Old Idaho Penitentiary
If you want to see how the convicts lived, check out Idaho’s first territorial prison in Boise, Idaho.
Idaho Territory was less than ten years old when the territorial prison was built east of Boise in 1870. The penitentiary grew from a single cellhouse into a complex of several distinctive buildings surrounded by a high sandstone wall. Built by convict labor, the prisoners quarried the stone from the nearby ridges to complete the construction.
Over its century of operation, the penitentiary received more than 13,000 convicts, of whom 215 were women. Spurred in part by conditions that sparked a general riot in 1971 and an even more severe riot in 1973, the inmate population was moved to a modern penitentiary south of Boise and the Old Idaho Penitentiary was closed on December 3, 1973.
After the Penitentiary closed in 1973, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Today it is a fascinating Boise tourist attraction that offers one of the most informative prison tours in the West. The prison is open to visitors to walk through the courtyards, the cells, the gallows and the “coolers” where prisoners were sentenced to solitary confinement. You will begin your visit with a video presentation recalling prison history, notorious inmates, and daily prison life. Once inside the Yard, imagine life in the foreboding sandstone cellhouses, see the contrasting beauty of the historic rose gardens, and view the effects of the 1973 riot. Exhibits are located throughout the site.
The prison is open all year and admission is charged for the tour.
Old Idaho Penitentiary
2445 Old Penitentiary Road
Oasis Bordello Museum
This place actually operated as a fully functional “real live” bordello until 1988, when its occupants left in a real hurry, abandoning their clothing, makeup and toiletries. Even the dirty dishes were left in the sink as the “ladies” hustled out before the Feds raided the joint. Prior to that time, the Oasis, along with four other such brothels happily skipped along, providing their services, until a local politician was charged with going easy on law enforcement in North Idaho in exchange for campaign contributions.
At the time, each of the five businesses sported a neon sign advertising “rooms.” Some travelers were no doubt surprised to find that these rooms were not the type meant to “rest.”
The Oasis Bordello is in the Bi Metallic Building which began its existence in 1895 as a hotel and saloon. When Wallace became the center of the one of the world’s richest silver mining districts, men outnumbered the women nearly 200 to 1, and the building soon housed the Oasis.
Today the Oasis Bordello is a museum where they say a very “tasteful” tour is presented to its many visitors. Proprietress Michelle Mayfield shares information gleaned from the ladies’ hairdressers, local policemen, the establishment’s former bouncers and maids, and even the ladies themselves. In a 20-minute glimpse into the past, the details of the presentation range from poignant to hilarious.
Entry to the Oasis gift shop on the main floor is free. The shop offers literature on women of the west, mementos from the Oasis’s days of operation, and lingerie from thong panties to flannel nightgowns. Robert Thomas Murals adorn the shop walls. The guided tour of the Oasis Rooms is on the second floor and is the main attraction, covering several other displays of interest, including a still and an old wine press in the basement.
Oasis Bordello Museum
605 Cedar Street
Soda Springs Geyser
In Soda Springs, Idaho you can see the only captive geyser in the world. The city accidentally found the geyser when they were searching for a hot water source for a swimming pool. On November 30, 1937, while drilling down some 315 feet, water from an underground chamber was suddenly unleashed into the air.
The extreme pressure of the water is caused by carbon dioxide mixing with water in the earth’s depths below. Staying at an almost constant temperature of 72 degrees, the water has now been “harnessed” by a timer and erupts every hour.
The geyser regularly reaches heights of 100 feet and sometimes more on windless days. Entertaining visitors from around the world, these sparkling waters have been featured in Ripley’s “Believe It or Not.”
The Visitor Center, in a renovated historic building, welcomes tourists with two rooms which contain large interpretive signs revealing the natural wonders and history of the area.
Group arrangements are available with prior notice.
More information: Geyser Park, Soda Springs, Idaho