ESSAYS:

The Quiet Builder

By Royce Williams

Quigley's work was to bring labor together with design to
create lasting symbols of Idaho's statehood.
Photo courtesy: From the original Tourtellotte blueprints

Keep your mouth shut.

It’s advice Herbert Edward Quigley got from a friend when he took the job of construction supervisor for Idaho’s Capitol Building in 1905.

The friend, working then as a construction supervisor on a government building in California, apparently was a trusted one. Both had worked for the Department of the Treasury, the federal agency then in charge of building projects nationwide. Quigley was construction supervisor on the Boise Federal Building (Borah Post Office) just southwest of the Territorial Capitol and later the State Capitol. He also oversaw construction of Boise’s Federal Courthouse. Before coming to Boise, he had been a Treasury inspector on the U.S. Mint Building in Denver.

Answer all inquiries with facts, his friend told him. “Let the architects express opinions.”

Quigley took the advice to heart, for a records search turned up not a single direct quote from him in a newspaper story. When he is quoted, it is from one of his factual reports to a variety of legislative committees, public hearings or in capitol commission meetings. Only one photograph of very poor quality with his obituary has been found. That search was nationwide.

He had, however, expressed an opinion about the proposed Capitol when he responded to Capitol Commissioner Judge James H. Beatty’s letter asking him to oversee construction. He preferred granite to sandstone, he said. Since Table Rock quarry’s sandstone was close by, the commissioners and the architects had a different opinion, evidenced by the sandstone Capitol.

It was the last opinion widely-expressed in his writing about the work, other than to tell Beatty that, although he wanted the job, the Treasury Department had been a good employer, and he wanted to give the agency a chance to match the salary offered — $2,600 a year. Treasury responded that Congress had not been kind with appropriations and said that he should formally resign with no ill will on either side.

Although he said writing was “hard work for me and something I neglect,” he did a lot of it. At the Idaho History Center in Boise, where his papers are kept, there are nearly four inches of his bound letters, all of them on onionskin paper and in ink. He often expresses concern about his business reputation and gives long and detailed explanations for his actions and conclusions. A theme running through all his letters is a desire to maintain the reader’s trust and to “make things right.”

The best example is Quigley’s letter exchange with W.H. Ridenbaugh, a contractor who lost money when inspectors rejected a brick wall in the Boise Federal Building. The wall that Quigley said he ordered built had to be torn out and the brick re-laid in the proper pattern. He told Ridenbaugh he was sending $400 from his own pocket, because “right is right, whether I am pinched or the other guy.”

Ridenbaugh said the payment wasn’t necessary, but Quigley wrote back to say he would leave the job on a post office in Findlay, Ohio, and arrive in Boise early in June (1905) to supervise construction of the Capitol. He said they would take up the debate in person, and that he expected to win it. There is no record that he did give the money to Ridenbaugh, but it is a good bet that he did, for Quigley was stubborn as a bulldog.

The stubbornness is clearest in his exchange with a health insurance company. The agent required a deposit to insure Quigley’s strong interest in a policy, and Quigley sent $50.87. However, he was turned down for insurance because of a condition called “running ears” and his long battle with erysipelas, a kind of painful, disfiguring and recurring strep infection of the skin of his face and hands. Quigley would write many letters demanding a refund. Again, it is not clear whether or not he ever got his money back, but the angry Quigley letters stretched over four years, with Quigley saying often he was “tired of this nonsense.”

Then there was the battle with the Boise phone company. The bills he received spelled his name Herbert O. Quingley. In a 2-page typed letter, he said he knew he was two bills in arrears, but that he would not pay another bill until they got his name correct, both on the bills and in the phone book. A man has a right to his own name, he wrote, and “if you don’t get this corrected, you can send your man here to pick up your phone.” He adds that when the name is corrected, he does not intend to pay both the Quingley bills nor the back bills for Quigley!

Few people working on the new Capitol during the eight years he supervised construction (1905-1913) ever saw this side of Quigley. His answers to questions were meticulously researched and stated in high stacks of facts. When a question came up on the bricks used in the building, and millions were used, he wrote a short book on the pros and cons of lime bricks.

Quigley furnished a detailed report to the architects on where state officials would be placed in the original Capitol. The report is typical Quigley – precise square footage for each arm of state government at the time.

“There is a basement under the entire building, 11 feet high in the clear,” he wrote. In every case, he continued, the vaults that appear on the grade and first stories also appear in the basement and provide ample room for storing state archives.

