In August 1862, Dave Fogus dug a shovelful of dirt on a small Boise River tributary that yielded 15 cents worth of gold. The Boise Basin rush was on! Thousands of miners flocked to the new diggings. In November, prospectors established Centerville at Fogus' site, about 25 miles northeast of Boise, near what is now Idaho City.
True to its name, Centerville became a hub for supplies and services, many of which were provided by immigrants from China. They ran laundries, dug ditches for Caucasian miners, and grew vegetables. Eventually, they were allowed to lease or own mines themselves, as the percentage of gold dust turned up by placer mining declined from $6,000 a week to less than "white man's wages" of $5 to $6 a day.
By March 4, 1863, some 4,000 souls lived in the Boise Basin, enough to persuade Congress to establish the Idaho Territory. Centerville thrived. A sawmill opened and more substantial buildings replaced lean-tos and canvas tents. The boom only lasted until 1866, but Centerville survived, thanks to the hard-working Chinese. By 1870, the year of the first federal census that included the area, more than half the town's population was from China. Willing to labor for $2.50 to $4 a day, the immigrants formed companies, built a temple, and operated stores selling Chinese goods, as well as a gambling house where opium was smoked.
Dredge mining breathed new life into the area at the turn of the century. Later, the town found new residents for a few years during the Depression, when bucket dredges working 24 hours a day turned a 60 percent profit on $1 worth of gold per bucket. However, most of the Chinese had returned to their homeland or died by 1909; the 1910 census found only 17.
Gradually time, recycling, mining, and souvenir hunters erased Centerville's structures and artifacts, although modern gold miners often find fragmentary reminders of "the handsomest town in the Basin" in their sluiceboxes.
Four Rivers Field Office | 3948 Development Avenue | Boise, ID 83705
208-384-3300 | Fax: 208-384-3493 | Office hours: 7:45am - 4:30pm, M-F