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History's Here

A prosperous Boise with familiar concerns hovers in Carol Lynn MacGregor's new book


The release of a new history of Boise's early years is a cultural event, but not necessarily because Boiseans are going to line up to read it. No, it's a big deal because up until now, there hasn't been anything quite like it. Sure, our town's story has been glossed over in statewide Idaho histories, and people such as our longtime resident history purveyor Arthur Hart has focused in on certain aspects of early Boise, but with all due respect to Hart and Merle Well (who cowrote the next-best-thing, Boise: An Illustrated History) no one has yet taken up The Task. I'm talking about that definitive benchmark, that exhaustively researched town overview and cultural primer from which all subsequent local histories would branch. It's the story that's gaps will create the impetus to the next generation of historians. Every town needs one, and it appears that ours has arrived

Carol Lynn MacGregor, a lifelong Boise resident (as well as the lucky dog who has made the Moore-Cunningham Mansion on Warm Springs Avenue her home for the last 30 years), has written a book titled Boise, Idaho, 1882-1919: Prosperity in Isolation. It was released earlier this month by Mountain Press Publishing out of Missoula, Montana, and MacGregor will celebrate the release this Thursday by hosting a book signing and open house at her historic home.

The Boise MacGregor writes about shares plenty of characteristics with today's version. Its exploding population was reeling from culture shock due to an infusion of newcomers, many from exotic locales. Its voting populace struggled seasonally with deciding how much it should delve into moral issues. And, most like today, its economy was booming at an almost audible volume that often seemed too good to be true. That some of those successful businesses included brothels, cigar rollers and quarantine "pest houses," doesn't make it less relevant--it just makes for better reading.

So, in the spirit of back-to-school days, we're dishing out a sneak preview-slash-history lesson on our paper's namesake by way of a selection from the book's epilogue, titled "The Solidification of Boise," followed by an example of MacGregor's topical vignette style, about the fight for women's suffrage in Idaho, and finally, a conversation with the author herself, who spoke with BW last week from her ranch near Lake Cascade.

--Nicholas Collias