City Cast

Explore River Street Neighborhood Like a Local

Blake Hunter
Blake Hunter
Posted on September 14, 2022   |   Updated on June 15
The Erma Hayman House, at 617 Ash Street, is literally the last house on the block. (Blake Hunter / City Cast Boise)

The Erma Hayman House, at 617 Ash Street, is literally the last house on the block. (Blake Hunter / City Cast Boise)

In less than two weeks, a sandstone house on Ash and River Streets built in 1907 will open its doors as the city’s newest cultural site. So what happened there?

Often called the Erma Hayman House, this building holds the story of a remarkable woman — but that’s just part of it. We’ll have more on Erma Hayman herself in the coming weeks, but to start weaving together the story of that house, let’s start at the neighborhood level.

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 though, the land told a familiar American story. Front Street used to be a railroad — and with downtown on one side of the tracks, you can imagine the dynamic that was established with those who lived 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, because it was where so many working class immigrants worked, and it eventually came to hold the city’s largest concentration of Black Boiseans.

Don’t assume Boise’s small proportion of Black residents led to a lack of systemic discrimination — the city segregated and then redlined River Street all hroughout the mid-20th century. However, Hayman was one of the neighborhood's many residents that built the community, and advocated for protection (including the stoplight that stands on 13th and Front Streets today).

So while white-led governments ignored and kept the neighborhood on the margins, the community prevailed. That is, right up until the city thought it was too much of an eyesore and decided to level most of the buildings in favor of many of the apartment complexes there today.

One of the few remaining structures from the pre-1970s expansion of downtown is Hayman’s house, where she lived until her death in 2009 at the age of 102. In fact, it’s the only remaining single-story, single-family building on that block. And soon, you’ll get to see inside it!

Also, I haven’t forgotten I promised to do West Bench, so send me your favorite spots in that area for next week!

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