The Fort Russell neighborhood developed in tandem with Moscow’s early settlement and maturation as a regional marketplace for surrounding agricultural, ranching, and timber industries. Several factors helped to fuel growth of the city’s commercial center and most significant residential neighborhood during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the region’s agricultural landscape, known as the Palouse, proved to be highly productive; construction of two railroads, the Oregon Shortline and Navigation Company and the Northern Pacific, afforded critical transportation links to Spokane and coastal markets in 1885 and 1890, respectively; and the territorial legislature established the University of Idaho in Moscow in 1889. In anticipation of Moscow’s economic potential as a permanent settlement, early community builders began constructing fine residences in diverse architectural styles and sizes beginning in 1875. Today, their aspirations are reflected in the Fort Russell neighborhood’s substantial inventory of houses, schools, and churches that continue to communicate their linkage to the city’s early history while remaining in active use.
For thousands of years, Tatkinmah, the valley in which Moscow is located, served as a seasonal meeting grounds for tribal peoples including the Nez Perce, Coeur D’Alene, and Palouse, who frequented the area to harvest camas roots, trade, and race horses. No permanent structures remain from their centuries of seasonal habitation. The earliest permanent residents were farm families who ascended the Nez Perce Trail from the Snake River Valley in 1871 and laid claim to land in Paradise Valley, where present day Moscow is located. The valley’s fertile soils, which characterize the Palouse, proved productive, manifesting in further immigration of farmers and entrepreneurial homesteaders who established Moscow as a central marketplace.
During early settlement years, relationships between homesteaders and area tribes were generally positive. However, when the 1877 war with Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce Tribe erupted, stockade forts, including Fort Russell, were constructed as a precaution. While the forts were never used for war purposes, the Fort Russell neighborhood acquired its name from the stockade that Moscow cofounder, John Russell, erected on his homestead. Russell platted holdings surrounding the stockade into streets, blocks, and large lots with small orchards for residential development. The Fort Russell neighborhood provided an ideal location for prominent citizens who were attracted to its offerings of abundant flat land and hilltop views of the Palouse landscape close to downtown.
During the late nineteenth century the neighborhood took shape, absorbing waves of residential growth associated with Moscow’s continued evolution as regional marketplace, county seat, and educational center. As the town’s commercial center flourished during the 1880s and 1890s, most of Moscow’s elite, including business owners, bankers, judges, doctors, and university personnel, constructed signature residences on choice corner lots. The repertoire of Fort Russell’s earliest residents included department store owners William McConnell, William Kauffman, Henry Dernham, and Frank David; contractor and entrepreneur Michael Shields; banker William Baker; and Civil War Colonel Robert Barton, who built Moscow’s first hotel. Jerome Day, a North Idaho silver baron, constructed the most grandiose dwelling in 1904. Additionally, some homeowners leased rooms to university students and faculty to help ends meet following the financial panic of 1893, until on-campus housing was constructed in the early 1900s.
Most Fort Russell houses built between 1880 and the 1930s were unique designs exhibiting diversity of style, scale, and materiality. The earliest development wave embraced styles that were popular during the late Victorian era, with Queen Anne and Italianate influences being the most prevalent. Owners commonly engaged builders and sometimes architects to create customized designs to meet their family needs within stylistic frameworks for massing, architectural features, and detailing. Sources of design inspiration varied. Local entrepreneur and governor William McConnell modified plans from patternbooks or potentially with the help of an architect, to create an eclectic blend of Italianate and Eastlake styles. Farm implement business owner Charles Butterfield imported plans for an architect-designed Classical Revival house from his Wisconsin hometown. During the first decade of the twentieth century, prominent businessmen such as Mark Miller continued to subscribe to architectural trends. Miller contracted architect Henry N. Black to design a speculative bungalow house and a Chalet-style house for his personal residence.
Moscow’s continued prosperity, resulting from its maturation as a retail center for agriculture and from its expanding university, generated a continuing need for housing in the Fort Russell area until World War II. Between 1910 and 1940, fruit orchards belonging to homeowners on corner lots were gradually subdivided and infilled with new houses and apartments; they were constructed in a variety of popular styles including Tudor Revival, Arts and Crafts, American Foursquare, English Cottage, Bungalow, and Colonial Revival. Throughout this period, house designs continued to be customized to better accommodate family needs and preferences. The variety of house styles and sizes lends a unique personality to each block within the neighborhood. Introduction of mass-produced housing types began in the 1940s with construction of small modern house types on a few scattered infill lots. By World War II, most available infill lots had been developed.
In 1980, the Fort Russell neighborhood was designated Moscow’s first national historic district, with 116 contributing properties. At present the district is being updated and expanded to reflect the neighborhood’s continued development during the decades leading up to World War II. The new district will include approximately 245 contributing properties. While some individual houses have undergone gradual change, a substantial inventory retains a significant degree of architectural integrity. Neighborhood streets are lined with mature trees and a network of sidewalks, rendering Fort Russell a delightfully walkable neighborhood and a popular destination for visitors. Neighborhood residents celebrate Halloween night by decorating and welcoming trick-or-treaters from throughout the metropolitan area; East City Park, the city’s oldest park, serves as a popular venue for local events and music festivals.
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Doyon, Annie, and Kathryn Burke-Hise, “Fort Russell Neighborhood Historic District,” Latah County, Idaho. National Register of Historic Places District Boundary Increase and Additional Documentation, 2015. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C.
Monroe, J. Moscow: Living and Learning on the Palouse. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
Otness, L. A Great Good Country: A Guide to Historic Moscow and Latah County, Idaho. Moscow, ID: Local History Paper # 8, Latah County Historical Society, 1983.
Renk, Nancy. “W.E. McConnell House,” Latah County, Idaho. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1974. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C.
Wright, Patricia. “Fort Russell Neighborhood Historic District,” Latah County, Idaho. National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, 1980. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington D.C.