The Basque House at 607 Grove Street was built by Cyrus Jacobs and his wife Mary in 1864. Cyrus was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1831 and Mary was born in Laurel, Indiana in 1838; the couple married in 1858. The Jacobs were an early pioneer family who originally settled in Portland, Oregon. The prospect of a fledgling and potentially profitable market set the Jacobs toward Silver City, however the couple sold all their goods in Boise in the early 1860’s and had to return to Oregon to restock their supplies. The Jacobs family became active in Boise life socially, politically, and economically. Mr. Jacobs made a living selling goods at his store on 7th Street and by grinding flour at his mill on the corner of 16th and Main (the first flour mill in the area). Jacobs was a largely successful merchant, and this fact is manifested in the house he built.
The Cyrus Jacobs House is the oldest brick house still standing in Boise today. Although modest by today’s standards, it was the place to be at the time it was built. The house originally had three rooms: a bedroom, a parlor, and a combined kitchen/dining area with a chimney. The house was much more minimal upon its initial construction than it appears today, as several additions were completed over the years. Although the original house had no single style, it was strongly representative of stick architecture, complete with a projecting square bay in the rear of the house with an overhanging eave and a steeply pitched roof with a pair of side gables. As lathes were not available to form the interior walls, Jacobs made do with a composite of frayed rope and mud which he brought from Walla Walla.
In the wake of Jacobs’ business success and the need to accommodate five children, the house underwent its first addition in 1878. Jacobs added a new kitchen and dining room and turned the preexisting one into a music room which housed the first piano in the Boise area. A staircase was constructed to provide access to two bedrooms that formed the upstairs area. Records are shoddy, but the porch was added in increments. The front section came first, followed by the two joining sides, ultimately creating a wraparound deck. Additions in the rest of the 19th century were not accompanied by documentation, and thus the best that history has to offer is theory. The first bathtub in the Boise area was installed under the stairwell, later to be joined by a toilet, which was added when plumbing enhancements permitted. An enigmatic arch on the left side of the house evades explanation to this day. The most popular theory would have the arch a remnant of a now bricked-in root cellar.
After the passing of the Jacobs (Cyrus in 1900 and Mary Ellen in 1907), the house was rented out by the Jacobs children to the Galdos and Bicandi families (1910-1917). This marked the beginning of Basque occupation of the structure. Joe and Hermenegilda Uberuaga, another Basque couple, rented the home and converted it into a boarding house. Many Basque immigrants working on the Arrowrock Dam rented rooms at the Uberuaga abode. Tired boarders struck matches to light their cigarettes along the brick walls of the porch. These distinct markings can still be seen today. The density of the boarding house prompted the end of the neighborhood as a single family district, and the beginning of the Basque block as it appears today. With so many people in such a small space, certain additions became necessary. The ice house became an impromptu living quarters. The side porches were expanded and screened. A bowling area was added, along with a paddle ball court. Central heating replaced the stoves that had previously heated the house, and the chimney was shortened accordingly. The Uberuagas maintained the boarding house until 1969, when they closed their doors to the public. Family members continued to stay in the century-old rooms throughout the 70’s.
The Cyrus Jacobs/Uberuaga House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, but was nonetheless vacant by 1982, and the house began to fall into squalor. Modern restoration efforts began when Adelia Simplot purchased the lot and created the adjacent Basque Museum and Cultural Center. Restoration required years of planning, but the Museum persevered. Minor repairs took place throughout the remainder of the 20th century, and major excavation and renovation began in 2000. The changes were all but exhaustive. Floor joists, stairwells, and wallpaper were replaced. The house was repainted in a traditional blend of greys and whites. The gardens were tamed and groomed, contributing to the picturesque nature of the residence.
While the House today stands an isolated and quaint relic of the past, it is really a representation of a number of different periods in Boise. When the Jacobs family occupied the house in the 19th century, it was no doubt one of a number of similar houses that formed the first residential spaces in Boise. When the Uberuagas rented the house out as a boarding house, it was merely one of 19 similar Basque boarding houses in the Boise area. The fact that the house is now surrounded by much newer buildings speaks to the period of urban renewal in Boise in the 60’s and 70’s, when many similar gems of Boise’s history were destroyed to make way for supposedly necessary new buildings.
Today, the Basque House is the anchor of Boise’s Basque District, an area devoted to the immigrants who continue to make up a significant part of Boise. The house has been all but restored to an appropriate state of historical and cultural wealth. The Basque Museum leads weekly tours of the house, which now contains a slew of artifacts donated by former boarders and unearthed during the excavation. Its formidable legacy and convenient downtown location make the Basque House a well-trafficked destination for locals, tourists, and any number of Basques from around the world.