George Whitfield Russell built this home in 1865, on the homestead granted to him after the Homestead Act of 1860. Russell’s homestead ranged from the Boise foothills to the river, and then from Cottonwood Creek flume to where the Natatorium now stands, encompassing most of what is now the East End. And the history behind this house’s creation is a fascinating story.
Russell, originally from Illinois, choose to head West on a wagon train headed for Oregon in 1862. Pulling him and his wife Mary were Russell’s famous pack of horses which had been used to pull President Lincoln’s carriage during his presidential campaign. On their way to Oregon, Russell’s team even camped up on what is today the Bench south of the Boise River in 1862, one year before Ft. Boise was established. Upon arriving in Salem however, Russell quickly received news that gold had been discovered in the Boise Basin. Along with his wife, Russell immediately set course back towards Idaho, and they settled in Boise in 1864. After living in a hotel and the Halfway House on the road up towards Idaho City, the Russells finally homesteaded East Boise and built their mansion which today is 1035 Warm Springs Ave. When Russell originally constructed his home though it faced East towards Walnut Street, and was only later rotated 90 degrees to face Warm Springs. Originally, the house was considered Italianate largely due to tiny “widow walk” on top, and a very extravagantly designed front porch. However, through many remodels and the adding of pillars to the front porch, the home is now considered Greek Revival style architecture.
Russell’s mansion stood out during the time, because it was the first house built in the area amongst Idaho wilderness and farmland. The town of Boise had only just been established, and Russell’s mansion still resided about a mile outside of town. It stood directly between the town of Boise and an Indian settlement, leading to repeated conflict with Native Americans over land disputes and transportation routes. There were reports of arrowheads being found in the outer walls of the house, holes of which have since been covered over. The old shutters on the windows even had gun ports to defend against Indian raids. During the raids, women and children would crawl into a secret compartment above a doorway in the first floor of the house while men would fight off Indian attacks. Old photographs recovered today show snapshots of a true “Wild West” scene in the Russell mansion during this time period. One photograph displays a saloon type atmosphere, with cowboys and rough-neck travelers all sitting around a circular table drinking and talking. The shot was taken through a door which used to lead from the kitchen into the living room, which has since been covered and converted into more wall.
After living on their homestead for several years, The Russells had five children on their ranch in East Boise, and the eldest daughter Elizabeth married a man named Sidebotham. When George Russell died, Elizabeth and Robert Sidebothom inherited the house. Through time, the couple watched the dirt road which had once been used for deliveries to and from town transform into Warm Springs Ave., and soon a prosperous neighborhood began to emerge. Today, many of the historic houses built during this time period can still be seen along Warm Springs Avenue.
Since the 19th century the house has been renovated and remodeled many times. The house now features an added on rear section and a very up to date kitchen. The from the inside, the switching of floorboards from horizontal to vertical marks the transition from what was Russell’s original mansion into the added on rear. The old coal shoot in the back of the house is now covered up by the back porch, although according to the house’s current owners Mr. and Mrs. Scripps, piles of coal still remain down at the bottom of where the shoot let out. The newest addition to the property was a three car garage, replacing the empty space where the part of the house was lifted and brought forward. The digging of the garages foundation became an excavation of the original houses foundation, as large broken up stones were found. Mr. and Mrs. Scripps have found ways to integrate this foundation into their landscaping. For example, a beautiful flower pot now rests on an old stone in the backyard which used to be a part of the house’s foundation.
But this historical house still undoubtedly carries with it a great sense of authenticity and style. For instance, owners throughout the years have chosen to maintain an original brick oven in the wall of the kitchen. And Mr. and Mrs. Scripps just recently added on new brackets imported from Canada to the sides of the roof, nearly identical to those seen in early photographs of the house. These brackets were only added to the section of the roof from the original house, and have a way of bringing the house’s history back to life. Throughout the rest of the house there is other furniture and items reminiscent of that time period, which continue to preserve the house’s great history. On the old rear section of the house now opposite the garage, old signs still hang offering room and board to travelers. In the Scripps’s backyard, there is an age old street sign from Boise’s earlier days. And finally, there is a secretary desk in the first floor of the house where President Lincoln himself sat at in order to edit his biography, written by none other than current owner Jack Scripps’s great uncle.
In summary, this is a house filled with character. Although architectural renovations have occurred throughout the centuries in order to keep some aspects of the house with the times, it still certainly emits a sense of antiqueness and originality. And through efforts such as those by Jack and Jan Scripps, the house’s rich history including cowboys, Indians, President Lincoln, and most notably the very foundation of Boise, Idaho, can be preserved.