Biography of James A. Pinney

The enterprise of our American citizens has given the nation a position among the powers of the world that it has taken other countries many centuries to gain. The progressive spirit of the times is manifest throughout the length and breadth of the land, yet even to our own people the growth and development of the west seems almost incredible. Less than half a century ago Idaho, California, Montana, Oregon and other western states were wild and almost unpeopled regions, without the railroad or other transportation facilities, without the telegraph or the varied commercial and industrial industries of the east. The hostile Indians made it a hazardous under-taking to establish homes in the district, but some fearless and sturdy spirits pushed their way into the wild region, reclaimed it from desolation and Indian rule, and to-day beautiful towns and enterprising villages dot the landscape, and in no particular are the improvements or the com-forts or the advantages of the east lacking in this district.

Among those who have made Boise one of the most attractive and progressive centers of population in the northwest is James Alonzo Pinney, who has left the impress of his individuality upon many of the business interests of the city and thereby become an essential factor in the history of its upbuilding. He is a native of Ohio, born in Franklin County, on the 29th of September 1835, descended from New England ancestry, the family having been established in Vermont at a very early day in the colonial epoch. Four brothers emigrated westward to Franklin County, Ohio, one of whom was Azariah Pinney, the grandfather of our subject. His father, Charles Pinney, was born in Ohio, and married Miss Sarah Gardiner Fuller, who is still living, at the age of eighty-two years. Mr. Pinney departed this life in his eightieth year. They were valued members of the Methodist church. They had nine children, but only three are now living.

During his early boyhood Mr. Pinney accompanied his parents on their removal to Iowa, where he acquired his education. When only fourteen years of age, in company with his father, he crossed the plains to California with a party of seventy-three men and two boys. They left the present site of Omaha, on the 7th of May 1850, and drove their horses to Salt Lake, where they exchanged them for oxen, and then continued their journey, arriving safely at Weberville, on the 10th of August. He spent eight years in Shasta, Yreka and Crescent City. He engaged in clerking for a time and then followed the packing business until 1857, when he returned to his relatives in Iowa, making the journey by way of the isthmus. He remained with his parents for a year and then again crossed the plains, going to Pike’s peak and later to Rogue River valley, Oregon. Once more he engaged in the packing business, and in 1862 went to the Salmon River at the time of the excitement there. In the fall of that year he came to the Boise basin and spent the winter at Auburn, Oregon, where he engaged in selling goods. In February he left that place for Idaho City, where he arrived on the 1st of March 1863. There he engaged in general merchandising, but in 1864 a destructive fire swept over the town and he lost everything he had. He was then appointed postmaster, in which position he served until 1872. In 1870 he opened a book and stationery store at Boise, where he has since resided, and has carried on an honorable and profitable business. Study of the taste of the public has led him to buy advantageously, and his straightforward business methods and courteous treatment have secured to him a liberal patronage. He has also been largely instrumental in the improvement of the town by the erection of a number of important buildings. He built an attractive residence and modern store building, and at a cost of thirty-five thousand dollars erected the Columbia Theater, which has a seating capacity of one thousand, and is one of the best theater buildings in the west.

In an official capacity Mr. Pinney has probably done more for the advancement of Boise than any other one man. He was elected mayor of the city in 1881 and served continuously until 1885. Again he was elected in 1888 and served through the four succeeding years, so that he had control of the reins of city government for almost a decade. His administration was most progressive, and during his service Boise developed from a new and somewhat wild western town to a city whose beauties at once charm and attract the visitor and have gained wide renown. At the time of his first election no one could cross the River to get in or out of the town without paying toll; but that was soon done away with. A fine cemetery ground was purchased and improved; a sewerage system was established and a fine city hall was erected, at a cost of fifty thousand dollars, a building which would grace a city of much greater population than Boise. Some opposed this work of improvement, others found fault therewith, but Mr. Pin-ney wisely kept on in the work he had planned, and today the city certainly owes to him a deep debt of gratitude.

In the social life of the city he has also been an important factor. He was made a master Mason in 1859, in Iowa City Lodge, No. 4, A. F. & A. M., and after his removal to this state became a charter member of Idaho City Lodge, No. I, the first lodge organized in the state. He was a very active and zealous worker therein, and filled nearly all of its offices. He demitted there from in order to join Boise Lodge, No. 2, of which he has since been a valued member and of which he is a past master. He has also taken the Royal Arch and Knight Templar degrees, is a member of the Mystic Shrine, and for six years he filled the office of high priest of the chapter. He has held various offices in the grand lodge of Idaho, and in 1893 was grand master. He has a thorough knowledge of the ritual and governs his life by the beneficent and humanitarian principles of the order.

Mr. Pinney was married December 17, 1873, to Miss Mary Rodger, a native of Oregon and a lady of Scotch descent. They have had four children, namely: Ida Belle, wife of C. F. Bas-sett; James Rodger, who died of spinal meningitis in his eighteenth year, while attending school; Paralee and Annise Fuller. The family are members of the Episcopal Church and enjoy the high esteem of the citizens of Boise.

Mr. Pinney is a man of the most genuine worth, whose courtesy is unfailing, whose integrity is above question. Without ostentation or any desire for praise he has labored most earnestly for the welfare of Boise, and his efforts have redounded to the credit and benefit of Idaho’s capital city.



Illustrated History of the State of Idaho. Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company. 1899.

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