In his reports, Quigley specified the square footage of every office in the Capitol,
plus every item of furniture and the number of telephones.
Photo courtesy: State Treasurer's office from the Hummel Collection

He allocated space in this way:

Grade floor: Adjutant General with one large room and one small room with a vault, 866 square feet; Immigration Commissioner with one large and one small room containing a vault, 640 square feet; Land Department with five rooms, various sizes, containing a vault, 1,764 square feet; State Engineer with three rooms, various sizes, containing two vaults, 1,252 square feet; Traveling Library with two rooms and one vault, 695 square feet; State Library with one room, 913 square feet; Railroad Commission with three rooms, one vault and a private toilet, 965 square feet; Bank Examiner with one room and a vault, 695 square feet; Insurance Commissioner with two rooms and a vault, 761 square feet; Board of Control, Charitable and Penal Institutions with four rooms, two coat rooms, a private toilet and a vault, 1,028 square feet; and Agricultural Exhibits and Historical Society with five large rooms containing four vaults, 6,106 square feet.

First Floor: State Library with one large room and one smaller, a private office for the librarian and a private toilet, 3,696 square feet; Attorney General with three rooms containing two vaults, 1,336 square feet; Governor with five rooms containing (with private corridor) two vaults and a private toilet, 2,113 square feet; Secretary of State with five rooms containing two vaults and a private toilet, 2,028 square feet; Treasurer with three rooms with two vaults, 1,241 square feet; Auditor with three rooms containing two vaults, 1,277 square feet; Superintendent of Public Instruction with one large room (could be subdivided) and one vault, 881 square feet; Board Meeting Rooms with three rooms, one vault and a private toilet, 1,002 square feet; and the Supreme Court with a semi-circular room, five rooms for judges, two rooms for the court clerk, a consultation room, two vaults and a private toilet, 3,392 square feet.

Second Floor: Senate with a small alcove behind the President’s desk, 2,725 square feet; House with a small alcove behind the Speaker’s desk, 2,920 square feet.

Quigley lists 40 rooms on this floor that “may be variously used, as for President, Speaker, chief clerks, or for unassigned purposes at present, but to be used later for different boards, commissioners, inspectors, etc.”, 10,328 square feet.

Third Floor: Senate gallery for the public, 7,234 square feet; House gallery for the public, 7,234 square feet; and four committee rooms, 1,136 square feet; State Chemist, Dairy and Pure Food Commission with three rooms, 945 square feet; Board of Health with one room, 391 square feet; Boiler Inspector with one room, 289 square feet; Game and Fish Warden with one room, 260 square feet; Labor Commissioner with one room, 475 square feet; Trustees Soldiers’ Home with one room, 368 square feet; Custodian with one room, 210 square feet; and Janitor with one room, 256 square feet.

For each floor, Quigley lists the space taken up by the rotunda, vestibules, public corridors, “light courts,” elevator shafts, toilet rooms, stairs, closets… He came up with a total of 30,292 square feet for the grade story; 31,028 square feet for the first story; 31,746 square feet for the second floor; and 33,490 square feet for the third floor.

He kept an alphabetized pocket book listing the prices of the day on nearly every item any contractor would be using. In the neatly typed pages is everything from blasting powder ($2.50 per keg) to a wire desk basket (32 cents). An oak roll-top desk was $27.50, derrick skips went for $50 (second hand), a quart of ink ($1), a keg of nails ($4), pump valves ($80), rivets (15 cents each), stone wagon ($180 each, $40 used), and steel wheelbarrows ($6.61). There are 70 items listed under the heading of pipes, including couplings, tees, bushings, valves, elbows and more. Pencils should cost no more than 75 cents to $1.08 per dozen. Few contractors were able to add a few pennies here and there to boost their bottom line.

It was the same with flutes. Quigley was a flute player with the Boise Symphony Orchestra, and he sent specs to Montgomery Ward for what he wanted in a flute. He asked them to send two for his inspection and for the option of returning them if they did not meet his specs. He bought the $115 flute and sent the $200 flute back. As an officer with the symphony, he orders music for a special concert, carefully selecting pieces that fit: Mendelssohn’s “I Waited for the Lord,” Handel’s “Largo”, plus modern pieces like “Festival March,” “Last Chord,” and “The Palms.”

Even though Quigley maintained this kind of hawk eye on expenditures, the final cost of the Capitol was nearly double the original appropriation of $780,000. It caused no end of controversy, with Quigley “burning the midnight oil,” he wrote to family members in Wisconsin, as he tried to emphasize value over cheap and shoddy. His opponents, mostly politicians and sour grapes contractors were working just as hard to emphasize saving taxpayers’ money without ever saying cheap and shoddy. In the emotional debates, Quigley kept his friend’s advice. He let Architect John E. Tourtellotte express opinions, and Tourtellotte was a man with no shortage of those. Quigley mentions Tourtellotte by name only once in his voluminous correspondence, saying the architect was not paid well enough ($10,000) for the work he was doing. In a city of 25,000 people, it is likely Quigley knew both Tourtellotte and his partner Charles Hummel, and that there was mutual respect for their work.

