The Bishops’ House was built by the Episcopal Church in 1889 on the corner of 2nd and Idaho from plans drawn by Boise’s first professional architect James King. It was originally a tall and narrow frame with some Queen Anne characteristics, but in 1899 it was remodeled and enlarged to accommodate the growing sizes of the Bishops’ families. The house was the home of the head of the Episcopal Diocese of Idaho and his family. In total, six Bishops and their families lived in the house at is original 120 West Idaho Street location: J.B. Funsten, 1899-1918; Frank Hale Touret, 1919-24; Middleton S. Barnwell, 1926-35; Fredrick E. Bartlett, 1935-42; Frank Rhea, 1942-57, and Norman Foote, 1957-60. St. Margaret’s School, an all-girl high school, was built in 1892 on the same block and St. Luke’s Hospital, also an Episcopal institution, was located only a block away. Boise State University was conceived in the walls of the Bishop’s office, as St. Margaret’s became Boise Junior College which would eventually become the BSU we know of today.
The Foote Family lived in the house until 1964, when the Bishop Rhea Senior Center was opened in the house with Helen Thomson as director. The history of the House and its many rooms made it a happy home for many elderly Boise residents. However on June 7th, 1974, St. Luke’s Hospital announced plans to demolish the house in order to make room for its expansion. They wanted the space to build another parking lot.
Many Boiseans were against the demolition of this historic house and searched for a way to save it. In August of the same year, the Boise City Planning and Zoning commission, after hearing the pleas of Boise citizens, voted to deny St. Luke’s a permit to build the aforementioned parking lot, thus delaying the demolition of the Bishops’ House for at least a few more months. Five days later the City Council overruled this decision but supported saving the house if it could be moved.
A task force was created, led by Historian Arthur Hart with the purpose of raising enough money to move the Bishops’ House to a different site in Boise. In October, the Model Citizens’ Advisory Board procured a $15,000 grant to move the Bishops’ House to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. St. Luke’s and the Idaho Historical Society reached an agreement allowing the Society until July 1st, 1975 to raise enough money for the move. Arthur Hart’s task force and the more than 1,000 people who had signed petitions protesting the demolition joined together to encourage Boiseans to take part in the preservation of the Historic Bishop’s House and donate money into the fund for the move to the Penitentiary.
They organized fund raisers which included benefit performances of the melodrama “Streets of Old Boise” and a Mother’s Day Tour of historic homes on Warm Springs Avenue, much like the Holiday Homes Tour down Warm Springs Ave which happens each year during the Christmas holidays. They raised over $30,000 dollars, which, combined with the $15,000 already in the fund, was enough money to finance the move. On August 18, 1975, the Boise City Council approved the spending of the $45,000 to move the Bishops’ House to the Old Idaho Penitentiary. The job was given to Huckstep Family Movers, owned by William D. Huckstep, and was scheduled for November 12th. The 220-ton Bishops’ House was going to make the journey down Warm Springs Ave on the back of a flatbed truck.
Nearby schools Roosevelt Elementary and North Junior High were let out to witness the historic move. The movers took the house off of its original sandstone foundation and numbered the individual stones to put them back together on the land near the Old Penitentiary. The House was cut into 4 giant pieces, secured with hundreds of ropes and loaded onto the backs of four flatbed trucks. Warm Springs Ave was closed off to traffic and power lines were moved to make room for the wide load. The house almost got stuck turning onto Penitentiary Road but eventually made it to its new home across from the Old Idaho Penitentiary. The house was set against the hills for two years while a basement was dug out and the foundation re-laid. In 1977, the Bishops’ House was finally placed in the spot where it remains today.
The House stood empty, unused for about 20 years until the organization who led the preservation of the Bishops’ House, the Friends of the Bishops’ House, decided to open the house up to the public as a venue for big events. Thus, the House, with its basement “ballroom” and beautiful garden gazebo, became a desired destination for wedding receptions and anniversary parties. Recently, the house hosted several historic reenactments of the lives of some of America’s most famous first ladies including Abigail Adams and Mary Todd Lincoln.
The Bishops’ House is a Queen Anne Victorian style frame, with a foundation of sandstone quarried from the table rock quarry. After the remodel in 1899, the building became a more obvious Queen Anne Victorian style with addition of the round, three-story tower on the southeast corner and a verandah which wrapped around the west, the south, and half of the east side of the house. The house has shingled sides and displays many ornamental fixtures such as the bishops hat resting on the top of the deck roofs. As per the time, the house also depicts some colonial architecture as Americans tended to favor at the turn of the century. This includes the Tuscan columns in the verandah, the pediment above the front steps, a classical mantelpiece in the entry hall, and the beveled plate glass window transoms above the doorways.
The furniture in the house is all of the time period, though most is not original to the house. It is a hodgepodge of donated antiques and heirlooms, including an old Steinway piano and a stained glass window from a church that was demolished in downtown Boise.
The style of the Bishops’ House is unique in that most of the homes along Warm Springs tended to heavily favor the colonial style, and not so much the Victorian elements displayed by the Bishops’ House. This makes sense considering the Bishops’ House was built 50 years or more before most of the houses along Warm Springs Ave. In its original location on West Idaho the Bishops’ House was a little more at home, excuse the pun, however many of its neighboring homes were demolished during the 70s, leaving the Bishops’ house as one of the few surviving grand Victorians in the Boise area.