That plat, which you could think of as Boise’s ancestral heart, stretched from 5th Street to 10th Street on its east/west border and from Idaho Street to Grove Street on its north/south border. Main Street bisected those original blocks.
It’s maybe more than a little ironic that Boise’s oldest blocks are home to many of its newest buildings, including the recently restored Grove Plaza. Just one building from the 1860s remains within that plat, the Cyrus-Jacobs Uberuaga House on the Basque Block at 607 Grove St. (1864). A few more buildings of that vintage remain in and around Fort Boise, now the grounds of the Veterans Administration.
Our focus today, the former Surgeon’s Quarters, also known as Building 4 (1863-64). The sandstone and brick building was home to Fort Boise’s medical officers beginning in the late 1800s until the early 1900s.
In the summer of 2017, Preservation Idaho hosted an open house to celebrate the building’s restoration, a project inspired by the sesquicentennial. The project included repointing the building’s masonry, rebuilding its porch and creating the “Fireplace Room,” a kind of parlor where visitors will be able to see seven historic maps of the fort site (worth viewing for the elegant hand lettering alone), and interpretive panels. An etching of the building, part of a limited edition created by artist Charles Gill as a fundraiser for the project, also hangs in the room.
The restoration project represents a key moment of collaboration (one might even say peace making?) between Preservation Idaho and the Boise Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Relations between the two have been famously frosty in the past. Preservation Idaho’s Orchids and Onions program that recognizes the best and worst in local preservation, awarded an onion to the VA in 2011 for its decision to raze Building No. 13, another historic sandstone military building, built in 1885.
But the two groups collaborated to pay for the Surgeon’s Quarters project. The public helped, too. Among the donors: students from Whitney Elementary School who pooled and donated their pocket change in what came to be known as the “quarters for Quarters” fundraiser.
The removal and rebuilding of the Surgeon’s Quarters front porch as part of the restoration created an opportunity for archaeologists from the University of Idaho to conduct a dig at the site in 2014. Archaeological crews uncovered “a bunch of little things you would expect to find, that would fall through the cracks of a porch,” said U of I Professor Mark Warner who led the dig. Among those “little things”: needles, remnants of toys, marbles and bullets. This was a military home, after all.
The VA is using the restored Surgeon’s Quarters as medical staff offices.
Parts of the building will open to the public on special occasions. Plans are also in the works to open the building’s conference room to nonprofit organizations in the future, said John Bertram, Preservation Idaho spokesman.
Take a look: The Veterans Administration, former Fort Boise, is at 500 W. Fort St. The Surgeon’s Quarters is on the eastern end of Officer’s Row on the northern edge of the complex.
Quick history: Where are the other oldest buildings in the city?
-- The O’Farrell Cabin (1863), at 450 W. Fort St.
-- Building 1, the Commander’s Quarters (1863), on Officer’s Row, west of the Surgeon’s Quarters
-- Building 6, the Quartermaster’s Store (1864) just west of the Idaho State Veterans Home on the VA grounds.