City Building

Explore the birth and life of Spokane in a single afternoon.

On a recent expeditionary bike ride, I cruised by a little bookstore in Millwood called The Corner Door.

With no real place to go, and a bit of a book-collecting problem, I stopped in to peruse. It didn’t take long to grab the little book the store had featured near the cash register: Exploring Spokane’s Past by Barbara Fleischman Cochran. Six bucks later, I was immersed in historical tidbits that gave me some places to go that lazy afternoon.

The next time you find yourself adrift on a lazy, sunny afternoon, pull out this map inspired by Cochran’s book. And bone up on a bit of local history.

1. White Men Arrive
Western civilization first came to Spokane in the form of traders, and their outpost was the North West Company’s Spokane House, located near Nine Mile Falls. On the way to the house from Spokane Falls was Drumheller Springs, a respite for human and horse alike. A marker near the intersection of Euclid Avenue and North Ash shows where the spring once was.

2. The Fur Trade Flourishes
When the Hudson’s Bay Company took over Spokane House, they developed the Trail to Seneacquoteen to connect the outpost to the Pend Oreille River near Laclede, Idaho. Part of it still exists as a leisurely hike along the Little Spokane River near Indian Painted Rocks.

3. Plante Makes a Connection
Antoine Plante was a French-Canadian with strong Cree Indian ancestry. In the 1850s, he settled on the Spokane River to operate what would become a very successful ferry business. By charging 50 cents a person, 15 cents an animal and $4 per wagon, Plante made out well. But as bridges began to span the river, Plante’s service became unneeded and in 1876 he moved to Montana. (A sports complex bearing his name lies on the river at the end of Upriver Drive, the same location where his ferry operated.)

Zoom In

View Mapping Spokane's History in a larger map

4. Downtown Addresses
The intersection of Spokane Falls Boulevard and Howard Street today acts as the entrance to Riverfront Park. But originally it was the center of a young Spokane. On the northwest corner, the “Father of Spokane,” James Glover, lived and set up his first store in 1873. The northeast corner held the California House, the area’s first hotel. Soon, the intersection featured stables, a boarding house and a jail.

5. Spokane is Born
When Spokane officially became a city in 1881, about 1,000 people lived here. Seven years later, water was pulled from the river by a plant on Canada Island, of which only the brick foundation can be still be seen (at the southwestern tip of the island). By 1896, the sewage from 30,000 or so residents had polluted the water, making it undrinkable, and the plant was abandoned.

6. The City Fills In
The Downtown Public Library and the Spokane Club both stand on landfills. The land below the library is excavated dirt from the construction of a citywide sewer system around 1900. The club sits on something a little less savory — this location was once the city’s public trash dump.

7. Creating the First Suburbs
There are many reminders on the South Hill of Spokane’s history, but probably none more foundational than in its streets. On Madison Street, between 14th and 16th Avenues, tracks from the city’s once massive streetcar network are still evident. By 1910, the streetcars’ annual ridership peaked at 24 million. By 1936, after close to 50 years of operation, streetcars were a relic of the past.

8. Connecting the Region
In 1910, the first regional modern highway crossed the Palouse. Within four years, the highway was already outdated, but it still exists as the “Old Palouse Highway,” a road connecting Pullman to east Spokane, running through Oakesdale, Tekoa and Glenrose Prairie. In 1914, a new, straighter road was built connecting Spokane to Colfax, and by 1939, a four-lane highway had been constructed. Today it’s U.S. Highway 195.

9. Spokane Goes Green
After a few decades of booming growth, Spokane’s population suddenly halted and began to decline in the 1910s. The city became an industrial frontier post for the nation’s extractive industries: logging, mining, agriculture. By the 1970s, downtown had become something of an industrial wasteland. In an effort to turn around the city’s misfortunes and reputation with Expo ’74, railroads and warehouses were swapped for green space and walkways. Riverfront Park was born.

10. Tomorrow’s City
Even into the 21st century, there is more industrial land to reclaim. An effort is currently underway to develop such land into a central place for academia. Combining the resources of Eastern Washington University and Washington State University — along with Gonzaga, Whitworth and the University of Washington — the eastern edge of downtown is becoming host to a 21st century university for health care workers, including dentists, veterinarians and doctors. n

Little House on the Prairie - The Musical @ University High School

Wednesdays-Sundays. Continues through Aug. 1
  • or

About The Author

Nicholas Deshais

Nicholas Deshais is a former news editor and staff writer for The Inlander. He has reported on city, county and state politics, as well as medical marijuana, transportation and development. In May 2012, he was named as a finalist for the prestigious Livingston Award for an Inlander story about (now former) Assistant...