© 2012 Idaho Press-Tribune
A building with a history isn’t just a building. It’s an important part of the community’s culture, a gateway into the past, a way to reconnect with those who came before.
And that, historians from throughout the area say, is worth preserving. Because once it’s gone, it’s gone.
“You can’t rebuild a building, because you can’t rebuild the history of that building,” Canyon County Historical Society curator and director Wendy Miller said. “It represents our history, and it represents our culture. It’s important to who we are and where we came from.”
Dewey Palace and the Nampa Depot
Some buildings from the community’s early days remain. A five-year plan — currently in its second year — is under way to restore the Nampa Depot to its former glory, and it already serves as the Historical Society’s museum and headquarters. Others didn’t make it. The Dewey Palace Hotel, built by Col. William H. Dewey in 1902, came down in 1963 after standing vacant for several years. Dewey himself died in the hotel a year after it was built.
“It was only 60 years old when it was torn down, and that’s not very old for a building,” Miller said. “A lot of the old homes are built with wood lap and plaster, whereas the Dewey Palace and the Nampa Depot were built with steel lap and plaster, which makes them more durable than the wood. They were built to last, so that’s kind of sad.”
But in a way, Miller continued, the destruction of the hotel helped to reinforce efforts to preserve other culturally important buildings. After seeing one historic landmark razed, members of the community fought to keep the same fate from befalling the depot. Designed by architect F.W. Clark out of Omaha, Neb., Nampa’s train depot is — unlike other depots in the region, Miller said — one-of-a-kind.
“They got the architect to design it in a particular way, but then when they built the other depots it the area, they went with a stock plan,” she explained. “It’s just a really unique building. It has a combination of several different kinds of architectural features, and we don’t think there’s another one exactly like it.”
So what makes it unique? Besides the one-of-a-kind architectural plan, the depot has a mix of features not often seen together in a single building. Baroque revival, Renaissance revival and Romanesque elements define its exterior aesthetic. Inside, it’s hard to miss the high ceilings and floorplan features that may seem archaic to modern sensibilities.
“It’s a train station from the 1903 era, so you have the men’s waiting area on one side and the women and children’s waiting area on the other,” Miller said. “That’s kind of interesting for people to think about. You don’t think about having separate waiting areas, but they did.”
The College of Idaho
The College of Idaho campus in Caldwell has three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, according to C of I archivist Jan Boles. He works in Sterry Hall — built in 1910 to house administration and classrooms — and said he has fond memories of being a student in that very building. It has a special place in his heart, he said, but he’s also partial to the Hat.
Once an odd-looking transit station in the days of electric trolleys, the Hat now serves as a bus stop on the C of I campus. The vehicles it serves may have changed over the past century, but its purpose hasn’t.
The same can’t be said for Blatchley Hall, which began its existence as a private residence in 1910.
“It’s quite an imposing residence,” Boles said. “It has tall columns, and incredible quality woodwork on the interior which is still there, and stain glass.”
It was perhaps a little too imposing for the Blatchley family, Boles continued, who donated it to the college a mere six years later in favor of a smaller, more modest home next door. Over the decades, it served as a YWCA, then a small theater, and now houses C of I’s art gallery.
Strahorn Hall, built in 1925, began its life as Strahorn Library. When C of I built its new library in 1967, the building bearing the name Strahorn was repurposed for office classroom use — a purpose it still serves today.
So what would Boles say to someone who doesn’t see the value of historic preservation?
“Well, first I’d take a deep breath, because this is someone who needs a lot of work,” he said with a laugh. “Nearly everybody is acquainted with someone who is nuts about old cars, or collects stamps, or if you’re a theater fan, you love William Shakespeare. People just have a tie, one way or another, to the past. Nearly everybody who’s a skeptic, once they see a few old buildings around town, they get pretty involved.”
This phenomenon shows up at the old Caldwell train depot — itself a historically important building — which houses a model railroad that reproduces the original town of Caldwell in miniature.
“You get model builders, you get folks who become really quite fascinated with how authentic they can reproduce something,” Boles said. “So it’s a question of scale. You have folks who are reproducing old buildings, and then you have our historic preservation commission trying to restore actual buildings. People are a lot more interested in this than they first might imagine.”
It didn’t take Caldwell librarian Elaine Leppert — who also serves on the Caldwell Historic Preservation Commission — long to identify her favorite historic building: The Carnegie Library building at 1101 Cleveland Blvd., built in 1912. Until recently, it housed the Caldwell School District’s administrative offices. It currently stands vacant.
“It’s very much intact,” Leppert said. “It hasn’t been vacant for a long time.”
And, she added, she hopes it won’t stay empty for much longer. Prolonged vacancy is among the worst things that can happen to an old building. It’s culturally important for historic buildings to be used and enjoyed, Leppert said, and they can fall into disrepair quickly. Plumbing and electrical systems fail quickly without regular maintenance. Lack of heating and air conditioning takes a toll on interior walls and ceilings. And with no one to keep them out, pests move in.
“The worst thing you an do to a historic building is to let it sit,” Wendy Miller said. “Buildings go downhill really fast when there’s no one in them, and they sit there and sit there and sit there.”
Leppert said she hopes the school district sells the Carnegie Library to someone who will appreciate it, but doesn’t know when that will happen. Interim superintendent Jonathan Cline confirmed the building is currently up for sale and has a few interested buyers, but may be overpriced for the current market. District officials are having the are having the building re-appraised to adjust the price as necessary.