HAILEY — When Martha Burke bought the house at 203 E. Bullion St. in Hailey almost 40 years ago, she had no idea the house dated back almost to the city’s founding. She just knew she liked it.
“I felt so happy when we moved in here, so lucky, and I’ve never stopped feeling that way,” she said.
A few years ago, historians approached her with research done on the house, asking whether she would be willing to have it put up for consideration for the National Register of Historic Places.
“It never occurred to me. I didn’t know its history,” she said. But after going through the process, she has nothing but positive things to say about it. “Anybody who has the opportunity should find out if their home qualifies, if their business qualifies.”
Except in a few rare cases, being on the register does not limit homeowners’ rights to make changes to or dispose of the property, and in those cases it’s merely an additional step. However, local jurisdictions may place restrictions on structures in certain designated areas, such as the warehouse district in Twin Falls; commercial properties may also qualify for a federal tax credit.
It is rare for homeowners to decline to have their residence proposed for National Register status, said Ann Swanson, grants operations analyst for the Idaho State Historical Society.
“Occasionally people are not interested, but oftentimes they’re quite honored by being selected,” she said. From the eight south-central Idaho counties, an average of two homes go through the nomination process each year.
Some entire neighborhoods are part of the register — in Twin Falls, historic districts account for about 900 properties, the largest area of historic places in the state.
Most often, homes are nominated by local historic preservation societies, although only about a tenth of Idaho’s communities have such societies. In those cases, the societies often pay for the historical research that is needed to qualify a house; otherwise, the homeowners usually provide that research.
Criteria include associations with broad historical patterns, or with significant individuals, or embodiment of distinctive architecture or artistry — for example, a number of registered homes in the Jerome area are representative of lava-rock construction.
In the Burkes’ case, historical patterns and individuals were the noteworthy factors. Their home was part of the original tract claimed by John Hailey, and it was built around 1885 by one of his investors in Hailey Town Co., Eben Chase. Chase eventually lost the house to foreclosure after prices for mined silver plummeted, and the house was sold to a banker and mine investor whose family owned it through several generations until the Burkes purchased it.
“The history of the Eben S. and Elizabeth S. Chase house exemplifies the early settlement and development of Hailey during late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century mining excitement in the Wood River Valley,” wrote historian Madeline Buckendorf in materials she prepared for the home’s National Register application.
Knowing this history has been meaningful to Burke, who said she is glad the changes the family has made to the home — adding indoor plumbing, modern closets and a large addition, among other things — were consistent enough with the home’s character not to disqualify it.
“Whether it’s on the register or not, there are certain concessions you make” to living in an older home, she said, mentioning small rooms, energy inefficiency and needed renovations.
Without its historic status, the age of the house might make it less valuable to modern buyers for those reasons, but Burke believes the cachet of the register adds to the home’s value.
Dave Frantz, who has owned a 1909 home at 137 Seventh Ave. N. in Twin Falls since 1981, also made renovations to his home, which was put on the state register in 1992 (it isn’t on the National Register).
He took out the gas-fired boiler, installing forced air and air conditioning, replaced almost all the old wiring and plumbing, and added on to the back of the house.
“We’re basically free to do whatever we want, but we have paid very close attention to architectural detail and have done very little to alter the appearance,” Frantz said. “Anybody that would be interested in purchasing a house with the old architectural style, work around it and use it to your benefit.”
Russ Tremayne, College of Southern Idaho associate professor of history, often guides tours of the historic homes in Twin Falls, and he told Frantz that his home — owned initially by the Breckenridge family — is either the second- or the third-oldest stick-built home in the Twin Falls area.
“I see people drive by, and they slow down and look admiringly at the house, and that’s kind of a turn-on,” Frantz said, noting that occasionally passers-by will ask him about the history of the house. “It gives us bragging rights.”
Ariel Hansen may be reached at 788-3475 or email@example.com.