(image courtesy of Latah County Historical Society)
Moscow is a young city. Lewis and Clark, with the Corps of Discovery, came through Idaho in 1805. With 3100 navigable white water rivers and Hells Canyon (the deepest canyon in the lower 48), you can imagine how wild Idaho really was! And yet, the railroad would arrive in Moscow 80 years later!
The land officially became part of the United States during the Oregon Treaty with Britain in 1846. Gold and silver had been discovered throughout the area in the 1860s bringing people in.
Congress created Idaho territory in 1863 signed by Abraham Lincoln two months after the Emancipation Proclamation. After the Civil War, former soldiers moved to the territory (which at the time was larger than Texas), and Lewiston became the capitol. But apparently as people moved to Boise to continue the hunt for gold, they wanted the capitol to move too. A bill was passed, despite objections, and Clinton DeWitt Smith brought federal troops with him to retrieve the territorial seal which had been locked up at the jail. They successfully retrieved it and left town on the river! Some in Lewiston viewed the situation as a heist.
In 1866 the territory’s Supreme Court upheld Boise as the capitol. Those in the panhandle were not happy about this and about 20 years later the House and Senate passed a bill to allow the northern panhandle to become part of Washington. President Grover Cleveland, however, pocket vetoed the bill.
The founding of the University of Idaho in Moscow in 1889 as a land grant institution was seen as a sort of peace treaty.
Moscow had been founded in 1871 when settlers arrived and created a stagecoach station here. The origin of Moscow’s name is somewhat uncertain. We do know that in 1887 Samuel Neff requested a permit to create a post office in the town and put down the name Moscow. Some believe that he chose the name because it reminded him of Moscow, Pennsylvania where he formerly lived. But another theory is that it came from the Nez Perce word “masco” which means flax, since it grew abundantly here. Whatever the actual origin, Moscow is the name that stuck. And we’re all grateful that it changed from Hog Heaven (which local farmers had called it prior to that point)!
The town was incorporated as Moscow in 1887 and the following year it became the seat of Latah County. Statehood was granted in 1890 and Moscow became a city three years later.
While we’re not that far removed from the Wild West, things have drastically shifted since Moscow was incorporated 134 years ago. The railroad no longer runs through town and Moscow’s population is just over 25,000! The old beginnings can still be seen when you walk downtown though! The McConnell building on the corner of 1st and Main was built in 1891 as was the Historic Moscow Hotel on Main and 4th. If you’re looking to explore more of Moscow’s history, the Latah County Historical Society has a self-guided Downtown Walking Tour with brief descriptions of the buildings!
- KATHRYN CHURCH