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History of Lewiston, Idaho/Clarkston, Washington

The only thing separating Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington, is a river with a state line running through it.

These twin cities are bonded by the history surrounding their namesake explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. They are further linked by being the gateway to Hell's Canyon National Recreation Area, home of North America’s deepest gorge.

The Lewis-Clark Valley is 465 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers as they flow westerly to join the Columbia River in Tri-Cities, Washington.

Lewis-Clark Valley is rich with traditions and stories. For centuries, the area has been home to the Nez Perce Indians who traveled the valleys and lived off the land and rivers. It was the Nez Perce who welcomed Lewis and Clark in 1805 as they were enroute to discover the Pacific Ocean. In 1806 they also spent more than six weeks with the Nez Perce in the Kamiah area before heading eastward on the Lolo Trail.

The Idaho Territory was established in 1863 and President Abraham Lincoln signed the act establishing the territory on March 4, with the capital at Lewiston, but its tenure was to be short lived. The following year, a resolution passed to make Boise the capital, and the change was officially made in 1865.

The Idaho legislature of 1893 passed a bill calling for a “normal” school, but failed to fund it. Lewiston citizens rallied to make Lewiston State Normal School a reality. The school has undergone many transitions, and in 1971 finally became Lewis and Clark State College, the last “normal” college in the nation.

At 738 feet of elevation, the area is known as the “Banana Belt” with its mild winter climate that allows year-round golfing, and winter sports are only a short drive away. Visitors enjoy the breathtaking beauty of Hells Canyon from several vantage points, with the Seven Devils mountain range rising more than 9,000 feet in elevation.

On an overnight tour, visitors can ride in big, bus-like mail boats while the mail is delivered to residents in the canyon, then dine and stay overnight at a comfortable lodge. Smaller jet boats offer a thrilling ride into the spectacular canyon with intermittent stops for fishing. Whitewater rafts provide an opportunity to soak in the scenery at one’s own pace.

Memorials to the explorers and their Indian supporters are scattered around Lewiston. A bronze sculpture of Sacajawea surrounded by four coyotes rests in Pioneer Park on Fifth Street. On the Lewis and Clark State College campus, in a waterfall setting, is a sculpture of the pair meeting Chief Twisted Hair. A life-size bronze of a Nez Perce man on an Appaloosa horse, Idaho’s state horse, graces the entrance to the county courthouse. At the intersection of Hwy 12 and 21st Street are bronzes of Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea — to mention only a few.

Clarkston was named to the top-100 list in a book, Boom Town USA: the 7 ½ keys to Big Success in Small Towns, by Jack Schultz, who examined 15,800 small towns in rural America. Clarkston’s high ranking, says Schultz, “is the fact that it capitalizes on the natural feature, Hells Canyon and uses effective marketing to promote visitation.”

Also in Clarkston, at Hells Canyon Resort Marina, beautiful sidewalk etchings depict episodes of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Rooster’s Landing Waterfront Restaurant is nearby.

West of Clarkston is the Alpowai Interpretive Center built near the original site of Alpowai, a Nez Perce Indian village in the mid-1800s. The center is near the entrance to Chief Timothy State Park, eight miles west on Highway 12.