Arts » Culture

Basque Block Dig Unearths Artifacts

Old well reveals information about Cyrus Jacobs family



When crews began repairing the porch of the Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House on the Basque Block, they accidentally unearthed an historic well containing dozens of artifacts dating as far back as the 1860s.

French cosmetics containers, antique British china and even glass bottles containing a few clinging drops of root beer extract all offer clues to the family's socio-economic status.

The house was built in 1864 and is Boise's oldest standing brick building. It was constructed by a man who eventually became mayor of Boise, Cyrus Jacobs.

"Jacobs moved here from Walla Walla, Wash.," said Tracy Schwartz, who recently completed her masters in anthropology at the University of Idaho. "He was in search of gold, which he never found. But he stayed and opened a store in Boise."

His store sold a variety of products, she said, which may explain some of the goods unearthed from the well. The expansion of the home--which involved building over the well when the City of Boise developed a sewer system--suggests the Jacobs had means.

The structure became a Basque boarding house in 1910, and was home to a family on the bottom floor, with the second floor serving as an inn for Basque sheepherders. The house was renovated and restored in 2004, which included shellacking the walls with reproduced versions of the original wallpaper.

Artifacts from the 19th century aren't often unearthed in an urban setting, explained a team of archaeologists and anthropologists from the University of Idaho, who were called in after the discovery was made.

"We're able to show people what we do," said Mark Warner, the project's director. The site had drawn 700 people by August 10. "And we'll have another 1,000 people come through before we're done."

The project is being conducted in partnership with the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which manages tours of the Jacobs-Uberuaga House. The Idaho Archaeological Society and Idaho Heritage Trust have also contributed to the project, the first of its kind in downtown Boise since excavations were done in Boise's historic Chinatown district.

Cataloging and researching the artifacts could take a number of years, according to Warner's project partner, Stacey Camp. Much of the work will become master's theses for the team's graduate students and hands-on experience for undergrads.

"By about the summertime [2013], we'll have a pretty good handle on what we've got," said Warner. "And about 18 months from now, we'll have a good handle on what these artifacts tell us."

A member of the team will visit Boise to discuss the project during Idaho Archaeology Month in May 2013. And after the school finishes with the artifacts, they will be returned to the Basque Museum, which has plans to turn them into a permanent exhibit.


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