

 

Sponsored by the Basque Museum and Cultural

Center, IAS, University of Idaho, and Boise National Forest, IAS volunteers conducted archaeological investigations of the property July 30 through August 11, 2012.

 

The following is an exerpt from the Basque Museum and Cultural Center website:

 

Gold was discovered during 1862 in the Idaho City basin area, approximately forty miles from Boise. Boise City was established in 1863 and a year later, Cyrus and Mary Jacobs built their family home at what is now 607 Grove Street (it was called Market Street then). Grove Street became one of the most opulent areas of town with large mansions surrounded by gardens and orchards. The Jacobses had five children who survived to adulthood: Mary (Mamie), Alexander Palmer (Palmer), Carrie, Edith, and Fannie. One child, Richard, died in infancy. They also adopted a Native American girl and named her Minnie. Minnie’s parents were killed somewhere in this region, a result of a skirmish with the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Boise. Minnie died of a disease as a teenager while living with the Jacobs family and was buried in a “pleasant place,” which is all that is known about her grave and its whereabouts.

 

Cyrus Jacobs was an energetic entrepreneur operating a mercantile, flourmill, meatpacking house, distillery (produced Jacobs’s Best Rye Whiskey and vinegar), soap factory, and cooperage in Boise. He was also in a partnership with family members and co-owned another mercantile in Walla Walla, Washington Territory. He owned mines and invested heavily in mining in Idaho Territory during the boom years. Later, the demise of silver prices and the subsequent depression hurt Jacobs financially. Always the opportunist, he figured out how to use his flourmill as the powerhouse for the electric streetcar company, of which Jacobs was an officer. Politically, he served a term on the city council, then a term as Ada County treasurer, and lastly a term as mayor of Boise in 1880. Cyrus died in 1900 and Mary Ellen in 1907. By 1900, the wealthy families living on Grove Street started moving to other areas of the city such as Warm Springs Avenue and immigrant families began moving into the large, empty buildings as renters. The Basques, Chinese, Greeks, and Bohemians created an ethnic neighborhood in the center of town.

 

The Jacobs family home began being used as a Basque

boardinghouse in 1910 and functioned in that capacity until 1969. First rented by the Galdos, Bicandi, and Uberuaga families, it was finally purchased by the Uberuagas in 1928 for the sum of $2,000. Jose and Hermenegilda Uberuaga had three children: Joe P., Serafina, and Julia. As a boardinghouse, it was a home away from home for people emigrating from the Basque Country to job opportunities in Idaho and served as a social center that preserved many elements of Basque culture including food, music, dance, games, and most importantly, their language, Euskera. Dr. Jeronima Echeverria stated in her book entitled, Home Away From Home: A History of Basque Boarding Houses, that “they hosted a complex set of social functions that provided Basques with an environment to maintain their ethnicity, and they made Basque transition to and adaptation in the New World possible.” “For young Basque immigrants a long way from home, the boardinghouses became the village church, the town tavern, the bank and health dispensary,” noted John & Mark Bieter in An Enduring Legacy: the Story of Basques in Idaho.

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