Nestled in a valley between the Snake River and Clearwater River, Lewiston and Clarkston boast a rich history. The Lewis and Clark Expedition brought Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to the area in 1805, as they searched for a trade route through the Northwest. They followed the Clearwater River from the Bitterroot Mountains to its convergence with the Snake River, the site of the present-day twin cities of Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington.
Lewiston, named after Meriwether Lewis, was established in 1860 as a result of Captain E. D. Pierce’s gold discovery about 75 miles east of the present city, making it one of the first permanent settlements in Idaho. Its low elevation – the lowest in Idaho – made for a much more endurable winter than the surrounding areas. Because of its climate and easy accessibility by steamboat, Lewiston became a supply center for the pioneers and gold seekers who rushed out west. Clarkston, originally named Jawbone Flats, was named after William Clark and was settled around the same time.
Because the land on which Lewiston was located still was part of the Nez Perce Reservation, no permanent buildings could be built and framed canvas tents covered the land next to the rivers. Despite the fact that gold was on Indian land, settlers staked, claimed, sold, and bought lots, adopted the laws of mining camp, elected a surveyor and recorded their claims in a record book. Eventually permanent buildings appeared and Lewiston was not only filled with merchants and claims offices, but like every supply town in the west, it had its fair share of saloons and brothels.
The Nez Perce Indians agreed to a new treaty in 1863, and the site of Lewiston was ceded to the United States. Lewiston became the state’s capital at that time, but the city retained the title only a few years before the capital was moved to Boise.
The gold eventually ran out in the surrounding areas, but by that time Lewiston had developed into much more than just a supply town.
The Lewiston Clarkston valley now has a population of nearly 50,000, and is supported by the local lumber, pulp, and paper mill, Potlatch, as well as other manufacturers, retail stores, businesses, and recreation.
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