The columns around the Capitol Rotunda have a central steel
beam that is surrounded by brick and covered with a coat of
scagliola. The leaves at the top are a copy of the Acanthus
plant. Photo courtesy: From the original Tourtellotte blueprints

Lost in the debates and arguments over funds, designs and “delays” was Quigley’s forethought and planning that had not appeared on any ledger. One of the best examples were the derricks used to lift the heavy stone and steel to the top of the building, which near the end of construction was around 200 feet.

With no railroad depot in Boise on the main tracks and with train schedules and good maintenance of tracks in the West still a goal, Quigley knew there would be delays in shipments of steel. He said the derricks should be bought, used during the construction, then sold to recover most if not all their cost. He said there would be delays in the arrival of steel and the state would be out too much money by paying rent on the derricks when there was no steel to lift. Also, he said, there would be savings in not paying derrick operators when there was nothing to lift or workers in the dome with rivets but no steel beams.

He suggested the state buy Table Rock Quarry, and they did at a price one contractor said later he would have bought for three times more. It could be sold when the Capitol was finished to recoup the cost. Quigley abandoned his preference for granite and wrote a dozen letters to stone experts nationwide on the best way to treat sandstone. He thought using prison labor to build and maintain a road from the quarry to the Capitol was a good idea. The road needed constant maintenance because of the tons of stone hauled over it. Labor costs would have been tremendous under any other arrangement.

But the appropriation-final cost gap was too much for the House of Representatives to ignore. Hearings were set up to appropriate more money to fill the gap, and the loudest complainers were the major stone contractors for the building, Daniel F. Murphy and Charles D. Storey. It was Storey who had been Speaker of the House when the original bonds were issued for the Capitol, and press reports speculated that he now (1911) hoped to be appointed to the construction supervisor’s job.

The final decision on whether or not Quigley stayed or went was in closed session, so it is difficult to be exact on what happened. He does receive an anonymous note, signed only as “a friend.” The note urges him to resign before he is fired. The note, “written in haste,” said the House was “going to recommend the appropriation of $750,000, but in the meantime, they called in the Secretary of State and Treasurer, and they had those men say and agree to discharge you on the strength of the appropriation. They also interviewed the Governor with the same results.”

Did it come from a friend or from an enemy? It must have been just as hard for Quigley to decide.

Quigley writes on July 5, 1913, to a cousin in Wisconsin, who had made investments in Quigley’s sideline mortgage broker business, that he was “through now at the Capitol after 8 years of work and am looking for something to do.” He could have resigned to avoid damage to his real estate work that a firing on public record would have caused, something the anonymous letter had warned him about, but there is no resignation letter among his papers at the History Center. Had he resigned, his meticulous record keeping would have guaranteed its inclusion. Newspaper accounts of final work on the Capitol list a Mr. Dean as “supervisor of construction for the contractors.”

Quigley’s record after his Capitol work is sketchy. He had bought an 80-acre farm near Jerome, and his management of the land showed his usual attention to details. He said a 36-inch fence was too low to protect his 40 acres of red clover and 40 acres of oats. It wasn’t high enough to stop jackrabbits that thought of his crops as dessert. He followed faithfully Homestead Act rules that had helped him buy the land. Expenses on the farm rarely dropped below income from it, and he later sold the farm.

He continued his mortgage broker and real estate work, becoming an agent for the Boise Title and Trust Company. As an agent he got letters of introduction and recommendation from former governors Frank R. Gooding and James H. Hawley and traveled to a dozen eastern states looking for investors. He wrote to a friend that easterners “weren’t very interested in investing in the West.” When his company filed for bankruptcy in 1915, he was professionally devastated. In another letter he writes that he has had to “turn to carpentry and furnace work.” He mentions in letters that he owned some real estate in Boise and a lot on Payette Lake, but also mentions his difficulties in meeting property tax requirements and interest payments on his loans.

When he asks both ex-governors for another letter of recommendation in 1918 to the West Coast shipyards then gearing up for World War I, he tells Hawley he will take any kind of work, “even a construction helper.” It was an age in which there was no safety net in the form of unemployment checks.

The next record found is his rather short obituary, with a very dark and grainy photograph, in The Boise Statesman:

“Herbert Edward Quigley, 88, of 1516 Hays Street, a long-time resident of Boise and pioneer architect of the city, died early Saturday in a Boise nursing home.

“Mr. Quigley was born Nov 1, 1866 in Lake Geneva, Wis., and had been a resident of Boise since the late 1890's. A graduate of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., with a degree in architecture, Mr. Quigley was superintendent of construction of the Boise post office and of the main portion of the state Capitol, from 1905 until 1912.

“He was a member of St. Michael's Episcopal Church.

“Survivors include one daughter, Mrs. Marion Lillian Colegrove, Boise, and several nieces and nephews in the East.”

(His wife and high school sweetheart, Nellie Funk Quigley, also of Lake Geneva, preceded him in death.)