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Erma Hayman helped create a Boise neighborhood. Her legacy will inspire generations to come.

The refurbished Erma Hayman House will open to the public on September 22, 2022
City of Boise Department of Arts & History, Richard Madry
The refurbished Erma Hayman House will open to the public on September 22, 2022

Odds are, you’ve driven by it a hundred times – a modest one-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Boise’s River Street neighborhood.

Made of sandstone about the same time as the Idaho Statehouse, which is built of the same material, most people called 617 Ash Street “Erma’s place" or the "Hayman House.”

That would be Erma Hayman, who lived in the sandstone house until the age of 102. But it is Erma Hayman’s legacy that stronger than any stone. And on September 22, 2022, the City of Boise will once more swing the doors open to the newly-revitalized landmark.

“We really identify the preservation and interpretation of this property as a critical component for representing those whose stories are often omitted from standard historical research,” said Kristen Hill, interim cultural sites program manager for the City of Boise. “So, this is an opportunity for us to capture an important part of Boise’s history that is not very well known.”

Hill joined Travis Jeffres, history programs manager for the City of Boise to visit with George Prentice to talk about the city’s passion for the project.

“We really hope that the community comes out and has the opportunity to see the site and get a tour and celebrate this massive achievement with us.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I’m George Prentice. The address is 617 Ash Street, a modest home built in 1907….sandstone, in fact, not unlike the sandstone of the Idaho Statehouse, which was also being built about the same time. But for many it's known as the Erma Hayman House. That would be Erma, Andree Madry Hayman. She lived there until her death at the age of 102. Her story is so impressive. And here's hoping that we will whet your appetite just a bit this morning to learn more. But first, I'm very happy to welcome to the program Travis Jeffries, history programs manager for the City of Boise. And Kristen Hill is here, interim cultural sites program manager for the city. Kristen and Travis, good morning.

KRISTEN HILL: Good morning.

TRAVIS JEFFRES: Good morning, George. Thanks for having us.

PRENTICE: You bet. The Erma Hayman house is….well, let's just start right there. Why is the City of Boise so engaged on this acquisition and this project?

HILL: You know, this is just a really exciting opportunity for the City of Boise. This is something that really ties well into the goals of the City of Boise's Cultural Masterplan, which is a tool for current and future leaders to understand the evolution of the arts communities and the richness of Boise's history. And as a part of that plan, we really identify the preservation and interpretation of this property as a critical component for representing those whose stories are often omitted from standard historical research. So, this is an opportunity for us to capture an important part of Boise's history that is not very well known.

JEFFRES: Yeah, that's exactly right. I think the city really viewed this as an opportunity to preserve one of the last vestiges. You may know this, George; you've been here to the home…but this is the last single-family home on its block. This modest home at 617. Ash Street is now surrounded by a very busy thoroughfare and River Street, which was widened in the sixties, right to increase traffic flow through the neighborhood. And on the other side, to the north, there is an apartment complex. So, development Boise, as we know, is a growing city and we welcome that growth. But we also want to balance that growth with conscientious conservation and preservation. And so, we're preserving a home here, but really, we're preserving some rich, really amazing, remarkable stories through this home. So I think the city really saw this as an opportunity to partner with the community, to engage in outreach with the community through the task force and through soliciting feedback on the part of the community and really just have its ear to the ground as to what the city wants, what the community wants as far as maintaining and holding on to a really dear part of Boise's history, a really important part going back to Boise's founding here in the River Street Neighborhood.

PRENTICE: So many folks call the area The River Street Neighborhood….or part of the Pioneer Pathway, as you mentioned, used to be called Lover's Lane. The Oregon Short Line Railroad tracks literally defined the area as well, as it was unfortunately, the other side of the tracks back in the day and it was segregated. The term “redlining” wasn't as commonly used as it is now, but it was indeed “redlined.” So, take it from there. Give us a sense of how this part of our past is so important for us to understand.

