A home to many in Boise throughout the years, Erma Hayman’s house opens its door to the public

The Erma Hayman House is now open to the public after many years of preparation. The small sandstone house was once part of the city’s most diverse community and the last single-family home in Boise’s River Street neighborhood.

Friends, family and community members gathered at 617 Ash Street on Thursday to celebrate Hayman, highlighting the community she built in the once overlooked neighborhood between downtown and the Greenbelt.

Hayman passed away in 2009 at the age of 102. In an interview conducted for an oral history project before her death, Hayman described her community as folks just trying to make a living while being united in poverty.

“Most of the people that lived down here then had families,” Hayman said in an audio clip provided by the Idaho State Archives. “We just didn’t have time to be at each other’s throats. We’re too busy.”

Julie Luchetta

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Boise State Public Radio

Erma Hayman’s home, transformed into a public exhibit, uses artifacts from her life in the River Street neighborhood to illustrate the complexity of Boise’s racial and cultural history.

She moved into her home in the 1940s, when segregation and red-lining policies made the area one of the only places for Black people, immigrants and working-class folks to live.

“In the early days of Boise,” she said in the same recording, “this was the only part of town we could live in, that’s why we’re down here. Because I had tried to buy property other places a long time ago before I bought here but when they’d find out I was Black, the first thing they’d say is that it was sold.”

In the 1970s, discriminatory urban renewal efforts razed many of the surrounding homes and displaced its residents. Hayman and her house remained throughout.

Her great-granddaughter, Angelina Madry-Wilson, attended the opening with many of her relatives. She was very excited to see a home that held so many intimate family memories now open to the public.

“My greatest fear was that when my grandmother was gone that the house would be gone,” she said. “And so to have it not just opened to us but opened to others and to have so many positive things that can happen here in the future when it’s always been a positive thing for me.”

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Brandon Loureiro

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City of Boise

Visitors look at the art installation from sculptor Vinnie Bagwell mounted outside Erma Hayman’s house.

The city bought the house in 2018, renovating it for the public but maintaining Hayman’s presence through family pictures, mementos and even her beloved wallpaper. The site includes art installations and an exhibit explaining the racial and cultural history of Boise through the lens of Hayman’s quietly extraordinary life.

Speaking in front of those gathered to celebrate Hayman’s memory on opening day, former council member Jerome Mapp said Hayman’s 54 years in the neighborhood will never be forgotten.

“Amen!” shouted someone in the crowd. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren all cheered.

“Remember the names of our ancestors because when we speak their names, their spirits continue to live with us. Speak their names,” Mapp added.

“Speak their names.”

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