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Younger Than It Looks

Published in the May 2022 Issue Published online: May 18, 2022 Best of IF, Discover Idaho Falls, Home And Garden, Lifestyle Rebecca Long Pyper
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BLAME IT ON ITS PRIMITIVE APPEARANCE, but for years homeowner William Quinn has heard people refer to his home at 208 8th Street as the oldest house in Idaho Falls. It’s not.

But it is a pretty unique home nonetheless, and its real history, researched by Rebecca Freeman and added to by Quinn, acts as a snapshot into the early days of the city.

The advent of the railroad impacted life in the West in major ways, and in the 1880s more and more people moved to Eagle Rock to work in the industry. Among these newcomers was former Illinois school teacher William H.B. Crow, who was also a skilled carpenter. He and his wife Sara started buying up property and soon owned the land from 1st Street to 17th Street and from Holmes to South Boulevard. The Crows recognized that more housing was going to be needed in short order, and in September of 1890, William approached the city about their property being annexed as Crow’s Addition. This is still the official name of the Idaho Falls numbered streets.

William didn’t waste time maximizing on this property. He quickly donated land to the city for construction of a canal to run down what is now South Boulevard, and he sold all but one of the even-numbered city blocks to Daniel Higbee, part of a group of Midwestern investors. The group named all the north-south streets after themselves— hence what we now know as Higbee, Lee, Emerson and Holmes. Higbee is also credited with convincing city leaders to change the name of Eagle Rock to Idaho Falls in 1891. And he did all this from afar; there is no evidence he ever lived in Idaho Falls.

By this time, construction was booming. Swedish immigrant Carl John Carlson was a local stone mason, and for years he built local homes and commercial buildings. His material of choice was lava rock, but he utilized a variety of stone in his work, and all the leftovers from the job sites were taken home for future use. He and his wife Johanna lived very near the Snake River, and the cold breeze off the water was intolerable in the winter. Johanna purchased property from Higbee, and Carl began building their stone house at what is now 208 8th Street.

With 13 children, its construction was a family affair, and according to family histories, even the youngest helped by handing small rocks to their dad while he worked. The home was completed in 1897 and was modeled after traditional Swedish homes, giving it a unique appearance for East Idaho.

What started as the Carlson dream home was soon a bit of a nightmare. Even though retrieving water from the nearby canal was convenient, the house was built in a low-lying area—and it flooded multiple times in the spring when the canal overran its banks. This was unacceptable to Johanna, who loved to scrub her wood floors with lye to keep them bright and weaved her own rag rugs to add warmth. In 1899, just a little more than a year after its construction, the home was sold to the Briggs family for $300 and a team of mules.

More than 120 years later, the home is as distinct as ever. Quinn has lived there since 2011 and said that even though upkeep for a historic home is expensive, the single quality that makes everything worth it has “got to be the charm.”

A house doesn’t have to be more than a century old to be charming. Even new-home owners can achieve old-world curb appeal with these steps:

Go with something organic. Maybe you don’t have an authentic stone façade, but if you’ve got a concrete foundation, consider adding stone or brick veneer there. A mason can apply these finishes for almost-instant cottage appeal. Installing a brick walking path is an easy weekend project too. And if you’re building new or replacing a roof, try synthetic cedar shakes.

Choose a rustic paint color. Quinn’s home has sky blue doors and trim, but the hue is tempered by a muddy undertone. Choose an impure color like this, and whatever you paint will look like it’s been that shade for ages.

Hammer on some hardware. Quinn’s front door is accented with iron straps, and you can buy yours online from retailers like House of Antique Hardware, Signature Hardware or Wayfair. Try search terms like “strap hinges,” “iron strap” and “decorative hinges.”

So what is the oldest house in Idaho Falls? No one knows for sure, but it’s likely on Lava or Basalt, the first residential roads to be established in Eagle Rock, according to former Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Commission staff member Renee Magee. Her research suggests that one stone house with a partial porch in this neighborhood was built as early as the 1860s.


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