450 W Fort St
In June, 1863,
John A. O'Farrell cleared his land and built this single-room cabin
for his young wife, Mary Ann Chapman Lambert O'Farrell and family
on the block across the street from its current location. It is
considered the first family home in Boise, as well as the first
place of Catholic worship in Boise.
The cabin was restored to its 1912 condition in 2002 and is on
the National Register of Historic Places.
If you are interested in scheduling a group tour of the cabin,
please contact Jerry Pugh at 208-608-7617 or via email.
Boise: A City Along the Trail
Emigrants on the Oregon Trail passed through the Boise Valley
beginning in the 1840s. After Boise was founded in the summer of
1863, wagon trains came down off the bench to the south and forded
the Boise River east of town. From then on, Boises Main Street was
a part of the Oregon Trail.
The trail later crossed the Boise River below what is now 9th
Street where Uncle John McClellan operated a ferry boat.
The discovery of gold in the Boise Basin in 1862 created a major
gold rush into the area in the spring of 1863. To protect the
miners and settlers on the trail, the United States established a
military post, Fort Boise, on July 3, 1863. (An earlier 1834 Hudson
Bay trading post called Fort Boise, at the mouth of the Boise
River, near Parma, had been abandoned in 1856.) Major Pinckney
Lugenbeel was dispatched on June 1, 1863, to find a suitable
Major Lugenbeel selected this place at the river crossing of the
Oregon Trail and the trail up Cottonwood Creek and along Robie
Creek into the Boise Basin mining area.
The army arrived here on July 3rd and began construction of the
new Fort Boise on July 6 , 1863. Its buildings were located on the
low foothills facing the River at the mouth of Cottonwood Creek,
with a commanding view of the new settlement created by the Forts
location. The site of the Fort is now the location of the Veterans
The settlement was organized as Boise City in a town meeting
held on July 7, 1863. Shortly thereafter, a group of pioneer
businessmen including Henry C. Riggs, J.M. McClellan, C.W. Moore
and Tom Davis met at Tom Davis cabin, and plotted the original town
site parallel to the river. The plot had ten blocks, five on each
side of what is now Main Street between 5th and 10th Streets. The
land was divided among the original subscribers. The City would
grow outward from these original ten blocks.
Early City Founders
The city founders of 1863 included Cy Jacobs, a merchant, who
arrived to provide supplies to the mining camps in the Boise Basin,
but was persuaded to stay in Boise. His brick home built in 1864,
is still standing on Grove Street.
Henry C. Riggs helped plat the city and was instrumental in
having the Territorial Capitol moved from Lewiston to Boise in
1864. The county in which Boise lies was named for his daughter
Henry Prickett was elected as Boise's first Mayor in 1867.
History of Boise
In 1864, Boises population reached 1,658 of which only Idaho
City and Placerville were larger in size. Boise consisted of 60
buildings of various shapes, sizes and construction. Most of the
structures were made of lumber interspersed with adobe or logs.
Aside from residences, Boise had 9 stores for general merchandise,
2 livery stables, 2 breweries, 1 butcher shop, 2 blacksmiths, a
lumberyard, a tin store, a bootmaker, 5 saloons, 3 doctors and a
By 1867, the Citys growth required the surveying and layout of a
new plan. What is now known as the Boise City Original Townsite is
the core area of 140 blocks from Front to Fort, between 1st and
Albert Robies mill furnished sawn lumber to the valley by 1864
and provided lumber for the OFarrell Cabin. By 1868 Boise had grown
into a permanent settlement with about 400 buildings and 250
private homes. Unlike nearby mining towns comprised of single men,
Boise was a city of families who came to settle permanently.
In 1868, 200 children were enrolled in 1 elementary and 3
private schools. Higher education was limited to dance school and
In June 1863, John O'Farrell cleared his land and built this
single-room cabin for his young wife and family on the block across
the street from its current location. The cabin is made with logs
from cottonwood trees, which were abundant along the Boise River.
The crookedness of the logs was improved by flattening the outer
and inner sides with a broadaxe. The corners were steeple-notched
to drain water and prevent rot. The spaces between the logs were
chinked with small branches and filled with clay mortar. When first
built, it probably had a pole roof and the gable end walls were
made of logs. The interior walls were covered with fabric nailed to
the logs and the cabin had a dirt floor.
sawn lumber became available a year after the original
construction. O'Farrell soon made the cabin more livable by
replacing the pole roof with cut rafter and five rows of hand-split
shingles as seen today. The gable ends were replaced with board and
batten siding. The inside walls, ceiling and floor were covered
with planks. A brick fireplace supplemented the original stove. The
inside walls and ceiling were wallpapered, and a hinged door and
glass windows were installed. The growing O'Farrell family lived in
the cabin for seven more years and eventually moved into the large
brick house, which stands today at the corner of Fourth and
In 1910 the O'Farrell children offered the cabin to the
Daughters of the American Revolution on the condition it could be
moved and kept as a historic home. The D.A.R. secured this small
site facing Fort Street from the U.S. Army and raised money for its
relocation in 1911. At some time prior to the relocation, the
original wallpaper deteriorated and the walls and ceiling were
painted a pale yellow color.
