A common myth of historic preservation is that owning or caretaking an old building means it can never change, that everything has to remain the same and, well, stagnant. The reality is, though, that managing a significant historic structure is anything but consistent or rigid. Here at the Idaho Heritage Trust, we’ve worked for many decades so closely with Idahoans around the state whose love of historic structures have proven that preservation includes modification. There have been many changes to Boise’s The Bishops’ House over the years, including the lifting up of the entire giant historic home, placing it on a flatbed truck, and moving it a few miles from downtown Boise to out near the Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site in 1975. One significant recent change is the ripping up of old maroon carpet to refinish and restore the original wood floors upstairs (thanks to an Idaho Heritage Trust grant (read more on our Facebook page here) in the newly renamed Bride’s Room (now called the Rose Room as it overlooks the rose garden out front) and the Groom’s Room (now the Sumac Room for the trees right outside its windows).
Sometimes it’s our desire for change that gets us involved in preservation of historic buildings in the first place. This was certainly the case for The Bishops’ House Board President Juno Van Ocker, who got involved volunteering there in 2015. “I was at a wedding probably seven years ago and was appalled at the way that the guests and renters were treating this beautiful property they were allowed to use. I called up the director the next week to talk to her about it and she invited me in to come discuss my ideas for improvement and here I still am,” Juno explains. Now board members and volunteers are present to assist at all events at The Bishops’ House, including cleaning up before and after and even tending to the grounds. On warm mornings in the spring, summer and falls months, Juno and others can be found in overalls on hands and knees planting, weeding and caring for the new rose garden in preparation for its dedication in the fall of 2023, which will include a bench with a plaque space reserved for folks who may like to memorialize loved ones. (Another group who loves the rose garden? A whole herd of deer who visit nightly from the Boise Foothills who enjoy snacking on the tiny rosebuds.)
Speaking of memorializing folks who have passed – and those just joining us earth-side – The Bishops’ House has become more frequently a beautiful place to have celebration of life ceremonies in addition to baby showers. And, as mentioned above, it’s not just human creatures who share this historic space – every year an owl family joins the deer to make its home in a nearby tree and love to perch on the wooden deck railings and their sightings are a real treat for staff, volunteer and visitors to the Old Pen historic neighborhood district.
The enduring nature of historic structures like The Bishops House are in large part due to an ever shifting mindset on what is important to preserve and how to move and adjust with the changing times, culture and climate. “Our basic mission here is preservation and restoration,” said Amelia Berg, executive director of The Bishops’ House. “And to us an important part of preservation means educating the public by getting them in our doors to use this fabulous home.” 2023 certainly saw a lot of folks using the structure and the grounds, from the Bards in the Yard, The Boise Bard Players theatre troupe, performing outside and the Vampires Ball at Halloween, to the annual Christmas parlor with dozens of Victorian decorated trees and a special dinner on St. Patrick’s Day. A definite highlight was hosting a luncheon for PBS and the crew of the Antique Roadshow last Memorial Day weekend when they were in town filming next door at the Idaho Botanical Gardens!
The Bishops’ House Boise was built in 1889 by James King, the city’s first architect, and renovated in 1899 by renowned Idaho architecture firm Tourtellotte & Hummel (now Hummel Architects). It’s a very large Queen Anne Victorian home with a foundation of sandstone quarried from Tablerock, just above where it now sits. Home to a succession of bishops who served as head of the Idaho Episcopal diocese, each known as The Bishop of Idaho, the house was saved from the wrecking ball by a group of Boiseans who organized as the Friends of the Bishops House, and moved the house to its current site near the Old Idaho Penitentiary State Historic Site and restored the home. The Bishops’ House is also significant for its role in the establishment of the educational institution of St. Margaret’s Episcopal High School for Girls, which became Boise Junior College and later Boise State University. It would go on to serve as the first senior community center in Boise, established in the 1960s. Originally located at 120 Idaho Street near St. Luke’s Health System, the home was deeded to the State when it was moved to this site in 1975 and today is a popular spot for historic themed events and weddings.
Find out more about The Bishops House and previous preservation projects funded by the Idaho Heritage Trust here and keep up with all the ways people from all walks of life – and death – are utilizing this important historic Boise structure on their website, Facebook page and Instagram.
(gallery photos below courtesy IHT and The Bishops House)