Spokane History

Spokane history has made our city what it is today. We must appreciate where we’ve been to embrace where we are going. Today, Spokane is a vibrant metropolitan center and the historic hub of the Pacific Northwest. For those of you who enjoy a good history lesson, we've got you covered. 

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Spokane Tribe of Indians

Before Spokane was founded in 1873, the Spokane Tribe of Indians inhabited much of northeastern Washington, almost 3 million acres to be more specific. The Spokane Tribe of Indians is one of the Interior Salish speaking tribes. They lived primarily along the banks of the Spokane and Columbia rivers. Spokane’s ancestors are river people who lived semi-nomadically, hunting, fishing, and gathering all the creator made available to them. Their diet mostly consisted of what was gained from the waterways, salmon, steelhead, eel, and shellfish.

In 1855 the military presence began to grow in the Pacific Northwest. White settlers were arriving on the Oregon Trail and by boat. The spring of 1858, marked the beginning of a number of battles between white settlers and the Spokane Tribe of Indians, along with other Tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Those battles include Steptoe, Four Lakes, and the Fire on the Plains. They stood up to defend their country as their families and way of life was threatened.

President Rutherford B. Hayes established the Spokan Indian Reservation by executive order in 1881. Their traditional lands were reduced from 3 million acres to 156,000 acres.

Founding of Spokane

Spokane was first founded in 1873 by James Nettle Glover as a small settlement known as Spokan Falls. Later in 1883, the “E” was added to Spokan, which made the city known as Spokane Falls. In 1891, Falls’ was dropped from the city’s name. Much of what made this area so prosperous to the Spokane Tribe of Indians is what attracted more and more settlers to the area. Settlers sought after the natural resources of fertile soil, timber, the river, and mineral wealth in the Pacific Northwest.

Lower Spokane Falls black and white photo taken in the early 1900s.

Northern Pacific Railroad

The Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Spokane in 1881 and was later transcontinentally linked in 1883. Spokane experienced its first boom when gold was discovered in the Coeur d’Alene mining district. This established Spokane as the service center for the mines in north Idaho. Suddenly, Spokane was the center of regional commerce and became the main gate to the Pacific Northwest thus establishing the Inland Empire.

Northern Pacific Railroad Spokane History

Building Boom

In 1893, Spokane began its rebound from the national depression and experienced another building boom with the coming turn of the century. Construction expanded downtown and the city grew to 37 square miles in 1907 when the city limits expanded.

Aerial view of the Spokane River and falls taken in 1973 before construction of the Expo 74 site

In 1880, the population was just above 300 but, by 1909 Spokane had grown exponentially to beyond 100,000 making the city larger than Salt Lake City. Spokane had become the largest city west of Minneapolis. The same year, Spokane was home to 14 millionaires, 23 public schools, and over $4milliion in new construction within the first six months of the year. Spokane was known to have the greatest water power west of the Niagra. As the largest city between Minneapolis and Seattle, Spokane was known as an excellent place to live, a fine place to receive an education, with the best hotels and the most diverse architecture in any city of its size in the U.S.

Historic Buildings

Over the years, Spokane has kept much of its history through its buildings. Over half of Spokane’s downtown area is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Spokane has the most designated National Register of Historic Districts in the state with 18 total districts.

Masonic Temple 1906 Riverside Place

One shining example is Riverside Place. President Theodore Roosevelt himself was present to hoist a shovel at its groundbreaking ceremony in 1903. Originally a Masonic Temple, the building's monumental, neoclassical form is curved to embrace the winding Spokane River. Recently, Riverside Place was transformed into a first-class event and wedding venue. With an interior boasting original marble stairways and stately oak woodwork, it is the perfect spot for once-in-a-lifetime special occasions.

Flour Mill 1941

Dating back to 1895, the Spokane Flour Mill was one of many built along the falls during the turn of the century. In preparation for the 1974 World's Fair, it was renovated into a shopping center. Now the Spokane Flour Mill contains a variety of small, local businesses sure to delight and enchant shoppers. Best of all, this touchstone to yesteryear has a convenient downtown location.

If you’re interested in exploring Spokane’s unique history and charm by way of our historic architecture, snag our Heritage Walk brochure and head out on a self-guided tour!

History Tours

Meander through downtown Spokane and hear fascinating stories about Spokane history with Wander Spokane Tours. Enjoy the culinary, wine, or beer scene while you get your dose of history along the way. If a self-guided tour is more your style, check out Spokane Historical. This project is brought to our city by the Public History program at Eastern Washington University (EWU). Many of the stories are written by EWU students. Download their free app on your Android or iPhone

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