AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Star
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Star is Idaho’s newest city and one of its fastest growing. It lies on the western edge of northern Ada County. The Boise River flows through the southern edge of the city. The northern part of the city rises into the foothills.
Residents have impressive views of the 7,572-foot-high Shafer Butte, Bogus Basin Ski Resort and surrounding Boise National Forest mountains that lie about 20 miles directly northeast.
In 1812 European explorers/trappers came into the Boise River Valley. In 1813 one of these trappers, John Reed, attempted to establish trading posts in the area. He chose a location at the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers, 25 miles west of Star near what is now Parma. However, a band of American Indians killed Reed and the other eight men in his party. The wife and two children of one of the men, warned by a friendly Indian, escaped.
In 1834 Hudson’s Bay Company representatives built an adobe fort near the site of Reed’s old cabin. A French trapper, François Payette, who ran the fort for many years, named the river and the fort “Boise,” the French name for “wooded.”
In 1841 the first overland immigration of pioneers to Oregon took place. Within a few years, thousands more followed. The Oregon Trail passed on the south side of the Boise River near what is now U.S. Highway 20-26, about two miles south of Star. Fort Boise was a prominent Oregon Trail landmark until destroyed by the floods of 1856 and 1862.
On August 2, 1862, prospectors discovered large quantities of placer gold in the mountains near what is now Idaho City. In 1863 approximately 16,000 prospectors and miners converged on the area.
On July 4, 1863, the U.S. Army established a military post overlooking the Boise River 15 miles west of what is now Star. The military provided protection to the miners, settlers and Oregon Trail immigrants from hostile Indians. They named their new post “Fort Boise,” thus restoring the old Oregon Trail landmark—except the new fort was about 40 miles east of the original Fort Boise. Three days later, a group of local settlers platted a new town, which they named Boise City, next to the new fort.
The discovery of gold in the Boise Basin played an important role in the development of Star. Thousands of miners in the nearby mountains were paying premium prices for fresh food. Settlers began utilizing the newly enacted Homestead Act (1862), filed their 160-acre homestead claims along the Boise River and began diverting irrigation water from the river onto their farms and ranches.
The stage line between Boise City and Umatilla, Oregon, passed near the future city of Star. This wagon road provided the transportation link needed to deliver farm production to the miners.
One of the first settlers in the area was M.B. Palmer. Palmer diverted water from the Boise River through an irrigation canal he named Pioneer Ditch. Several additional homesteaders settled between the future communities of Star and Middleton. They joined Palmer in improving Pioneer Ditch and extending it to the Middleton (flour) Mill.
Church groups were among the community’s first public gatherings. In 1864 one of the settlers—a minister, David Fouch—held Church of Christ meetings in his home. In 1881 the congregation built a church that they would later move to Star. The Methodists also built a church.
Education was important to early settlers. In the case of Star, the schoolhouse provided the object that gave the city its name.
During the mid-1870s the settlers built their first schoolhouse just off, and facing, the stagecoach road. In an apparent attempt to underscore academic excellence, one of the settlers sawed a large five-pointed star and nailed it to the school’s front door.
The school with the star door became an important landmark and frame of reference. For example, Western travelers seeking a nearby restaurant and lodging facility were often told that the facility was one mile east of the schoolhouse with a big star on the door. As the community grew into a farmer’s market and trading center, it adopted the name “Star.”
In 1880 postal authorities approved the Star Post office, housed in Shepp Grey’s General Store. At that time, the community had two blacksmith shops, a schoolhouse, two churches and ten homes. The first hotel opened in 1888.
In 1890 the Fouch brothers built a ferry across the Boise River south of town. In 1904 the Star Bridge replaced the ferry.
In 1903 a new brick schoolhouse on River Street replaced the old frame school with the star on the door.
During the early 1900s residents enjoyed a variety of activities. Main Street was a dirt road. They often held horse races down Main Street followed by a baseball game in the park. Some horse races were on-the-spot challenges, making it necessary for pedestrians to be alert.
Other community activities included a debating society that met weekly to discuss issues of the day such as railroads, Sunday laws and women’s rights. In addition, there were literary society meetings, school sporting events and skating at the village rink. Star Trading Days were livestock sales held the third Saturday of each month.
In 1905 Star became an incorporated village. By 1907 Star’s population exceeded 500. The Idaho Daily Statesman reported, “[Star had]…five general merchandise stores; drug store; one hardware; one lumber and coal yard, carrying as complete a stock as is to be found in the state; two blacksmith shops; two first-class hotels; two livery stables; one real estate and land office; newspaper and printing plant; and the Farmers Bank of Star.”
