June 24 – July 26, 2021
We returned to the condo, had a snack, and then set out for the Old Idaho Penitentiary, about fifteen minutes away. Parking was available in a small lot not far from the entrance to this imposing structure and so grabbing the camera, we set out for what would be a fascinating afternoon visit.
This was a functional prison from 1872 to 1973 and its first building, also known as the Territorial Prison, was constructed in 1870; the territory was seven years old when the prison was built, a full two decades before statehood.
From its beginnings as a single cell house, the penitentiary grew to a complex of several distinctive buildings surrounded by a 17-foot-high sandstone wall. The stone was quarried from the nearby ridges by the resident convicts, who also assisted in later constructions. We started at the entrance, which Is in the former Administration Building, paying the admission fee and heading out into the interior corpus of this home for the somewhat unenlightened treatment of convicts that was prevalent for its place in history.
We would spend a number of hours here, more so than you want to read about in this blog. Cell block after cell block reinforces how brutal and physically demanding the living conditions were, and yet, thinking about what those were for the population at large, it was potentially only a few degrees worse than for the average joe. Except for the “Honey Pot” bucket in each cell that was its only toilet.
Over its 101 years of operation, the penitentiary received more than 13,000 inmates, with a maximum population of a little over 600. Two hundred and sixteen of the inmates were women. Two famous inmates were Harry Orchard and Lyda Southard. Orchard assassinated former Governor Frank Steunenberg in 1905 and Southard was known as Idaho’s Lady Bluebeard for killing several of her husbands to collect upon their life insurance.
Serious riots occurred in 1952, 1971 and 1973 over living conditions in the prison. The 416 resident inmates were moved to the new Idaho State Correctional Institution south of Boise and the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed on December 3, 1973.
The first building you see upon entering the grounds is the New Cell House that opened in 1890 and consisted of three tiers of 42 steel cells. The third tier served as the original “Death Row.” The adjacent area now known as the Rose Garden was once used to execute prisoners by hanging. Of the 10 executions in the Old State Penitentiary, six occurred here.
Cell House 2, also known as the North Wing, contained two-man cells. Inmates burned the building in the 1973 riot. Cell House 3 was built the same as Cell House 2. It was eventually condemned for habitation, but in 1921 was converted into a shoe factory. In 1928, this building was remodeled for inmate occupancy and became the first cell house with indoor plumbing.
Cell House 4 (1952) was the largest and most modern cell house at the penitentiary. Some inmates painted their cells and left drawings on the walls that can be seen today. Cell House 5 (1954) became the maximum-security unit where the most unruly and violent offenders stayed. This building also served as a permanent place of solitary confinement and includes built-in gallows and the new “Death Row.”
There was much to see here, including the Idaho Merci Train boxcar, and the J. Curtis Earl Memorial Exhibit, all managed by the Idaho State Historical Society. In late 1999, J.C. Earl donated his personal collection of historic arms and military memorabilia to the state of Idaho. They range from the Bronze Age to those used today for sport, law enforcement, and military purposes.
We finished up our visit, having done a thorough job as tourists and now very hungry, stopped a block or two away from the condo at Lulu’s Pizza & Sushi, a recommendation from Cathy and Tony. We ordered a couple of local craft beers, a Lulu’s Supreme Pizza (house tomato sauce, Italian sausage, sliced mushrooms, garlic spinach, chopped basil, red onions, fresca tomatoes, green and red peppers, black olives, parmesan oregano blend, and mozzarella) and knowing we had a refrigerator in which to store leftovers, a full order of the California Roll.
A second beer put a smile on my face as we destroyed the bulk of the food in front of us, knowing we would enjoy leftover pizza for the next day or so. Back at the condo, it was another night of Tour de France and then some binging on one or our favorite flavor of the month streaming series. The next day, our last in Boise, would be a simple one with a bike ride in the morning and then a quiet afternoon of laundry and packing for the last week of the trip, with stops in Ely, Nevada, Meadview, Arizona and Henderson.
I once again used Ride with GPS to locate a 25-mile ride that just so happened to pass by the condo as it headed up Bogus Basin Road. We set out with good intentions only to discover that we would be climbing almost 1,000 feet in less than four miles, a stiff challenge that makes one question the wisdom of riding bikes in the first place.
We struggled and yet managed and soon after cresting the last of the big climbs, found ourselves rewarded with two miles of exhilarating downhill and a flat course to finish the ride.
The route took us back to the Boise River Beltway and we then pedaled up 13th street to stop in at Java Coffee and Café for some caffeine and a snack to reward us for our efforts. It’s a shame we only needed a nibble as they have an extensive menu of breakfast items that looked delicious as we spied other tables chowing down.
As the next couple of days would be full of driving, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing laundry, cleaning up the condo for our departure, and relaxing before setting out for what we hoped would be a final last quality meal, perhaps Italian this time and so off we went in search of one highly rated in Trip Advisor. We found it only to discover that one of the downsides of retirement is that one tends to lose track of the days of the week and thus, the restaurant was closed that day.
Ever resourceful, we did a quick search and found an outlet of 10-Barrel Brewing, one of our favorite beers from Bend and made our way downtown to check it out. The dining room is big and airy and so we felt comfortable sitting without masks. Joanna ordered a Pineapples in Paris, a dry-hopped Saison with hints of pineapple and I went for a Maibock to accompany our entrees.
At 20-ounces apiece they kept us hydrated through our meal, which was a Bulgogi Bowl (Marinated grilled chicken thigh, farro, peanut butter yum yum, avocado, roasted red peppers, cumin lime cabbage, cilantro, and black sesame seeds) for Joanna and a Chicken Caesar Salad (Citrus Caesar dressing tossed w/romaine and frisee, fresh grated manchego cheese, powdered anchovies, and crouton sprinkle) for me.
Portion sizes were substantial (then again maybe not for non-senior citizens) and we gamely powered through most of it, then rewarded ourselves by splitting a bottle of Chocolate Box (Blend of raspberry crush with bourbon barrel aged Russian Imperial stout for an ultimate dark chocolate experience), rated at 9.2% ABV so just the thing to finish the day with. Sated, we returned to the condo for an early evening knowing we had a long day on the road ahead of us, one that would not come without its share of bumps. More on that to follow.
Old Idaho Penitentiary: https://history.idaho.gov/oldpen/
Lulu’s Pizza: https://ilovelulus.com/
Java Coffee and Café: https://www.javaidaho.com/
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