Idaho History: Remembering Idaho’s Chinese gardens

| February 1, 2010 | 0 Comments
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Idaho Statesman
Published: 01/31/10

Last Monday night, at a meeting of the Garden City Council, Mayor John Evans read a proclamation honoring the Louie family. The Louies were Idaho pioneers who gardened in the area that became Garden City and gave it its name.

Andy Louie, representing the fourth generation of his family to raise vegetables there, accepted the proclamation on behalf of his family and graciously pointed out that other Chinese families also were part of the area’s garden history and should be remembered.

Mr. Louie’s wife, his son and two grandsons were present, representing the fifth and sixth generations of the family to live in Idaho. Other Chinese friends also attended the occasion, which included the public unveiling of a large, abstract collage honoring the Louie family and other Chinese gardeners from whom the town and Chinden Boulevard take their names. The work was commissioned by the Garden City Arts Commission after a month-long showing of this columnist’s collages in the Garden City library.

Louie Do Gee delivered fresh produce

Louie Do Gee delivered fresh produce from his gardens along the river in what is now Garden City. Before he got this Model-T truck, he delivered his produce with a horse and wagon.

In April 1871, the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman observed: “The China population are planting gardens here pretty extensively. They are so patient and puttering that they do well.”

The Chinese, who came to Idaho in the gold-rush days, had not been miners at home. They were peasant farmers from small villages in the fertile deltas of Guangdong Province in south China.

When mining or other employment ran out in their new country, they turned to what they knew best, and at which they were highly skilled.

Louie Ah Su, great- grandfather of Boise’s Andy Louie, illustrates well the pattern. He was a miner in Boise Basin in the late 19th century before he came to Boise and started a small garden in the city’s north end. By then the population of towns like Idaho City and Placerville had dwindled and most of the Chinese had left. When Ah Su went back to China, he sent his son Do Gee to take over the gardens in Boise.

Louie Do Gee leased land along the Boise River in what is now Garden City. His sons, William and Tong, came to Idaho from China in the early 1920s and successfully operated the Louie Gee Gardens until 1946, when the incorporation of Garden City forced them to give up the land they had leased from the Davis family, descendants of Tom and Julia Davis.

A 1920 history of Idaho describes the Davis property: “The Thomas J. Davis Estate embraces large realty interest, including about 700 acres of fine lands in the Boise Valley along the river just west of the city – lands that are most fertile and productive and which include the beautiful and famous Chinese gardens, visible to and admired by all travelers on the Nampa Interurban Railway line, which follows the crest of the hill above the gardens. These Chinese gardens are all on the Thomas J. Davis estate and constitute one of the most beautiful sights in the valley of Boise through the summer seasons.”

Do Gee returned to China a few years after the 1920 history was written and died there in 1942. Son Tong remained in Boise and operated the popular Shang Hai Low Restaurant on Capitol Boulevard until his death in 1951.

Son William and his son-in-law Philip Lee reopened the Louie Gee Gardens on 30 acres of land at Strawberry Glen. This business prospered, with all of the children working hard as they grew up.

William’s son Andy came to America from China for the first time in 1949. He was assisted in coming here by Margaret Cobb Ailshie, publisher of the Idaho Statesman, who had met him while on a tour of China. Andy joined the family garden operation in Boise. He joined the U.S. Army during the Korean War and was stationed in an Army hospital in Germany for two years. He would eventually earn a degree in pharmacy from Idaho State University and do graduate work in administration at the University of Colorado. He retired in 1997 from a position as administrator at Holy Rosary Hospital in Ontario, Ore.

Louie Gee Gardens closed in 1964 when Andy’s father, William, retired and Philip Lee went back to California, where he operated a successful supermarket.

Monday’s proclamation of Louis Family Recognition Day by Mayor Evans was an appropriate acknowledgement of the Chinese contribution to the Valley’s history. My personal tribute to the Louie family can be seen in the collage that now hangs in City Hall.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. E-mail

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