The Chinese Gardens

The family and friends of Tom and Jemima Davis
"God Bless America"

The Chinese passing through Boise in the 1860s on their way to work the Idaho City mines had come from agricultural regions in their homeland. They knew a thing or two about managing water, a necessary skill for success in both mining and gardening–especially in an arid climate.

Some Chinese established gardens in Idaho City, managing to raise several harvests of greens and other vegetables in one short three-month season. They marketed their produce to the miners, who craved fresh food and bought it enthusiastically.

Tom Davis, a Caucasian miner who also saw a business opportunity in growing food for miners, had gone to Boise in 1863 to plant orchards, berry patches and vegetables. His homestead was on the north bank of the Boise River, roughly between today’s 5th and 9th streets. He admired what the Chinese had managed to do, having in common with them an appetite for work and a love for capital enterprise.

In 1891, the first legislature of the new State of Idaho passed a law forbidding persons of Chinese descent not born in the United States from buying or owning land or any real property. Tom Davis helped his Chinese friends get around this by leasing to them river-front lands just south of his apple orchard.

Later in the 1890s, Davis bought 650 acres downstream that decades later became Garden City. Davis (and, after his death, his estate) leased this land to Chinese gardeners–thus the name later bestowed on Garden City’s main street, Chinden Boulevard, a contraction of “Chinese” and “garden.” They delivered their fresh-picked vegetables to Boise housewives at their doors in baskets hung on a pole carried over the shoulders or, later, in Model T’s. Davis used the rest of the land to expand his cattle business.

The Chinese Gardens flourished until about 1917, when World War I began. During the war and afterward, it became fashionable for people to grow their own vegetables in “Victory Gardens.” With demand falling for their produce, the Chinese Gardeners struggled, and by the late 1920s only about 150 remained in business. As they left, the Davis Ranch was sold off in pieces for residential and commercial use.

On May 22, 1949, Ada County commissioners approved incorporation of the village Garden City, ostensibly named after its historic Chinese gardens. A group of Boise businessmen promoted the incorporation so they could build a small “amusement center.” However, their true motive was to build gambling houses just outside the Boise city limits because the Boise City Council had just passed an ordinance banning gambling.

Garden City became an incorporated city in 1967 in accordance with the new Idaho law changing the legal status of incorporated villages to cities.

Donors:

Ed and Leilani Davis
Dave and Diane Myklegard
The Eng Family Living Trust
Lionel and Jeannine Ickes
Linda Ostolasa
Mathilde Webb
Kathy Barrett
Rob Henderlider
H Gregory
J Robinson
Leslie and Glenn Frazho
Alan and Julie Moore
Bernard Gratton
David and Judy McClellan
George and Judy Bacon
Happy family
Jim Montgomery
Agri Beef and Rebholtz Family
Charles Hummel
Dan A Sample
Rich and Margene Eiguren
Ernest and Joann McNeil
Marlene Isensee
Jim, Angie Voyles
Linda Yanke
Gene and Louise Curtis
Marg Chipman
Marguerite Wilcox
Mike Guerry
Nathan M and Nancy Alexander
Sollie and Susie Callender
Adelia Simplot

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