The Boise Basin


Gary B. Speck


To begin your journey through Idaho’s Boise Basin start by exploring Idaho City, the liveliest of the remaining towns.  It is shown on most maps northeast of Boise. 

At the top of Idaho City’s Main Street, the graded dirt Horseshoe Bend Road loops past the cemetery, winding its dusty way towards New Centerville, a loose-knit collection of “rustic” cabins, mobile homes and outbuildings.  We rolled up and stopped at a four-way intersection at mile 6.8.  Time to consult the map.  Did I want to head northeast towards “Old” Centerville and Pioneerville?  Or continue northwest towards Quartzburg and Placerville? 


A dust and rust-colored 4x4 Ford pickup rolled up beside me. The local boy driving obviously saw the California license plates on our dusty Nissan Quest, and figured we were really lost and needed some guidance out of the mountains and back to the city.


I smiled, and said we were trying to decide whether to go up the road towards Centerville and Pioneerville, or over to Placerville and Quartzburg.  He shook his head and said, Ain’t nothin’ worth looking at in none of those places.  Besides, that road (he pointed up towards Centerville and Pioneerville) is the old stage road and it’s too rough for that rig of yours.  Best road’s the one going back that way.”  He pointed back the way we just came in - towards Idaho City.


We came too far to be turned back, so after politely thanking him for his advice, we rolled northwest towards Placerville leaving one local probably wondering about those “crazy Californians” wandering about the hills looking for ghost towns.  The feeling I got out of our conversation was that we weren’t welcome poking around in “HIS” hills.


Oh well!


The original gold discovery in the Boise Basin took place near the rubbled site of CENTERVILLE, which sits along Grimes Creek, approximately three miles northeast of New Centerville.   At one time this roistering town had all the amenities needed for a bustling community of 2638 people.  Today, all that is gone and only rubble and a pair of cemeteries mark the site.


Five miles north of Centerville is the site of PIONEERVILLE.  Again, by not visiting this site I am unable to say what still remains.  However, in 1989 there were still several buildings remaining.  I don’t know if they are still standing.


(Response to Pioneerville listing)

My parents live in Placerville, ID and told me a few weeks ago that the last resident of Pioneerville died sometime in the last year. You really should visit the now completely abandoned town. Go in the mid summer or during a very cold, but mild, winter (the cold freezes the mud), and your minivan will make it just fine. The roads are too muddy in the spring.”

Contributed by Shawna (May 03, 2005)


(Response to the response by Shawna)

Just to keep your facts updated and current, the last known resident of Pioneerville has not passed away.  The descendants of Constante Rico Poncia who was the postmaster in Pioneerville for over 35 years still own the township and much of the surrounding land, I being one of those descendants.  Regardless, people are welcome to come and look at some of the old buildings, although most of them are inhabited part of the year.” 

Sincerely, Jacob D. Osler (via E-mail May 18, 2006)



Please note: Even though the town may appear deserted, all the property is still privately owned.  Please respect the rights of the property owners and view all structures from the roadway.  Thank you Jacob for your update.



In 1863, the population of (Fort) HOGEM, or PIONEER CITY as it was first called, reached 2743.  In addition to all those people, the town had a bustling business district full of the appropriate businesses to support them.  Pioneerville was also the site of the first post office in the Boise Basin.


At mile 4.6 is a road junction.  The left fork continues towards Horseshoe Bend, which is a small town on State Highway 55, about 30 miles north of Boise.  The right fork continues to Placerville, only 1.2 miles beyond. We rolled into PLACERVILLE not really knowing what to expect. I was definitely pleased that we didn’t follow the advice of our “friend” back in New Centerville.  Driving into town past a couple whitewashed buildings, and circling around the freshly mowed, sweet smelling grass of the town square, I felt a sense of victory:  of relief.  It was definitely worthwhile!  At the top of the flagpole in the center of the square, “Old Glory” fluttered in the gentle breeze, and I could almost imagine a Fourth of July celebration and band concert in the park.  Yet there wasn’t a single person to be seen anywhere.


After one circuit of the square, I backed into a flat spot between the City Hall and the Boise Basin Mercantile.  This little town was a real find.  To say I was pleased is an understatement.  The official 1990 population of Placerville was 14, and in our hour plus visit, we saw only one other person.  She set a library book on the bench in front of the Magnolia Saloon building, got back in her truck and headed down the small hill next to the building, and disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Most all the standing buildings are in a good state of repair, but at the time of our visit, none were open.  I peeked in windows and glass doors, noting only a couple that may still be in use, or at least were quite recently. 


Off to the southwest towards the cemetery, weekend and summer cabins are beginning to fill in among the trees.  Even so, the Placerville of today is MUCH smaller than it was in 1863, when it had over 100 buildings and 3254 people.  Some of the businesses included five blacksmiths, five meat markets, seven restaurants, 13 saloons and a batch of hotels, boarding houses and general merchandise stores. In 1899 or 1900, it was decimated by a major fire, and what remains today was spared by that fire.


Leaving Placerville, we headed up the road, past the white clapboard Immanuel Episcopal Church, and turned up the poorly marked dirt road that led to the cemetery.  After a short visit there, we continued west on Granite Creek Road.  I had vague directions to QUARTZBURG, which was supposed to be about three miles up this road.  A 1900 era photo showed a good-sized town with dozens of buildings, many of which were large enough to have left foundation outlines after they disappeared.  I figured something had to remain to mark the town. 


2.2 miles from Placerville we reached a fork in the road.  I chose the right fork, which ended at a locked gate a quarter mile up.


Making a u-turn, we returned to the fork and parked in a pull out.  The other fork appeared too rough to attempt in our van, so I hoofed it up the road about a quarter mile.  That road was definitely not passable in anything other than a high clearance truck or 4x4.  I didn’t see any sign of a town, although mining scars were still visible.