Many prominent citizens contributed a total of $175.00 to the
relocation and first restoration of the cabin. The work included
replacing the roof shingles and a damaged log, and rebuilding the
chimney and fireplace using some of the original bricks. The
interior walls and ceiling were painted white. A bronze memorial
plaque was installed over the door in 1915. In 1925 the D.A.R.
again repaired the roof and re-chained the logs. The floor boards
were removed and reset over a concrete slab. In 1934 some historic
furniture was installed and the cabin was occasionally used for
By 1957 the
D.A.R. could no longer maintain the cabin and ownership passed to
the Sons and Daughters of the Idaho Pioneers. They installed a
protective roof structure over the entire cabin, placed iron bars
on the windows, made other repairs and erected the monument on the
west side. The Sons and Daughters maintained the cabin for a number
of years. Eventually the City of Boise accepted ownership of the
cabin. In spite of the protective roof, the cabin continued to
The Boise City Historic Preservation Commission became aware of
the cabin's condition and completed a preliminary restoration
study. A restoration report was funded by the Idaho Heritage Trust
in 1995. Charles Hummel, along with the Columbian Club organized a
fund drive, which was augmented by a major contribution from the
City's Millennium Fund. Sufficient funds were available by 2001 to
fully restore the now heavily deteriorated 138 year-old cabin and
the work was started under the direction of the Boise Parks &
At a cost of $51,000, the cabin has been renovated and freed
from its protective veil, barred windows and chain-link fence. New
roof shingles faithful to the original, numerous replacement logs
and floorboards, new chinking and paint has returned the cabin to
its condition in 1912. Careful research uncovered the earliest
paint colors used inside and on the door and window casing. The
cabin retains 85% of its original construction and is on the
National Register of Historic Places. It is the oldest family home
in the city and one of Boise's most important
John A. O'Farrell:
John A. O'Farrell was born in 1823 in County Tyrone, Ireland. In
1836, he entered Naval School and in 1838 sailed to Calcutta,
India. What an exciting life lay ahead for a 15-year-old boy!
In 1843, he arrived in New York City after sailing the "Seven
Seas." He then sailed around the Cape to Monterey, California where
he automatically became a United States citizen when California was
admitted to the Union in 1850. In 1847, he met John Sutter and
began his long love affair with mining. However, his sailing days
were not over. He sailed back to England and fought in the Crimean
War and was awarded the Crimean Medal of Valor.
By 1857, he was in Colorado prospecting for gold at Pike's Peak.
In 1859, he traveled to Louisville, Kentucky where he married Mary
Ann Chapman Lambert, who had a daughter, Mary Ann Lambert, who was
later adopted by John O'Farrell.
John and Mary started across the plains from Colorado to their
final destination in Idaho. This group of 14 wagons traveled four
months and three days before arriving in the Boise Valley.
O'Farrell built his cabin in 1863 across the street from the
From 1871-1878, John O'Farrell and his family lived in the
Salt Lake City area where he mined in Park City, Utah. While in
Utah, they suffered the loss of four children.
The O'Farrell family donated a block of land for the first
Catholic Church in Boise, St. Patrick's. He was one of the original
supporters of the New York Canal and was also politically active,
serving a term in the Territorial Legislature.
John O'Farrell passed away October 29, 1900, five months after
the death of his wife.
Mary Ann Chapman Lambert O'Farrell:
Mary Ann Chapman Lambert O'Farrell was born in County Cork,
Ireland in 1840. Her family came to the United States, probably
through New Orleans as she was enrolled in a French convent school
there by 1849. Her father had died and her mother moved the family
to Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1850's.
her first husband, John Lambert, in 1855 and moved to Philadelphia,
where her daughter Mary Ann was born in April, 1856. The marriage
broke up and Mary Ann Chapman Lambert left Philadelphia to join her
family who ran a grocery store in Louisville. There she met John A.
O'Farrell and married him on October 16, 1859.
Mrs. O'Farrell was responsible for the first Catholic services
in Boise to be celebrated in this log cabin. She noticed two men on
horseback and had her husband go after them and bring them to the
cabin because she was confident they were priests. They held mass
at the cabin for four years.
She was a compassionate and sympathetic woman who contributed so
much to the small, growing Boise community. She was always ready to
help the sick, the poor and the needy. Besides being the mother of
seven children, she also became a mother to seven adopted children
and gave them all the care of a loving family. She died on May 22,
In 1867, Rosa, then a child of seven years, was given to the
O'Farrell's by the commanding officer of Fort Boise. Rosa was
raised and educated by Mrs. O'Farrell. She was the niece of Chief
Winnemucca, who led several raids in the 1860's, including one in
which several Silver City residents were killed. U.S. troops from
Fort Boise followed him to Oregon where a desperate battle was
fought. Thirteen soldiers and more than 200 Indians were
Approximately 90 Indian women and children were captured and
brought to Fort Boise. Subsequently they were distributed to any
white settler who wanted them. Rosa lived with the O'Farrell family
for 24 years until her death.
In 1868, the five-year old brother of Rosa was sent to President
Andrew Johnson by the army. The boy was named "Andy Johnson" was
put into an education institution in Baltimore, where under the
fostering care of civilization he died at age 13.