Lewiston
Pop. 30,904

Lewiston is Idaho’s lowest lying city at only 739 feet above sea level and just missed earning the distinction as Idaho’s first permanent settlement. Ironically, even though the city is 470 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Lewiston serves as an Idaho seaport for Columbia and Snake River barge traffic. It is therefore a very important shipping and packing center.

After Captain E.D. Pierce discovered gold in the area in 1860, the town was established at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers. The original settlement was established approximately seventy-five miles east of the present city. Portland advertised the gold strike, and thousands of miners began making their way to Idaho. At the time of the strike, the town site was still located on the Nez Perce reservation. Indian agent, A.J. Cain, threatened to tear down any permanent buildings placed on the land, so miners outwitted him and lived in framed canvas tents. The temporary homes garned the city its “Ragtown” nickname. These canvas dwellings weren’t all that comfortable during the winter months, especially during 1861-1862 when Idaho recorded its most severe winter ever. If that wasn’t bad enough, spring floodwaters drenched the canvas city.

In 1861, in an attempt to name the town and establish some permanency, several men gathered and began suggesting names. Local merchant, Mr. Trevitt, suggested the name Lewiston in recognition of Lewis and Clark’s western achievements. It was later discovered that Trevitt really suggested the name in honor of his former home in Lewiston, Maine. Despite the newfound meaning behind the town’s moniker, the name was kept, and Lewiston was designated Idaho’s territorial capital in 1863. At the time, however, Lewiston was actually still located on Native American reservation land. Conveniently, the U.S. government “renegotiated” the treaty and reduced the size of the reservation so its boundary did not encompass Lewiston.

Such actions, however, seemed fruitless when the area mining activity began to decline, and the capital was moved to the prospering Boise in 1864. In spite of its raucous character, violent crimes, and reputation as a village of loose moral standards, Lewiston continued to attract new residents and was incorporated in 1866. When the government further reduced the Nez Perce Reservation lands in 1895, 540,000 acres were opened up for new homesteads. On November 18, 1895, a cannon was shot from Lewiston and thousands of settlers rushed forward to make claims on the coveted land. The railroad didn’t reach town until 1898, but when it did, a three-day celebration ensued. Just one year later, a toll bridge was constructed across the Snake River, and thirteen years later, a Clearwater River bridge was finally established. At that time, the states of Idaho and Washington pooled their resources to purchase the Snake River bridge and remove the toll.

Soon, farmers began arriving to work the fertile land, and orchards were established in 1905. Although planted strictly as apple orchards, the orchards later expanded to include cherries, English walnuts, filberts, chestnuts, and grapes. The prosperity of the orchards was short-lived, however, as a plauge of moths nearly destroyed the entire bounty in the 1920s. As a result, the land became more valuable as lots for new homes and businesses, and the town continued its history of expansion.

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