Slightly disappointed, we headed back towards Placerville. Rounding a bend in the road 0.3 miles from the road fork we just explored, I noticed an unnatural shaped mound along the stream.  Stopping the van, I hopped out and took a closer look.  The mound was a row of tailing piles, next to what looked like a foundation outline for a large building.  It was at the mouth of a shallow draw that aimed straight across the road, with a faint trail leading off into the trees.


I followed it.


About 200 yards from the road was a man-made flat with rock retaining walls, and what looked like badly eroded tailing piles.  Lots of fire-scarred, broken glass and rusted corrugated-metal siding poked out of the soil.  Nature had almost reclaimed whatever this was. 


Could this have been the site of Quartzburg?  I really don’t know, and it is very difficult to compare old photos with the site.  When the old pictures were taken, trees had been cut for lumber and fuel.  They’re back now, and visibility is very limited.


Quartzburg was a hard rock mining town whose post office remained until the 1930s.  Unfortunately the rest of the town was destroyed by forest fire in 1931.  The empty post office is said to have been still standing in 1989, SO, whether I actually found the site or not, I don’t know, but even if it wasn’t, there was a substantial sized operation here.


The Gold Hill Mine was located just outside Quartzburg, and it operated non-stop from September 1869 through July 1876.  In July flooding began, and production slowed until a drainage shaft was dug.  Once completed, mining resumed, for another decade, until the hoist was destroyed by fire in 1886. Total production reached almost $2 1/4 million.


UPDATE from Brian Gaber (May 09, 2005)

“I conducted a preliminary assessment (PA) of the Gold Hill and Iowa Mines during the summer of 2004. Quartzburg, including the Gold Hill and Iowa Mines, is privately owned and the access road is blocked by a locked gate. The road, which is hard to find and appears to be a driveway to a nearby cabin, lies approximately 0.75 miles east of the Mayflower Mine cutoff.

            The "town" of Quartzburg consists of little more than rubble, but one rock-walled and tin-roofed structure built against the east hillside appears to be in fair condition. I don't know if this was the Post Office or not, but it's located a few hundred yards up Confederate Gulch above the old townsite.

            The Gold Hill Mine site is extensive, consisting of two large waste rock piles and the foundation of the former mill, but the adits and shafts are closed and buried. The Iowa site is relatively small consisting of a collapsed adit, shed rubble and small waste rock pile.  The entire area is privately owned and closed to the public.


The Boise Basin is fertile ground for exploration, and if you have a vehicle capable of traversing rough roads, you have a much better chance of getting into the back country and finding the ruins of places like “Old” Centerville and Pioneerville, as well as BOSTON, BUENA VISTA BAR, ELKHORN, GAMBRINUS MINE, GRANITE CITY, MAMMOTH MINE & MILL, MAYFLOWER MINE, MOORSTOWN, PINE GROVE and POMONA, among others. 


From 1862 to 1870 every grain of soil was panned, sluiced and washed for gold. The entire basin was a placer mining bonanza, with finds as rich as $100 per day, or $20 for a flour-sack full of dirt.  However, a summer-time lack of water created hardship, but within a year or two even that minor inconvenience was licked by means of ditches from streams to the diggings. Later, dredges worked the deeper placer deposits, and hard-rock mining followed by the early 1870s.  The future of mining in the Basin was assured ... until 1942 when the federal government required most mines to close for the duration of the war.   


This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for February 2001.








Boston (mouth of Boston Gulch)


43.8957267 / 43° 53’ 45” N

-115.9026130 / 115° 54’ 09” W

SE¼ Sec 31, T7N, R5W BM (Boise Meridian & Baseline)

Buena Vista Bar







43.9126714 / 43° 54’ 46” N

-115.8923353 / 115° 53’ 32” W

SW¼ Sec 29, T7N, R5E, BM

Elkhorn (Mine)


43.9360060 / 43° 56’ 10” N

-115.7606648 / 115° 45’ 38” W

NWC (corner) Sec 21, T7N, R6E, BM

Gambrinus Mine


43.8873943 / 43° 53’ 15” N

-115.7931648 / 115° 47’ 35” W

Ctr Sec 6, T6N, R6E, BM

Granite City


43.9407265 / 43° 56’ 27” N

-115.9676162 / 115° 58’ 03” W

S-Ctr Sec 15, T7N, R4E, BM

Idaho City


43.8285046 / 43° 49’ 43” N

-115.8345537 / 115° 50’ 04” W

SW¼ Sec 26, T6N, R5E, BM

Mammoth Mine & Mill


44.0032292 / 44° 00’ 12” N

-115.7128868 / 115° 42’ 46” W

N-Ctr Sec 26, T8N, R6E, BM

Mayflower Mine


43.9543375 / 43° 57’ 16” N

-115.9951174 / 115° 59’ 42” W

SW¼ Sec 9, T7N, R4E, BM






New Centerville


43.8810043 / 43° 52’ 52” N

-115.9101129 / 115° 54’ 36” W

S-Ctr Sec 6, T6N, R5E, BM

Pine Grove







43.9687833 / 43° 58’ 08” N

-115.8467795 / 115° 50’ 48” W

SE¼ Sec 3, T7N, R5E, BM



43.9432267 / 43° 56’ 36” N

-115.9470600 / 115° 56’ 49” W

Ctr Sec 14, T7N, R4E, BM








43.9610043 / 43° 57’ 40” N

-115.9884507 / 115° 59’ 18” W

Ctc Sec 9, T7N, R4E, BM









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FIRST POSTED:  February 01, 2001

LAST UPDATED: October 12, 2012





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