Replica of Idaho's first Capitol recalls Lewiston's heyday

Boise takes some good-natured ribbing for its 1865 'theft.'

LEWISTON TRIBUNEJuly 11, 2013 

The replica of Idaho's first Capitol is anything but a hollow copy of the original, according to the man who spearheaded its creation.

"It's a monument," John Mock said, comparing the building to grand edifices such as the Lincoln Memorial. "This is absolutely no different. It's a monument to the beginning of Idaho history, both territorial and state."

Even in a rugged frontier town, Idaho's territorial founders managed to pay homage to that and other grand monuments by including wooden "columns" in their conversion of a livery supply store into the seat of a new government.

The columns adorn the front of the replica, which was painstakingly re-created through the analysis of old photos and records, and rebuilt using vintage lumber. The original building fell into disrepair by 1914, and it reportedly was cannibalized for firewood.

More than 300 people gathered Wednesday in a shady courtyard near Lewiston City Hall to hear a string of dignitaries tell the tales of Lewiston's history and dedicate the replica.

Many still carry a chip on their shoulders over the spiriting away of the territorial seal to Boise in 1865, after Lewiston had served two years as the seat of government.

"Lewiston is still the capital of Idaho," said audience member Gary Gibler of Lewiston. "It doesn't matter that it's in Boise. It's not a grudge, it's just a fact."

Former Gov. Cecil Andrus, who used to live in Lewiston, couldn't even bring himself to identify Idaho's current capital during his remarks.

"It would be easy for us to castigate those 30 nasty villains who in the dark of night stole away, in a felonious activity, the state capital from where it belongs in Lewiston, Idaho, where it was designated in Lewiston, Idaho, to that city that Mayor (Dave) Bieter presides over," Andrus said, gesturing to a smiling Bieter in the audience. "What's the name of that town there?"

After the levity, Andrus paid tribute to the hundreds of volunteers and contributors who worked for years to create the replica.

"You stand out as an example of what can happen, what we together have created," said Andrus.

'INTERPRETIVE CENTER'

Mock said the Capitol replica will be a place where volunteers from the First Territorial Capitol Revitalization Project will share the stories from Lewiston's two years of power in the 1860s, and explain what they mean.

City Council member Dennis Ohrtman said his fascination with the territorial history started with Lewiston's sesquicentennial celebration. And since then, he has realized the fascination is widespread.

"The interpretative center will remind of us of how we have grown government from the simple beginning to the beautiful marble halls of Boise," Ohrtman said. "This is one of several structures that remind us of the determination we have had to govern ourselves in a free land, and it should remind us that we didn't always use the most honorable means to achieve that end."

Lt. Gov. Brad Little joked that while he was in Boise on Tuesday, he tried to get into the secretary of state's office to swipe the state seal and bring it to Lewiston. And the Republican also teased Andrus, a Democrat, pointing out that Wallace was a Republican, while the "scoundrels" who smuggled the territorial seal to Boise were Democrats.

At a lunch after the ceremony, Bieter thanked his Lewiston hosts "for being gracious to your relations to the south," despite the pilfering of the territorial capital.

"There are times I'd like to give the Legislature back to you," he said.

With the Lewiston replica, Bieter said, "you've given us all a piece of history that will last forever."

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