Boise Basin Mercantile

By Don Campbell

Dr. Bailey Simpson

The Boise basin Mercantile (Merc) began its long history as a general store in 1885. The earliest records show the brick building immediately following the great Idaho City fire of May 18, 1865. It was opened by D. and J. Issaacs as the Isaac's Bros. General Merchandise store most likely in 1865. The building survived another great fire on May 17, 1867. In 1868 Dr. Bailey Simpson built the adjoining brick building next to Isacc's Bros. and opened his new fireproof brick building as a general merchandise store. A general store has been in continuous operation from the Isaccs' Bros opening in the summer of 1865 until the current owners closed the store in the summer of 2002. Until then it was the oldest continuously operated store in the state of Idaho.

The three brick buildings that make up the Boise Basin Merc were built of local low fired brick. Amazingly, the building on Main Street has never been remodeled. The shelving on the walls inside is original and built with square nails. The entry doors on front of the store are original even including original hardware. The worn floor is also original, built with square nails. The large, heavy iron doors were built in San Francisco and brought to Idaho City on horse drawn wagons in the 1860s. The ceiling still contains a layer of brick covered by about a foot of dirt to make the building fireproof.

The Mercantile

In 1870, the Boise County Bank opened on the corner of Main and Commercial streets in the space previously known as the Isaac's Bros. General Merchandise store. The bank continued in operation until closing in 1919. Frank Church Sr., father of Senator Frank Church, was cashier and assayer in this bank. In 1920, the Idaho City Post Office opened in this space and remained there until it moved to Montgomery street in 1972.

Many of Idaho City's most important merchants sold their wares in this brick building. J.G. Bryant, one of the town's most successful early merchants, occupied the building. Samuel and Robert Davis owned and operated the store as Davis Bros. in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The Davis brothers' father, Ben Davis, was Jefferson Davis's nephew. J.A. Lippincott and William Warner operated the store as Lippincott and Warner after the century. Lippincott was Boise County Sheriff for many years before purchasing the store. Dr. Fairchild purchased the store in April of 1926 as the Boise Basin Mercantile. Dr. Fairchild also operated two other Boise Basin Mercantile stores, on in Placerville and another in Centerville, quite possibly the first store "chain" in Idaho.

Insidee the Mercantile

The brick Boise Basin Mercantile store in Placerville can still be seen. The Merc was owned and operated by Arthur Baker during the mid 1900s. Mr. Baker later became an executive with Albertson's. Myrtle Ross owned and operated the Merc from 1960 to 1972 when it was purchased by Fred and Peggy Carlson. Don Campbell purchased the store in 1973 and sold it in 1980.

It's amazing that the Merc building remains in its original state. The large, brick chimney that can be seen from Commercial Street was built in the 1860s for use by Idaho City's only assay office, which was in the basement under the bank. The original shake roof still exists under the tin that was installed in the later part of the 1800s.

The bank's original safe is still embedded in the wall where it was installed in the late 1860s. It is engraved with the words "Lilly's Burglar and Fire proof Safe, Troy, New York, 1862." The safe most likely was shipped by sailing ship around South America to Portland and then by wagon trails to Idaho City. There are scars on the front of the safe where an attempt to blow it up with dynamite occurred in the 1800s.