JEFFRES: So, you mentioned the River Street neighborhood, and it's been an integral part of the city of Boise since its beginnings. Right. And it's this relatively small neighborhood on the southwest part of the city, right up against the Boise River. And then a homesteader by the name of Tom McLellan actually homesteaded in this area. And there was a ferry crossing of the river just before there were bridges crossing over the Boise River. And that's where Lovers Lane came to be. Right. And that, of course, is now Pioneer Pathway, which connects the Boise River to downtown. But this was always kind of seen as an industrial and a place where industry and transportation networks would kind of link the City of Boise into broader networks. And the Oregon Short Line railroad, which you mentioned, George, was really important to that, which came in and connected a spur between Nampa and Boise in the 1890s, and that sort of set the table for the river street neighborhood and its development because those railroad tracks went along what is now front street and kind of isolated this area, which is now known as the River Street neighborhood from the rest of the city and then all of the buildings and for the most part, the homes and some of the warehouses that developed in the area were all meant to serve that railroad. So, it was always kind of a quasi-residential, short-term living slash industrial neighborhood, and that was by design because of the railroad that you mentioned. So, it really was a place where folks would be working on the railroad, serving the railroad industry. And there was a lot of renters in the River Street Neighborhood, and that was the case for much of the 20th century. Now redlining has two meanings. So redlining was first used in the 1960s, it was coined by a sociologist. And what that refers to in the technical sense, right, is housing discrimination at the federal level. So, what that means is that federal lenders would refuse to insure a mortgage on a property in a neighborhood that was deemed, quote unquote, at risk. And so, everybody's familiar with these maps. Right. And these were maps that were produced by the Homeowners Loan Corporation, and they were color coded. So, they were green neighborhoods, blue neighborhoods, yellow and red and green was for quote unquote best, which would be very affluent neighborhoods and predominantly white neighborhoods. Blue was still desirable, yellow was declining, and red was hazardous. And those were the predominantly black neighborhoods. So that's where the term redlining comes from, is from those federal maps that were used to systematically refuse mortgages to any neighborhood that didn't fall into that green category. But it's interesting that you mentioned redlining, right? Because there's two meanings, like I said, and the secondary meaning refers to that sort of everyday practice of discrimination, whether that's in housing or discrimination. And I'll mention here that there's a historian at Boise State University who captured this very, very well when she said that discrimination in Boise and in Idaho was, quote, de facto rather than de jure. And what that means is that discrimination played out in practice. It played out in everyday life rather than being codified in law. And I think that's really important to keep in mind, because Idaho historically has had lower numbers of African Americans, a low African-American population, throughout much of its history, between about 1% and 1.5%. But that didn't mean that there was not housing discrimination, maybe not in that formal official red line sense, but there was very powerful redlining in that secondary sense of the term. And I'll give you one instance of that from Mrs. Heyman's own experience. So, there was an oral history conducted with Mrs. Hayman by a man by the name of Mateo Rosa in the early 1980s. And in that interview, she said that she tried to buy property in other places throughout Boise, but when they found out that she was black, they would say that it was sold. And she also said that black folks knew better than to try to buy property uptown. So that's really powerful.

PRENTICE: This is so fascinating. I know a little something about the home, having spent some time there before it was rescued and spent some time talking with her grandson, who was the first African American to graduate from Boise State when it became a four-year college. And as we were walking around, I remember we're walking around this one bedroom, one bathroom house. He kept talking about how important homework was right to grandma and an expert seamstress. She played the family orchestra as a youngster, a voracious reader, a site manager for Meals on Wheels. She pushed to install that traffic signal at 13th and River. She sewed a maid's uniform and catered to the wealthy and Warm Springs, and she had very little patience for African American stereotypes of the day. What an amazing woman.

JEFFRES: Remarkable.

HILL: Absolutely.

JEFFRES: And you're familiar with this, George, that story about how once a third-grade teacher of one of Mrs. Heyman's daughters asked the daughter to play a and colorful part in a particular play, I wanted her to dress up and play the part of Aunt Jemima. And Mrs. Hammond marched down to the school and gave the third-grade teacher a tongue lashing a piece of her mind, because that was disrespectful, and she didn't bow to that discrimination that was so evident in the city at the time.

PRENTICE: And the daughter ended up being a ballerina.

JEFFRES: That's right.

PRENTICE: Let's talk about… well, the near future. What's going to happen in September?

HILL: Oh, my goodness. We are so excited. We have an opening date selected. We are going to be opening to the public on September 22nd, which is a Thursday. And we will have kind of an opening event that will run from noon to six with official ceremony that goes from noon to one. So, we really hope that the community comes out and has the opportunity to see the site and get a tour and celebrate this massive achievement with us.

PRENTICE: How about landscaping, outdoor activity? Can you paint me a word picture of what's possible and probable?

HILL: Oh, yes. I mean, all of it, indoor and outdoor activity. This is really going to be a site that is focused on our community. So, we want it to be able to be used as a community space. We've got a beautiful outdoor area. We will have patio furniture. We have a small stage so we can have performances that happen, speeches, musical performances. We have an indoor space that will be able to be used for small events, potentially dinners. We've got a great kitchen in here. This is really a space that's going to be capable of doing so much. And we really want it to be a place that our community feels welcome, and it feels like belongs to them. That this is really a site that is true to the city's goals to be a city for everyone. This site really embodies that.

PRENTICE: So, can I assume with the coming school year you'll then be working with school districts for opportunities and events and tours?

HILL: Yes, we do have plans to be able to be working with the schools in the community to offer special tours. We will be open to the public for limited hours during the week, so there will be site tours. People can come in at any point during our public hours and get a tour of the site. And yes, we will also be working with schools to offer that specifically for them.

PRENTICE: Kristen Hill is the interim cultural sites program manager for the City of Boise. Travis Jeffres is the history programs manager for the city. Well, something like this reminds me that we are always better when we know more and see more and listen more… and my heart skips a beat. Thank you so very much. I am so excited for you and your colleagues.

JEFFRES: Thank you.

HILL: George. Thank you so much. It was great to be able to talk to you about this.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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