The Pest' House

This building was originally constructed to confine persons with contagious diseases. It was later used as the Idaho City jail until the 1930’s.

A pest’ house was not where the local exterminator lived. Instead it housed people sick with potential pestilence. This was common practice not only in the west, but in more civilized cities as well. Also referred to as “fever sheds”, these were houses where sick individuals were quarantined to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

During the time of the Boise Basin gold rush, medical practices were still much the same as they had been for hundreds of years. A doctor may have provided a bloodletting-services, or prescribed cocaine for pain. Some of the oft prescribed herbs would go one to become what we know as aspirin. Other treatments could be fatal. During this time, with the civil war raging, modern medicine was beginning to develop further. 

During the mid 1850’s the idea of “Germ Theory” began to take traction in the US. This was the idea that disease was spread by small germs that could not be seen, as opposed to more mystical causes such as “bad air”. Pest houses were used previously in Europe dating back to the 12th century as a way to control the spread of the Bubonic Plague. Visitors to a town or village would be required to stay in the pest house until confident they were not sick. Common communicable diseases at the time included tuberculosis, smallpox, typhoid fever, cholera, and yellow fever.