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Bureau of Reclamation Building

Bureau of Reclamation Building

Boise Project Office, ca. 1915

Photo Credit: ISHS

The ISHS Bureau of Reclamation Building is historically significant as the area administration headquarters for the numerous federally sponsored reclamation and irrigation projects in southern Idaho and southeastern Oregon.  Reclamation Service facilities in the region include several major engineering features, including the Deer Flat Embankments, Deadwood Dam, and Minidoka Dam in Idaho, and Owyhee Dam in Oregon. These impoundments, and the canal systems associated with them, allowed for the irrigation of vast tracts of land in the central Snake River Valley; this, in turn, was a highly significant force in the economic development of the region.  The building also has direct associations with the construction of Arrowrock Dam, a major feature on the Boise Project, and the power house construction at the Boise Diversion Dam. 

Bureau of Reclamation officeThe building was constructed during the fall of 1911 and completed in January 1912 to house engineers and administrators for the Boise Irrigation Project of the United States Reclamation Service.  It was the first permanent office for the Reclamation Service in Boise.  After renting office space in downtown Boise for nearly a decade and weathering a controversy in which boosters in the nearby communities of Nampa and Caldwell tried to lure the permanent Reclamation office to one of those towns, the Reclamation Service decided to build a permanent office on land it had secured for a warehouse and railroad siding.

The Broadway site offered the potential of a private railroad spur, a warehouse, and plenty of room for expansion of storage facilities.  Ample ground for storage had become especially important as Reclamation made plans to build Arrowrock Dam to impound a major storage reservoir on the Boise River for the Boise Project.  To be built as a concrete arch structure, Arrowrock would become the tallest dam in the world.  Such a construction project would require great quantities of material to be shipped to Boise by rail and then transported to the dam site some twenty miles up the Boise River.  For this task, the government decided to build its own railroad, the Boise and Arrowrock, with freight terminal facilities along the tracks of the Oregon Short Line at Broadway in Boise.  The Oregon Short Line would move cars along its tracks three miles from Boise to Barber, from where the government’s Boise and Arrowrock locomotives would pull the cars the remaining seventeen miles to the dam.  The railroad was designated a common carrier so that it could haul passengers and general freight, as well.  Placing its offices next to the Reclamation railroad depot made it convenient for Reclamation engineers to monitor the shipment of materials for construction of the dam as well as to travel to and from the dam construction site as needed.

The ISHS Bureau of Reclamation Building exhibits numerous Craftsman architectural details, including exposed rafter tails, and low, hipped dormers.  This detailing combines with the building’s overall massing, angled plan, and large porch to suggest an air of informality unusual for an urban office building.  The Craftsman style was a popular domestic architectural style of the 1900s and 1910s, but its use for public buildings was limited mainly to resource-related agencies such as the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, and the Reclamation Service.  The building’s form is, thus, reflective of the era, but it is simultaneously an unusual variant within the broader genre of American architecture when most public buildings were being constructed in more classical styles.