Artesian and Geothermal water have helped to shape the development of the Boise Valley. Following the discovery of gold at the headwaters of the Boise River in 1862, thousands of people poured into the region seeking their fortune. The sudden influx in population contributed to the creation of Idaho Territory the following year. Water quickly became both a source of power and a point of contention among the new settlers. Those who had water wanted more in order to increase their monopoly and those who did not have access to water needed it to survive. Demands that were being placed on the Boise River quickly surpassed the availability of the resource.
In 1881, brothers Hosea and Benjamin Eastman began supplying their business, the Overland Hotel (located on the corner of Eighth and Main) with water piped in from springs they owned near Hull's Gulch. When expanding their system eight years later, the Eastmans completed three artesian wells to produce additional water that they could sell to the residents of Boise.
In 1890, the Eastmans joined with other prominent Boise businessmen and formed the Boise Water Works Company. At the same time, other Boise businessmen joined together to form the Artesian Water and Land Improvement Company, which received permission from the City of Boise to begin laying pipes for a water delivery system. A water race between the two companies quickly ensued as each was determined to become the sole provider of water to the residents of Boise.
Following a contentious period in local politics, the Boise Water Works Company and the Artesian Water and Land Improvement Company merged in 1891 to form the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company Limited. The new company turned their attention to geothermal.
Geothermal water had been in use in the Boise Valley for many years in the form of hot springs. Many Native American tribes would winter in the geothermal areas prior to the onslaught of gold seekers and settlers. The original hot springs were opened outside Boise in 1867. It had several owners before eventually being purchased by Judge Milton Kelly, publisher and owner of the Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman, in 1889. The site, renamed Kelly Hot Springs, became a resort with an exclusive clientele. The resort catered to wealthy visitors and served alcohol which drew the ire of local temperance societies. Arson, rumored to be committed by temperance advocates, destroyed the resort in 1906 and 1911.
The Boise Natatorium was opened by the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company Limited on May 25, 1892. Unlike Kelly Hot Springs resort, the Natatorium was open to all and benefitted greatly from proximity to the heart of Boise as well as rail service. The Natatorium was 15,000 square feet and included one of the largest indoor pools in the United States. Also home to roller skating, billiards, a cafe, dining room and dancing, the Natatorium was a social destination for much of Boise. The grounds were also home to the White City Amusement Park.
The Natatorium was severely damaged during a windstorm in 1934 and the facility was permanently closed. The City of Boise purchased the swimming pool. The amusement park closed during World War II.
As the Artesian Hot and Cold Water Company Limited began supplying Boise with hot water, the company's director C.W. Moore, built a new home on the corner of Warm Springs and Walnut which became the first residential home heated entirely by geothermal water in the United States.
Numerous locations within Boise still rely on geothermal heating - the Capitol Mall, Boise City Hall, Boise High School and the Ada County Courthouse, among others. Recent construction on the Boise State University campus has also tapped into the geothermal reserves.
The Geothermal Energy Association's Top 10 list of geothermal locations includes Boise along with Perth, Australia; Reykjavik, Iceland; Madrid, Spain; and Xianyang, China.
Bob Kent, “Boise’s Water Supply: A Growing City Strategizes Control of It’s Water,” Boise City Office of the Historian. ( http://www.boisestate.edu/research/history/cityhistorian/timelines_city/timeline_water.html ).
Idaho State Historical Society Reference Series No. 718: “Boise Water Companies,” 1970.
Idaho Tri-Weekly Statesman.
Merle W. Wells, “Heat from the Earth’s Surface: Early Development of Western Geothermal Resources,” Journal of the West Vol. X, No. 1 (January 1971).
Jim Witherell, History Along The Greenbelt: An Idaho Centennial Project of the Ada County Centennial Committee (Boise, Idaho: Ada County Centennial Committee, 1990).
Dean Worbois, Glad to Be in Hot Water: Geothermal Development in Boise, Idaho, 1890-1983, (Boise, Idaho: Parker Printing Company, 1982).