O'Farrell Cabin History

Boise: A City Along the Trail

Emigrants on the Oregon Trail passed through the Boise Valley beginning in the 1840s. After Boise was founded in the summer of 1863, wagon trains came down off the bench to the south and forded the Boise River east of town. From then on, Boise's Main Street was a part of the Oregon Trail.

The trail later crossed the Boise River below what is now 9th Street where Uncle John McClellan operated a ferry boat.

The discovery of gold in the Boise Basin in 1862 created a major gold rush into the area in the spring of 1863. To protect the miners and settlers on the trail, the United States established a military post, Fort Boise, on July 3,1863. (An earlier 1834 Hudson Bay trading post called Fort Boise, at the mouth of the Boise River near Parma had been abandoned in 1856.) Major Pinckney Lugenbeel was dispatched on June 1,1863, to find a suitable location.

Major Lugenbeel selected this place at the river crossing of the Oregon Trail and the trail up Cottonwood Creek and along Robie Creek into the Boise Basin mining area.

The army arrived on July 3rd and began construction of the new Fort Boise on July 6, 1863. Its buildings were located on the low foothills facing the River at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek, with a commanding view of the new settlement created by the Fort's location. The site of the Fort is now the location of the Veteran's Hospital.

The settlement was organized as Boise City in a town meeting held on July 7, 1863. Shortly thereafter, a group of pioneer businessmen including Henry C. Riggs, J.M. McClellan, C.W. Moore and Tom Davis met at Tom Davis cabin, and plotted the original town site parallel to the river. The plot had ten blocks, five on each side of what is now Main Street between 5th and 10th Streets. The land was divided among the original subscribers. The City would grow outward from these original ten blocks.

Early City Founders

The city founders of 1863 included Cy Jacobs, a merchant, who arrived to provide supplies to the mining camps in the Boise Basin, but was persuaded to stay in Boise. His brick home built in 1864, is still standing on Grove Street.

Henry C. Riggs helped plat the city and was instrumental in having the Territorial Capitol moved from Lewiston to Boise in 1864. The county in which Boise lies was named for his daughter Ada.

Henry Prickett was elected as Boise's first Mayor in 1867.

History of Boise

In 1864, Boise's population reached 1,658 of which only Idaho City and Placerville were larger in size. Boise consisted of 60 buildings of various shapes, sizes and construction. Most of the structures were made of lumber interspersed with adobe or logs. Aside from residences, Boise had 9 stores for general merchandise, 2 livery stables, 2 breweries, 1 butcher shop, 2 blacksmiths, a lumber yard, a tin store, a boot maker, 5 saloons, 3 doctors and a lawyer.

By 1867, the City's growth required the surveying and layout of a new plan. What is now known as the Boise City Original Townsite is the core area of 140 blocks from Front to Fort, between 1st and 16th Streets.

Albert Robie's mill furnished sawn lumber to the valley by 1864 and provided lumber for the O'Farrell Cabin. By 1868, Boise had grown into a permanent settlement with about 400 buildings and 250 private homes. Unlike nearby mining towns comprised of single men, Boise was a city of families who came to settle permanently.

In 1868, 200 children were enrolled in 1 elementary and 3 private schools. Higher education was limited to dance school and music courses.



In June 1863, John O'Farrell cleared his land and built this single-room cabin for his young wife and family on the block across the street from its current location. The cabin is made with logs from cottonwood trees, which were abundant along the Boise River. The crookedness of the logs was improved by flattening the outer and inner sides with a broadaxe. The corners were steeple-notched to drain water and prevent rot. The spaces between the logs were chinked with small branches and filled with clay mortar. When first built, it had a pole roof and the gable end walls were made of logs. The interior walls were covered with fabric nailed to the logs and the cabin had a dirt floor.


Bricks and sawn lumber became available a year after the original construction. O'Farrell soon made the cabin more livable by replacing the pole roof with cut rafter and five rows of hand-split shingles as seen today. The gable ends were replaced with board and batten siding. The inside walls, ceiling and floor were covered with planks. A brick fireplace supplemented the original stove. The inside walls and ceiling were wallpapered, and a hinged door and glass windows were installed. The growing O'Farrell family lived in the cabin for seven more years and eventually moved into the large brick house, which was subsequently painted yellow and stands today at 420 W. Franklin Street.


In 1910 the O'Farrell children offered the cabin to the Daughters of the American Revolution on the condition it could be moved and kept as a historic home. The D.A.R. secured this small site facing Fort Street from the U.S. Army and raised money for its relocation in 1911. At some time prior to the relocation, the original wallpaper deteriorated and the walls and ceiling were painted a pale yellow color.


Many prominent citizens contributed a total of $175.00 to the relocation and first restoration of the cabin. The work included replacing the roof shingles and a damaged log, and rebuilding the chimney and fireplace using some of the original bricks. The interior walls and ceiling were painted white. A bronze memorial plaque was installed over the door in 1915. In 1925, the D.A.R. again repaired the roof and re-chained the logs. The floor boards were removed and reset over a concrete slab. In 1934, some historic furniture was installed and the cabin was occasionally used for social events.


By 1957, the D.A.R. could no longer maintain the cabin and ownership passed to the Sons and Daughters of the Idaho Pioneers. In 1958, they installed a protective roof structure over the entire cabin, placed iron bars on the windows, made other repairs and erected the monument on the west side. The Sons and Daughters maintained the cabin for a number of years. Eventually, the city of Boise accepted ownership of the cabin. In spite of the protective roof, the cabin continued to decay.


The Boise City Historic Preservation Commission became aware of the cabin's condition and completed a preliminary restoration study. A restoration report was funded by the Idaho Heritage Trust in 1995. Charles Hummel, along with the Columbian Club organized a fund drive, which was augmented by a major contribution from the City's Millennium Fund. Sufficient funds were available by 2001 to fully restore the now heavily deteriorated 138 year-old cabin and the work was started under the direction of the Boise Parks & Recreation Department.


At a cost of $51,000, the cabin has been renovated and freed from its protective veil, barred windows and chain-link fence. New roof shingles faithful to the original, numerous replacement logs and floorboards, new chinking and paint has returned the cabin to its condition in 1912. Careful research uncovered the earliest paint colors used inside and on the door and window casing. The cabin retains 85% of its original construction and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest family home in the city and one of Boise's most important landmarks.

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