[Graphic Header] National Register of Historic Places Preservation Month May 2005, Restore America: Communities at a Crossroads
Moscow Downtown Historic District, ID

Moscow, ID
Photograph courtesy of The Slow Lane via Flickr and Creative Commons license

Moscow is a community of about 22,000 people located in northern Idaho’s panhandle. The city is situated in the Palouse region of eastern Washington and western Idaho, an area comprising more than one million acres of rolling hills and deep loess soil particularly suited to wheat production. Home to the University of Idaho, Moscow serves as a center for trade, culture and social life of the city, the university community and surrounding small towns. As county seat of Latah County, Moscow also provides governmental functions for county residents.

The Moscow Downtown Historic District, which includes 60 buildings originally built as commercial or financial structures, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 22, 2005 for its historic association with the growth and development of Moscow, Idaho, as a regional trade center. From 1889 to 1953 this commercial district developed and changed in response to economic and social forces, including early settlement and prosperity, the economic Panic of 1893; the coming of the automobile age; and the Great Depression. Because only eight of the district’s buildings were constructed after 1853, the district retains a high percentage of the commercial structures.

[photo] Moscow, ID
Photograph courtesy of jacob theo via Flickr and Creative Commons license

The earliest Moscow buildings were primarily wood structures. The successful retail business of William J. McConnell (who arrived in 1878) and James McGuire drew a lot of businessmen to the town. In 1885, the Oregon Railway and navigation Company reached the young city, and with the creation of Latah County with Moscow as the county seat, the town grew. Around 1893 the city passed an ordinance forbidding the construction of wooden buildings in the commercial area of Main Street, further increasing the local production of brick buildings, which began as prosperity came to the town. Several local people and brick companies provided the building material, which became dominated by the Moscow Fire Brick and Clay Products Company in 1916, which provided most of the bricks used in construction until the mid-1940s. Several significant brick buildings remain that were constructed in 1890, among them the southern section of the Browne Block at 110 South Main. The Commercial Block at 213-215 South main housed the Commercial bank of Isaac Hattenbaugh as well as the newspaper staff of the Star of Idaho. The following year, 1891, saw the greatest burst of the period’s building boom.

Charles S. Smith and Charles H. Dolson housed their general store in a two-story building built at 211 South Main Street. The Moscow, a three story hotel was raised on Fourth Street, across from the Skattaboe Block. Soon joined by the McCartor Block and the Shields Building, the new look to Moscow presented an urbanized, prosperous appearance to the world. The image was further enhanced by the 1891 construction of the city’s most magnificent commercial building. William J. McConnell and James H. McGuire, whose mercantile business had succeeded admirably, constructed a new home for their enterprise at the southeast corner of First and South Main. Built of granite and cast-iron supports and unique ornamentation, the three-story building represented the prestige of W.J. McConnell, who had just finished a term as U.S. Senator and would become the state’s governor in 1893. The Panic of 1893 devastated Moscow’s growing commercial and financial communities. Many of the banks closed and businesses left, and when the building resumed, the scale was more modest. Sales of wheat and timber stabilized the region, and new banks and stores came into Moscow.

Moscow, ID
Photograph courtesy of Nebarnix via Flickr and Creative Commons license

The new commercial buildings, such as the one-story, brick Holt Block, built in 1903 at 413 South Main, were on a more modest level then the previous boom. The look of Moscow changed again in the late teens and early twenties as the automobile came into common use. Auto Businesses on the 100 and 500 blocks of Main were successful until the mid 1960’s and 1970s, only Martin’s Auto Service at the southwest corner of Second and Washington remained as a downtown automobile related service. Movie theaters were another business development that affected the face of downtown—the first theater in Moscow was probably the Crystal Theater, built in 1908 on the east side of the 500 block of Main. This soon converted to an auto garage, but he golden era of theaters came with Milburn Kenworthy, who came to Moscow in 1918 and leased and bought buildings for new theaters, renaming the Crystal Theater the Kenworthy.

The depression and World War II years saw little growth in the district. A revival in building began in the 1950’s and in the following decades. Three new banks were erected in the area, and a large office complex went up on the northwest corner of First and Washington. A number of buildings in the district, especially the imposing structures built during the 1889-1893 period, exhibit particular architectural styles. These include Italianate, Romanesque, Mission/Spanish Colonial Revival, and Art Deco. The majority of the buildings, however, reflect relatively simple commercial architecture in the form of one-part and two-part block buildings, and many display unique elements, especially pattered brickwork. The Moscow Downtown Historic District is a roughly rectangular-shaped area encompassing approximately ten blocks.

You can find information on a walking tour of Downtown Moscow, ID through the Idaho State Historical Society

Extrapolated from the National Register nomination written by Suzanne Julin.

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