With the discovery of gold in Boise Basin in 1862, thousands of miners rushed into the area to seek their fortunes. Within a year, Fort Boise was built to protect the miners as well as provide security for the shipments of the vast amounts of gold coming from the basin. By 1864 the newly formed city of Boise had developed around the site of Fort Boise and could claim over 1,600 residents within its city limits. With such tremendous growth, Boise replaced Lewiston as the capital of the newly formed Idaho Territory. Immediately the founding fathers and leaders of Boise, knowing how vital railroads were to the economy and development of developing settlements, began to make plans for the railroad to come to Boise. They secured right-of-way along Front Street for construction of a rail line and beckoned for Union Pacific to come to town.
The leaders must have been terribly disappointed because when the Transcontinental Railroad was completed it had bypassed not only Boise, but the Idaho Territory altogether. Luckily for Boise and the rest of Idaho, Union Pacific began construction on the Oregon Short Line Railroad through Idaho in 1884. As luck would have it, Boise was once again bypassed with the line going through Kuna and Nampa instead. With its citizens tired of the long dusty ride to the depot at Kuna, Boise finally got its wish when a branch line was built from Nampa, although it was unique in the fact that trains had to back up the entire twenty miles from Nampa. The new spur ended at an unexceptional depot constructed a simple board and batten gable roof building on the Boise Bench which was completed in 1887. With the depot located far from downtown, the city had to build a mile long dirt road extending south of town with two different bridges crossing the Boise River and a steep climb up the bench before terminating at the depot.The depot and its location were sadly unacceptable for the citizens of Boise who dreaded the dusty or sometimes muddy one-mile journey to and from “the stub,” a name callously applied by locals.
The people of Boise rejoiced when the impressive new stone depot was erected at 10th and Front Streets near the town center. The structure and corresponding tracks, completed in 1893, brought immediate change to the city of Boise as the tracks brought the trains alongside Front Street through town. Immediately warehouses and industrial buildings appeared in the new railroad district. The establishment of this warehouse district located between Seventh and Ninth Streets, extending three blocks south of Front Street altered the city landscape considerably leading to the decline of nearby residential neighborhoods. Neighborhoods once known as Miller’s Addition and Riverside Park, and the modern day River Street area were cut off from the rest of Boise to the north by the railroad tracks, and to the east by the warehouse district. The Grove Street residential area, one block north of the railroad, also experienced a decline during this time as many affluent citizens moved out to Warm Springs and to the North End. The railroad proved detrimental to several other adjacent neighborhoods, resulting in their deterioration.
Just before the arrival of the downtown depot, the River Street area had developed into a white middle class neighborhood with attractive homes. The arrival of industrial related buildings to the area in subsequent years drove out many of the middle class residents as more impoverished inhabitants replaced them. Residential areas of lower income, then as now, often did not receive the same attention from investors or political forces resulting in the steady deterioration of the area. Eventually the railroad not only factored into the class structure of Boise but also the racial makeup of certain sections of town. By the 1940’s, the River Street area became one of the few places in town allowable for blacks to rent a home, ultimately establishing the “Black section” of Boise.
The downtown railroad remained a fixture in Boise well into the 20th century although a connection to the mainline of the Oregon Short Line was what the citizens wanted. In 1925, they got their wish with the construction of a new depot on the Bench not far from where the original stood. The Spanish style depot, together with the Platt Gardens, created a magnificent entryway into the city of Boise. Wanting to connect the impressive new structure with the equally striking State Capitol building, the city set about constructing Capitol Boulevard between the two. What was previously a narrow and dusty road became the grandest street in the city at the time. Boise redrew the city limits to include specifically Capitol Boulevard and the grounds around the new depot. The new Bench Depot influenced the substantial growth on the south side of the Boise River in the coming decades. With the downtown railroad district remaining, much of the industrial and warehouse type districts that railroads attract did not follow the new depot to the Bench.