Erma Hayman House
The City of Boise acquired the Erma Hayman House, located at 617 Ash Street, in May 2018.
For a large part of the twentieth century, the River Street Neighborhood was a working-class section of the city, and housed immigrants from the Basque Country, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Japan, Russia, and elsewhere. By 1940, housing segregation had made River Street home to the majority of Boise's African American residents. Erma Hayman and her husband purchased their house in 1948, and Erma lived there until her death in 2009. Boise’s Erma Hayman House is a cultural and historic resource.
Who is Erma Hayman?
What is the history of the Erma Hayman House?
What is the River Street Neighborhood?
Why did the City acquire the Erma Hayman House?
Erma Hayman House Public Art
Erma Andre Madry Hayman was born on October 18, 1907 in Nampa, Idaho. Before 1900, Erma’s parents, Amanda Chouteau Dodge and Charles Edward Andre, moved from Missouri to Montana—where Edward worked briefly as a miner—and then on to Idaho. The Andres had thirteen children, three of whom were born in Nampa. Erma was the twelfth of thirteen and played piano in the family orchestra. Edward and Amanda were farmers during their early time in Idaho. Later, Edward worked whatever jobs he could get in town and Amanda took care of the dairy farm. The Andres were one of only a few African American families living in Nampa.
Erma moved to Boise and lived on Grand Avenue in 1927 and 1928. On November 3, 1928, she married Navy Madry and the couple moved to Seattle for three years. Together, they had three children: Barbara, Jeanne, and Frederick. In 1935, Navy died of leukemia, leaving Erma a widow. She eventually married Lawrence Hayman in 1943, and in 1948, after racial discrimination prevented them from buying property elsewhere in the city, the couple bought the house at 617 Ash Street.
Erma worked hard her entire life, even as she faced systemic job discrimination. After years of cobbling together a living through various positions, she worked twenty years at Lerner’s, a women’s clothing shop on Idaho Street. Erma was known to provide and care for neighbors who were in need or who didn’t have family nearby, keeping them company and bringing them food. She was also a vital advocate for her neighborhood and its residents. She served on the River Street Neighborhood Council, acting as its chairwoman from 1973 to 1974, and fought to have a crosswalk and stoplight installed at the busy intersection of 13th and River streets.
Erma died on November 2, 2009, still a resident of her neighborhood at the age of 102.
Image: Erma Hayman car in the snow, Jeanne Madry–Young Collection, Boise City Archives MS078
The Erma Hayman House, located in Boise’s River Street Neighborhood, is the last single-family home on its block. After extensive development in the area, the structure now stands on the corner of Ash and River streets in the Lover’s Lane Addition. The single story, one-bedroom residence was built in 1907, two years after the addition was platted and the year of Erma Hayman’s birth. In total, the modest house comprises approximately 900 square feet and is situated on two 26’ x 122’ lots located in the center of the block fronting Ash Street. The small size of the property was typical of lots in Lover’s Lane. Maps show that various outbuildings—including an alley dwelling, an outhouse, and a garage—have existed on the homesite over time, though none of them remain today. After the house was built, it changed hands several times before Erma and her second husband, Lawrence Hayman, purchased it in 1948. Erma lived there until her death more than sixty years later.
The Erma Hayman House features a hipped roof and recessed porch. Though its size was typical of the era in which it was built, its squared sandstone corners around the porch columns, windows, and doors were unique. The exterior of the house features a belt of sandstone that extends out just a bit to form natural windowsills. Few homes were constructed entirely from sandstone; however, this material is prominent in Boise’s architecture—it was used to build the Idaho State Capitol and numerous other structures from the time period. The Erma Hayman house is particularly unique to its location since most of the houses that surrounded it in the River Street Neighborhood were built out of wood. Architecturally, the one-bedroom house has seen minimal alterations over its 100+ year life span.
Image: Erma Hayman House, Jeanne Madry–Young Collection, Boise City Archives, MS078
For a large part of the twentieth century, the River Street Neighborhood was the most ethnically and culturally diverse area in Boise. A working-class section of the city, the neighborhood housed immigrants from the Basque Country, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Japan, Russia, and elsewhere, and by 1940, housing segregation had made River Street home to the majority of Boise’s Black residents. Most structures from the early days of the River Street Neighborhood have been lost, and like so many areas populated by immigrants, Black Americans, and members of the working class, its stories have gone largely overlooked, necessitating the preservation of the Erma Hayman House and the history of this treasured community.
