Interpretive Center offers peek into 1860s history of the Pacific Northwest

idaho first capitol.jpg

1863 was a long time ago, 155 years to be exact, and a lot has changed around Lewiston since then. Boise is now Idaho’s Capitol, but at one point in time it was right here in Lewiston.

Lewiston’s old territorial capitol has reopened after 11 years of rebuilding. It gives visitors a glimpse back to 1863, when Lewiston was being built from the ground up.

Jump back 155 years and Lewiston looked a little different than it does today.

“Maybe 25 buildings, something like that…all in the little downtown area.”

This is Madame Melanie Bonhore. “I build and run the Hotel de France,” she said.

The Hotel de France was one of the original buildings in Lewiston. It’s where all the republican leaders stayed in the 1860s. But Lewiston was more than just a hotel with some buildings.

“We have our Lewiston, we have Florence, they find the gold. We have a huge area that belongs to Idaho.”

Gold is the main reason people came to Lewiston in the first place. “Gold miners, they stop here on the way to their gold fields.”

The big gold mines weren’t anywhere near Lewiston, but it was as far as steamboats could travel on the Snake River from Portland. And that makes it different from almost everywhere else settled in United States history.

“Lewiston is the only time in all of this American history that people went from Portland to Lewiston. They went from west to east.

Lewiston was also a main hub of the area for another reason.

“That is because all of the gold comes down through Lewiston, and then goes to Portland and to the San Francisco Mint.”

All that gold was used for an important reason at the height of 1860s.

“So we help President Lincoln on this Civil War. This gold, very important.

The Lewiston Territorial Capitol is more than just a building. It’s a look into the history of the entire Pacific Northwest. Lewiston at one point even had such a large population because of local gold rushes, that it had a larger population than Portland.

Boise became Idaho’s capitol in December, 1864. The original territorial capital building collapsed in the winter of 1916 because of heavy snows, but it’s now reopen after more than a century.

The Territorial Capitol is now open every Friday and Saturday from noon to 4:00p.m.

The rebuild was done completely through donations and volunteer work. The capitol is still taking donations to upkeep the building. If you’d like to help out, give John or Melva Mock a call at (208) 790-0999 or email them at

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