Named after Joseph and Temperance Bown, the house’s original owners, this sandstone home was built in 1879. The two colors of sandstone used were hauled from local quarries in the Boise foothills. The home, which was situated on the highest site in the area, was known as the “block house.” It was considered quite large and luxurious at the time.
The Bowns raised seven children there, and Mrs. Bown held classes in the home when the nearby school burned down. The original Italianate style two-story home included a cupola observatory and widow’s walk, later removed, from which the Bowns could view their 240-acre ranch. The home is located near the Oregon Trail and is cited in immigrant diaries from that era. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
In 1987, the Independent School District of Boise purchased the home following passage of a school bond measure and it was initially used as office space. In 1991, as new plans for an elementary school were developed, however, the school district decided to build a new school on the Bown House site. Preservation Idaho testified before the school district trustees and the Boise City Planning and Zoning Commission encouraging them to accommodate both the school and the historic home. The school district ultimately entered into a joint stewardship agreement with Preservation Idaho to study the feasibility of retaining the house for a mutually agreeable use and raising funds to restore the building. The district would retain ownership and maintenance responsibilities.
A feasibility study confirmed that the building was sound and usable. Preservation Idaho helped to raise money, including grant money, to fund the restoration and worked with other volunteers, and Trout Architects, to clean up the building and grounds, fix masonry and replace the roof. During inspection of the attic, evidence of the widow’s walk was discovered and the structure restored. Restoration efforts were recognized with an Orchid Award by Preservation Idaho in 1996 and an Award of Merit from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1994.
The building is now the centerpiece of the heritage education program of the Independent School District of Boise and is open for public tours typically led by the schoolchildren.
The building is now the centerpiece of the heritage education program of the Independent School District of Boise and is open for public tours typically led by the schoolchildren. Extensive teacher resources have been developed to support this education program and are available online. Using the Bown House curriculum as a basis, Preservation Idaho has developed a unique educational tool, the Idaho Time Machine. For more information about this ongoing statewide legacy of our preservation efforts at the Bown House, visit our Idaho Time Machine page.
It is rewarding to see the impact of the preservation of this historic resource. The logo of Bown Crossing, a nearby neighborhood and commercial destination, is the Bown House’s widow’s walk. Incorporating a key icon of this preservation effort into the ongoing development of Boise reflects the historic and commercial value of blending the old and the new.
- Visit the Boise School's webpage about the Bown House.
- The Bown House is open the first Saturday of each month from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
- Schedule tours by contacting the Assistance League of Boise, firstname.lastname@example.org or calling (208) 377-4327 ext. 5.