James Reid spent only 15 years in the Lewiston area, but more than anyone in the early years, he is the reason Lewis-Clark State College became a reality. Reid came to Lewiston from North Carolina in 1887 after he served two terms as a United States congressman. He quickly earned the respect of those in Idaho and although he never sought political office in the state, he did have great influence. With his experience of teaching at the college level in North Carolina, he became an ally of higher education at his new home.
Idaho became a state in 1890 and soon after Reid helped draft a bill that created the Lewiston State Normal School. He was a bulldog in his aggressive and successful lobbying for the school with the Idaho Legislature. His passion was rewarded when he won over the legislature and the school’s first board of trustees elected him board president.
Unfortunately for Reid, not everything went smoothly. While the legislature established the school in 1893, Idaho lawmakers did not provide funding to build the school for nearly three years. During that time Reid had to finance the school’s affairs out of his pocket. He paid for the stationary, postage and office help, and hired the school’s first president, George Knepper. It wasn’t until 1895 that the Legislature approved the sale of bonds to help with the construction of the college’s first building. Construction on the first Administration Building began in 1895.
In the meantime, Reid continued to push forward. His continued support, both vocally and financially, was critical. He reached a deal with a downtown Lewiston business to set up temporary classroom space on the second floor in 1895. He also helped secure bonding so the school could build its first two dormitories and establish the library. The bonds even featured his image on one side. The school named one of the new dorms after him.
Even with the legislature’s financial support, Reid continue to play a key role until his death on New Year’s Day 1902. Today, the school’s first administration building, which he helped finance, is now the home to a few classrooms and the Student Affairs staff. The building is aptly called Reid Centennial Hall.