On August 7, 1907, the Interurban Trolley called the “Boise Valley Loop” was completed. This electric railroad carried passengers, freight and farm produce. It ran from Boise to Caldwell via Eagle, Star and Middleton and back through Nampa and Meridian to Boise—cost per passenger, 65 cents.
The Interurban Trolley also brought electricity to Star. In addition, Star received a handsome Interurban Depot with a freight office and passenger waiting room. The depot also served the stagecoach line to Emmett.
With the trolley came a surge of new businesses and residents. In 1909 residents and businesses built at least 30 new buildings including the two-story brick Odd Fellows Hall that also housed the Pinney Opera House. In 1911 the first issue of the weekly newspaper, the Star Courier, began publishing. In 1912 a new four-year high school started and the Friends Church constructed its building. A lumberyard came in 1917; and in 1919 W.T. Kirtley erected the Star Mercantile Co. building, a business that is still in operation.
The Interurban Trolley was a transitional mode of transportation used between the era of horse drawn carriages and motor vehicles. By 1928 demand for the trolley had dropped off so far that it ceased operations. The closure of the trolley had a significant adverse effect on Star’s economy and the attitude of its residents.
Rescinding Village Charter and Reincorporation
In 1929 the Idaho Department of Transportation (ITD) paved the highway—now State Highway 44—on the east and west sides of Star. ITD did not pave the road through the city because, under Idaho Law at the time, Star was an incorporated village and had its own highway jurisdiction. Thus, Star would have had to pay for the pavement laid through the village.
The residents wanted the paved road to bring in business lost due to closure of the trolley. However, they did not have the money to pay for it and raising taxes was out of the question. Accordingly, they opted for an expedient solution; they rescinded their village incorporation. Since Star was now legally a rural community, ITD had no option but to pave the road through town.
The Great Depression took an added toll on the town. Perhaps the most significant was the 1934 failure of the Farmers Bank of Star. However, the bank’s depositors ultimately recovered all of their money.
For about sixty years, Star’s population stayed around 500. In 1955 area patrons formed the Star Fire District. In 1990 the town had a population of 648.
However, in the 1990s several high-tech and other businesses in the Treasure Valley began a period of rapid growth. The populations of Ada and Canyon Counties soared. This population growth spilled over into Star.
Ada County Commissioners were approving an increasing number of subdivisions in the Star area as families wanted more affordable housing on the one hand and large-lot subdivisions on the other. Many Star residents concluded that the growth was getting out of control. In order to manage the rapid growth, provide adequate services and preserve their quality of life, they needed to incorporate as a city.
On December 12, 1997, the Ada County Commissioners approved the incorporation of the City of Star. Star became Idaho’s 200th city, the first since 1971. In addition, Star is the only city in Idaho that has been incorporated twice.
Amenities and Attractions Today
Blake Haven Park is located next to the elementary school. The park has a playground, ball fields and picnic facilities.
Star’s natural setting provides a variety of outdoor recreation opportunities. Many residents enjoy biking in the foothills on the north side of town. Others enjoy the Boise River that borders the town on the south. On almost any given day, people go to the river to float on tubes or rafts, fish, swim, bird watch or just walk along the banks.
The city has eleven historic buildings. Walking tour pamphlets are available at the City Hall. Many of these buildings date back to 1907, the time of the Interurban Trolley when Star had its last period of rapid growth.
The Star cemetery has many historical markers including many who died along the Oregon Trail. The oldest are dated 1871. Some markers are obviously hand hewn.
One of the attractive aspects of living in Star is its proximity to Boise. Star residents live within 16 miles of the state capital and numerous Boise amenities including museums, parks, shopping, concerts, professional sporting events and the zoo.
Eagle Island State Park is five miles east. The state has recently completed a comprehensive plan for this 545-acre park. When complete, Eagle Island State Park will be a mixed-use facility with natural areas set aside for wild life, a wildlife interpretative center, lakes, many water features, areas for the performing arts and numerous walking paths connecting to the green belt that will extend through the Treasure Valley. Not only will Star residents enjoy this developing facility, but it will be a source for economic development for businesses in the city.
Downhill skiing is available at the 2,600-acre Bogus Basin Recreational Area in the Boise National Forest, 16 miles north of Boise. The resort has 7 chairlifts, 52 groomed ski runs and 165 acres of night skiing.
Many of Idaho’s honored veterans are buried 14 miles east in Veterans Memorial State Park.
The four units of Lucky Peak State Park are located about 26 miles southeast in or near Lucky Peak Reservoir.
The four segments of the 16,944-acre Boise River Wildlife Management Area begins several miles west of Boise and crosses both sides of State Highway 21. This wildlife management area primarily provides winter habitat for deer and elk.