Basque Museum, Cultural Center and Boardinghouse, Boise, IdahoA Story by Brian D'Ambrosio
Idaho is home to one of the largest populations of Basques outside of Spain. Numbers around 30,000 in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon are thrown around as estimates.
By Brian D’Ambrosio
The Basque Museum and Cultural Center was established in 1985 as a small museum in the historic Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga House at 607 Grove Street. Located in scenic Boise, Idaho, the Basque Museum and Cultural Center provides a look into the heritage of the Basque communities of Idaho and surrounding areas. Through hard work and the support of many individuals, businesses, foundations, and Basque communities, the Museum began to interpret the rich and colorful history of the Basques, their origins, and their new life in America.
Basques of Boise
Idaho is home to one of the largest populations of Basques outside of Spain. Numbers around 30,000 in southern Idaho and eastern Oregon are thrown around as estimates. They have been here about as long as western settlers have inhabited the region-since the mid to late 1800s-first coming for mining, then as shepherds. It was so nice, they invited their friends and family from the old continent.
Stereotypically, the Basques are known as a somewhat secretive culture, friendly and helpful to strangers and outsiders, hard working and industrious, but content to keep to themselves. To understand the Basque way of life in the West-one filled with tradition and a sharp sense of history- it is important to understand their culture and the history that defines them.
In A Basque History of the World, author Mark Kurlansky begins Chapter One by describing the Basques as “a mythical people, almost an imagined people.” It is somewhat true. The Basques are the oldest living ethnic group on the European continent, yet have never managed to have a country of their own. Yet they have survived as a culture unlike others who long ago were assimilated into others after invaders swept across Europe, not once, but many times.
Basques of Idaho
The first Basques in Idaho showed up as miners in the 1880s and 1890s, quickly turning to sheep herding as a means of a living. These Basques wrote home and invited their friends and family who came in large numbers between 1900 and 1920. Today, there are many Basque celebrations around the West. In Reno, Elko, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and in numerous small towns, picnics, festivals and celebrations, the Basques come together, even from overseas. This tightly knit community continues to celebrate its own culture and welcomes others to join in.
Basque Museum, Cultural Center and Boardinghouse, Boise, Idaho
The 611 Grove Street property became the primary facility for the Museum’s operations in 1993. As artifact donations and exhibit development increased, so did the need for more space. Displays, classrooms, a library, a kitchen and a Museum Store became part of the renewed space. Over the years, thanks to many dedicated people, the Museum has grown tremendously in facilities and services and has become an Idaho cultural institution.
The mission of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center is to preserve, promote and perpetuate Basque history and culture.. The only Basque language preschool outside of the Basque Country has been established as part of this mission.Museum collections include oral history archives, a library, a collection of records & tapes, manuscript materials, and numerous artifacts and photographs. It is the home of significant resources for anyone interested in Basque history and culture.
Basque, Idaho Landmarks
The Basque Center, 601 Grove:
Built in the late 1940™s as a social club and gathering place, the Basque Center has played an important role in the history of the Basques here. It’s used for dance practices for both the Oinkari Basque Dancers (ages 14+) and the Boise’ko Gasteak Dancers (ages 2-13). In the afternoon it’s not unusual to find some of the older Basques meeting there to drink coffee, converse, and maybe play some Mus, a Basque card game. The building is also rented for wedding receptions and dinners.
The Cyrus Jacobs-Uberuaga Boardinghouse, 607 Grove:
Built in 1864, it’s the oldest surviving brick building still in existence in Boise. Notable historical trivia includes boasting the first indoor bathtub in Boise and wedding site of Idaho’s famous Senator William Borah. It was first rented by Basques for use as a boarding house in 1910 and was purchased by the Uberuaga family in 1917 and continued to be used as a boarding house until 1969. Adelia Garro Simplot purchased the house in 1983 to save it from being torn down and the Basque Museum and Cultural Center (a non-profit organization created to help preserve and perpetuate Basque culture for future generations) was formed in 1985 and assumed it from her. Efforts are being made to restore the boarding house to its hey-day of between 1910-1930. It will help us tell the story of that important period of time and way of life for Basques in this area.
The Basque Museum and Cultural Center, 611 Grove:
This building houses the interpretive exhibits on the Basques and their history in Idaho, a classroom area where Basque language classes are offered two times per week, a library, offices, and a gift shop. A genealogy research center, archives of music, dance, photographs, and oral history are now being established.
The Fronton Building, 619 Grove:
It was built as a boarding house by the Anduiza family in 1912 and is especially unique because of the fronton, or Basque handball court, inside. Although an engineering firm occupied it for almost 50 years, they never expanded into the area where the playing court is located, so it hasn’t been modified since it was built. Two Basque bought the building in 1993. They lease the upper part for offices and the court to a Fronton Association formed to preserve the sports of handball and pala, a sport played with a heavy wooden racquet and a hard rubber ball. They hope to start teaching the younger children in the community to help insure the continuity of this part of the Basque culture and encourage non-Basques to become part of the Fronton Association.
Gernika, 202 S. Capitol:
This Basque Pub and Eatery was established in 1991 and has become a focal gathering point for many in the community. Saved by the Basque Museum and Cultural Center from demolition by trading parking spaces for a lease, sub-leaser, Dan Ansotegui, did all of the work to make it into the quaint spot it is today. You can find great appetizers, soups, sandwiches and wine there and an atmosphere that welcome’s all to the Basque Block.
Brian D’Ambrosio is the author of Montana Summer: 101 Great Adventures in Big Sky Country. Available for $2.00 as an Ebook here
© 2012 Brian D'Ambrosio
AboutBrian D'Ambrosio is a writer/editor/blogger/poet living in Missoula, Montana. D'Ambrosio's articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications, including High Country News, Wisc.. more..