Location, Location, Location

A century-long intertwined history of three buildings on one Idaho Falls block

Published online: Mar 19, 2020 Articles Jeff Carr
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Two buildings now stand on the east side of Ridge Ave., between Elm and Ash in the city’s oldest remaining residential neighborhood. They face a funeral home across the street, which under a huge, gray sky adds all the more to the cold feeling of loss swirling around and between them.             

The buildings– one house and one church – are actually quite beautiful. And the weather does what it does, meaning that it just as often brings out warmth on this block as well. Most blocks cannot evoke such a broad range of reflection, though, because most blocks in our part of the country are not this old. They haven’t been around long enough to tell their own stories, or to notice the absence of the people and things that have gone before.

Most blocks also aren’t this deliberate. The house was first – a two-and-a-half-story Queen Anne mansion and the most expensive home built in Idaho Falls in 1903. It was built for Minnie and Frank Hitt (more on Minnie and her kin page 16). Minnie had arrived in Eagle Rock from Iowa some years before as a teenager, along with her sister and widowed mother, following in the footsteps of relatives who came before. They moved up quickly. Minnie and Frank were soon Idaho Falls’s “it” couple: friendly, fun-loving, fashionable, and successful – the serial entrepreneur and the region’s first and only female banker and bank manager. 

Minnie and Frank soon had neighbors. In about 1905, her cousin Idabel, a teacher, and her husband Harrison Linger, an attorney and eventual judge, began building a stately Craftsman-inspired home next door with half-timbering, square columns, and two imposing dormers. Minnie was close with her cousin, having lived with her in Iowa before Idabel made the trek west. The Linger home was finished in about 1911, but the cousins’ carefree time on Ridge was short-lived. Frank Hitt died in his home, in his forties, in 1914.

Four years later, on the other end of the block, the cornerstone was laid for a large building to house the First Presbyterian Church. Minnie and Idabel’s uncle Charles and aunt Martha Ramsay had organized the church in 1891, which had formerly met in a small, wooden structure on Shoup and A where Idabel and Harrison were married (with Minnie as a witness) and where Harrison soon became an elder. With her activism, financial prowess, and connections in the community, it seems unlikely that Minnie wouldn’t have been involved, along with Harrison and Idabel, in bringing her family’s church to her own block. The new building, with its four stately sandstone columns, dome, and stained glass honoring the congregation’s World War I veterans, instantly became a local landmark at its completion in 1920. A full century later, it remains the city’s best example of neoclassical architecture.

The years passed. Harrison Linger also died in his Craftsman home on Ridge in 1926, and in the next year, Idabel donated it to the church to be used as a manse, or minister’s residence. Minnie Hitt eventually remarried, retired, and followed her new husband to California. Idabel visited her there at the end of Minnie’s life. The Hitt mansion, no longer at the edge of town, was also given to the church, where it was used as a harbor house. The church expanded to meet the growth in the community, swallowing a fourth house to add an annex in the late ’50s. 

The Linger home was demolished in 2011, its 100th year, to make room for yet another renovation at the church. The decision caused some strife, but ultimately, the church’s needs had shifted, and they did what they believed was best. Harrison and Idabel probably would have understood. The church still owns the old Hitt mansion next door, with its tower, angles, and many original furnishings. They lease it cheaply as a shelter for families going through difficult times. It remains beautiful inside and out.

Most blocks, if they haven’t already, will reach 100 years old someday. Some houses will remain as monuments, full of stories. Whether those monuments last is, ultimately, up to us. 

 

If you would like to read more of our March issue click here!

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