The original residents of the Boise Valley included Shoshone, Bannock, and Northern Paiute. Fur trappers arrived in Idaho in the early 1800s followed in the 1840s by the opening of the Oregon Trail. This mass migration resulted in violent conflicts between Euro-American settlers and Idaho’s Indigenous people. Mining and city building repeatedly pushed Native Americans to the edges of their traditional areas in and around the Boise Valley. The federal government promised the Shoshone and Bannock tribes land through treaties that it neither upheld nor ratified. Federal military troops began forcibly relocating the Boise Valley’s Indigenous people to the Fort Hall Reservation in eastern Idaho in 1869. This and similar campaigns fractured many Native American families and communities by dispersing them to different reservations far from each other. Around this same time, William Thompson and a gold miner named John McClellan joined several other families in homesteading land near the Boise River, not far from what would one day become the River Street Neighborhood.
As Boise grew, citizens desired to build a railroad that would connect the city to regional and national transportation lines. Several housing additions were platted between Front Street and the Boise River, and tracks were eventually laid on the northern edge of the neighborhood along what is now Front Street, solidifying River Street’s status as the neighborhood on the “other side of the tracks.” Many early residents in the area, including Basque, Greek, and Croatian immigrants, and a few African Americans moved in during a population growth spurt between 1900 and 1920.
In the early 1940s, the military invested in the development of a large air base in Boise known as Gowen Field. This resulted in an influx of men who trained at the base, and the entire city experienced a housing shortage. African American men who came to Gowen Field with their families, found homes in the River Street Neighborhood when they experienced housing discrimination elsewhere.
As the city entered the 1970s, the property between downtown and the river became more valuable. It was viewed as a “blighted” area and targeted for urban renewal. Many homes were razed and neighborhood streets were realigned and widened, including River Street. This drastically transformed the character of the area from a quiet neighborhood near the river to a busy thoroughfare. As demolition and redevelopment continue, so does the disappearance of the River Street Neighborhood’s historic fabric.
Learn more about the River Street Neighborhood with the River Street Neighborhood Digital History Project.
Tied into the goals of the City of Boise’s Cultural Master Plan, the preservation and interpretation of the 617 Ash Street property are critical components for representing those whose stories are often omitted from standard historical research. The home’s architecture also provides insight into stylistic and construction trends of the era and how these intersect with different demographic groups.
The City of Boise will begin construction at the Erma Hayman House at 617 Ash Street in June 2021. As a Cultural Site planned to be programmed and operated by the Department of Arts & History (A&H), A&H staff has, over the last five years, researched the property and neighborhood, overseen site and program planning in conjunction with architects and technical staff, established a citizen task force, facilitated the selection of a nationally-recognized artist for public art on site, conducted oral histories, and established an archival photo and documentation collection around the history of the River Street Neighborhood. The development of this project has been co-managed by Public Works Staff (overseeing capital budget and construction process) and A&H staff (overseeing public program planning, historical research, and community relations). A comprehensive list of project milestones achieved so far provide context for future work on this site.
Design Concept for Erma's Wall by Vinnie Bagwell
Vinnie Bagwell’s design concept for Erma’s Wall pays tribute to and celebrates Erma Hayman’s life spent at 617 Ash Street in the River Street Neighborhood in downtown Boise. The proposed artwork takes the form of a series of low-relief sculptural objects, presented in cold-cast bronze resin with a smooth black patina and gold highlights. The series of objects and images serve to represent personal and intimate moments and references to family stories, beginning with a portrait of a young Erma Hayman and continuing on to feature Erma playing with the family band, Erma working for Lerner Shops in downtown Boise, Erma as a neighborhood advocate, and images related to her time spent with family. Accompanying the visual components of the artwork, the wall will feature an interpretive panel which will serve to provide additional information for each image and object. The work will be accessible and functional to visitors of the site and for historic interpretive tours and programming as part of the future of the site.
The artwork will be installed in the spring of 2022 on the property’s North boundary on the South facing wall of the adjacent property’s (Ash Street Townhomes) parking garage.
About Vinnie Bagwell
The Erma Hayman House advisory task force provides recommendations for the programmatic vision and outreach tactics surrounding the house, including guidance on the site’s future use, public art selection, historical and cultural context, and other community engagement strategies. A one to two-year commitment for members, this group's support and guidance are integral to the vision and opening of the Erma Hayman House.