| 03.24.2018

Sharing Moscow stories


Moscow has a rich history and a story on every corner

Moscow has spunk. As prospective students visit the cozy university community for the first time, it’s hard not to be sucked in by the town’s charisma.

Even though a huge chunk of the city’s population changes every four years, there’s a reason Vandal alumni look back on their time here so fondly. 

Hannah Shirley | Argonaut

Hannah Shirley | Argonaut

Moscow is a tight-knit community and the town’s larger-than-life personality and off-the-wall quirkiness give the city the feeling of an old friend. The people who live here are colorful, and the history is rich — anyone who has ever been curious enough to venture into the heart of Moscow’s identity knows the town has plenty of interesting stories to tell. Here are a few of the most notable stories that still circulate around town today.

People disagree where the name Moscow originally came from, but one popular story says a Russian Muscovite founded a trading post here in the mid-1800s and someone creative decided to name the city after him. The name was changed and re-changed, but before it settled back to Moscow in 1875, it was called Paradise Valley and Hog Heaven by early settlers.

While no one would argue the area isn’t beautiful, many southern Idahoans wonder why the state’s land-grant university lies so far away from the rest of the state’s cultural hubs.

The answer to that question is Lewiston. Still sore after losing the capital to Boise in 1865, they were happy to learn that Congress had voted to give the Idaho panhandle back to Washington.

When President Grover Cleveland vetoed the bill, lawmakers created the University of Idaho as a kind of peace offering for Northern Idaho. Idaho received statehood one year later.

After the original UI Administration Building burned down in 1906, the university regents commissioned Boise architect John Tourtellotte to design a new one. He presented them with plans for what would become the Administration Building that stands today — a fireproof building, Tourtellotte assured the regents.

Around the same time in 1908, the iconic Administration Lawn was designed by the Olmsted brothers, whose family-owned firm had also designed the U.S. Capitol grounds and Central Park in New York City, as well as the grounds of other American universities such as Stanford and Notre Dame.

In the 1930s, Moscow pharmacist Frank “Doc” Robinson started a New Thought religion called Psychiana.The mail-order religion — $20 for 20 lessons, money back guaranteed — was so successful the Moscow post office received a Class A Rating.

Robinson died of a heart attack several years later, but not before using his wealth to become a community philanthropist and building two more buildings in downtown Moscow. He liked white brick.

Until 1987, the drinking age in Idaho was 19, but in Washington it was 21. This meant every weekend, WSU students would pile into their cars, come to Moscow to get drunk and then drive home. The Moscow-Pullman Highway wasn’t widened from a two-lane road until 2007, and the frigid Palouse winters often left it icy at night.

Because of this, the eight miles between Moscow and Pullman became known as one of the most dangerous stretches of highway in the nation. When the Idaho drinking age was adjusted, the number of deaths on U.S. Highway 95 plummeted.

Many students are familiar with the TabiKat Drag Show productions that are held once a month. The drag shows are put on by the couple who owns local comic book store Safari Pearl, Tabitha Simmons and Kathy Sprague.

Sprague and friends put on the first drag show in Moscow in February 1995 for her birthday to honor a close friend who had died of AIDS. The first show attracted about 50 people. Today, the productions have grown to bring a full house every month.

Hannah Shirley can be reached at arg-opinion@uidaho.edu

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