It’s been just over a year since a sandstone house on Ash and River Streets built in 1907 opened its doors as the city’s newest cultural site. So what happened there?
Known as the Erma Hayman House, this building holds the story of a remarkable woman — but that’s just part of it.
River Street, the area wedged between Front Street and the Boise River on the western edge of downtown, is filled with apartment buildings now. Before those were constructed, the land told a familiar American story. Front Street used to be a railroad — and downtown lay on one side of the tracks while a community formed on “the other side of the tracks.”
At the beginning of the 20th century, the River Street neighborhood was already one of Boise’s most diverse neighborhoods — in particular, it became home to the largest concentration of Black Boiseans.
The city segregated and then redlined River Street all throughout the mid-20th century. However, Erma Hayman herself was one of the neighborhood's many residents that built the community, and advocated for protection and resources — including helping land the stoplight that stands on 13th and Front Streets today.
As white society and government kept the neighborhood within its margins to maintain a geographic representation of social separation, River Street became its own community. Photo collections in the River Street Digital History Project and the city’s Department of Arts and History show its evolution and the families that lived there.
After decades of disinvestment, city planners decided to redevelop the neighborhood in the 1960s as the city’s downtown grew. Family homes and businesses were torn down en masse, and large apartment buildings were built.
Formerly a hub in a community of similar houses, Hayman’s house — where she lived until her death in 2009 at the age of 102 — is the only remaining single-story, single-family building on that block.