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By 1910 the Boise Traction Company had completed an electric trolley line that formed a loop more than 60 miles in length. This mass transportation system, the most extensive in the state, was known as the Interurban. It connected the capital city of Boise, 25 miles to the east in Ada County, with a number of communities in Canyon County, including Caldwell. The Interurban line ran in front of the campus on Cleveland Boulevard, the road that linked Caldwell and Nampa. (This road in the early days was known as the Oregon Trail Highway.) The College of Idaho was a major stop on the line, so the managers of the Interurban decided to build a trolley stop/passenger shelter for the many students who commuted to school from the other locations along the loop. This enclosed shelter at first was named "College Heights," but the students immediately nicknamed it "The Hat" because of its overhanging roof. It was not many years before the enclosed shelter was removed, leaving only the hat-shaped roof, supported by four columns.
By 1928 the successors to the Boise Traction Company ceased operations of the trolley, thanks to the popularity of the automobile. However, The Hat remained in service as a bus stop. In both cartoons and photographs The Hat has remained an emblem of the school.
Because there is no mass transit system in Canyon county, The Hat no longer has a function relating to transportation. However, it is an important reminder of the college's history. There is only one other surviving trolley stop in the entire valley. There is underway at present a project to restore the roof. The Caldwell Historic Preservation Commission has obtained a matching grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust for this purpose. The structure is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. That application is planned as a culmination of the restoration project.
The many students who obtained a college education by commuting on the Interurban were not the only ones indebted to the presence of the trolley. The "new campus," located a mile east of the original college site, was completed in 1910. The college's founder, Dr. William Judson Boone, was faced with the task of transporting the school library and all the scientific apparatus to the new facility. He did so by riding the trolley, one armload of books or apparatus per trip. In addition, each subsequent autumn when the college ordered its winter's supply of coal, the trolley line was outfitted with a special coal car to make the delivery.
The Interurban was an important factor in the college's contributions to the cultural life of the entire Boise Valley. In 1915 special chartered excursion cars brought large numbers of theatergoers from Boise to campus for the first production of "Antigone" in the state of Idaho. And, of course, football fans depended on the trolley to witness the legendary gridiron battles in those early years when the college often fielded the strongest squad in the state.
Attebery, Louie W. Albertson College of Idaho: The Second Hundred Years. Caldwell, ID: Albertson College of Idaho, 1999.
Attebery, Louie W. The College of Idaho 1891-1991: A Centennial History. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Publishers, 1991.
Casner, Nicholas and Valerie Kiesig. Trolley: Boise Valley's Electric Road, 1891-1928. Caldwell, ID: Black Canyon Communications, 2002.