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‘Important history’: Boise’s historic Assay office to see upgrades inside & out

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One of Idaho’s three National Historic Landmarks will undergo some renovations.

The US Assay Office Building opened in Boise at 210 West Main Street in 1872. Its role was to test the quality of metals at a time when Idaho’s gold production was the third highest in the nation.

One hundred and fifty years later, the State Historical Society is working on some updates that it says pay homage to the building’s history. 

“So, this year is 150 years of the building, depending on how you count it and so we’ve been working towards developing a couple of projects that would honor that history and take advantage of that anniversary,” said Dan Everhart, the State Historic Preservation Office Outreach Historian. 

New features on old property

The society is working to improve the grounds around the building, including preserving and reinvesting in mature landscaping and reinstalling flower beds on the sidewalks, a feature that disappeared decades ago. There will also be a new interpretive path lining the fence accompanied by an ADA-accessible pathway. New benches will be put in and interpretive signs will be throughout explaining the site history.  

“We’re going to introduce a few new elements, keeping them as simple and as unobtrusive as possible because we want to focus on the history and the historic character of the landscape,” Everhart said.

The City of Boise was not yet a decade old when the Assay Office was built, and according to Everhart there were not a lot of public parks, so since the building’s conception, people have been using the yard as just that. 

“There were really no places that you could sort of use as a public park,” Everhart said. “People saw this federal building and square block as a potential park or a park-like setting and they donated trees and shrubs, and planted the grounds and used the grounds. It’s been used that way, sort of as a quasi-public space ever since. We still have folks here every day, picnicking and sunbathing and playing Frisbee with their dog. It is very much of a public space, even though it is not technically a public park.”

CCDC funding

Boise Assay Office
The historic Assay Office in Downtown Boise, Idaho. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev

And the Historical Society used that to their advantage when looking for funding for this project. A landscape project like this has a price tag of about $300,000 to $350,000. Half of the funds were raised through private and corporate donations, the other half is being provided by the Capital City Development Corporation. 

“I think we made the argument successfully that this is not a private property,” Everhart said. “That is, of course, owned by the citizens of Idaho. It is state property, but more importantly, its current use and its history of use for 150 years have been one of essentially a park. And a park within one of CCDC’s urban renewal districts, and so I think they saw the logic of that and very generously are providing over $150,000 worth of assistance there.”

CCDC approved funding during a Monday meeting.

But Everhart said another million-dollar project will be in the works in the next year or two. The Assay Office itself will get a facelift. The historical society received a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service. That grant is being matched by the state permanent building fund. The money will make the basement watertight, correct previous water infiltration, make mechanical and HVAC fixes, rebuild the front door, replace and repaint woodwork windows, and more.  

“It’s an important building with an important history that has national implications and this investment is a way in part to honor that,” Everhart said.

The Assay Office currently houses the State Historic Preservation Office and Archaeological Survey of Idaho. 

Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson - BoiseDev Reporter
Autum Robertson is a BoiseDev reporter focused on Meridian and McCall. Contact her at [email protected].

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