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Spokane: History

Spokane Area Popular with Traders

For years before the coming of European explorers, the land around the present-day city was settled by the Spokane tribe. Explorers and trappers passed through the area, but no settlements were built until 1810, when Finan McDonald and Joco Finlay built a trading post called Spokane House at the junction of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers. In 1812, John Clarke of the Pacific Fur Company built Fort Spokane not far from the trading post. The house and fort soon became a popular meeting place for traders, trappers, and Native Americans, and the buildings were sold to the North West Company in 1813.

The Hudson's Bay Company bought the North West Company in 1821 and dismantled Spokane House. The area was once again left to local tribes. Chief Garry, the leader of the Middle and Upper Spokane tribes, had been educated at the Red River Mission school and converted to Presbyterianism. He built a school for his people and taught them English and religion, as well as modern agricultural methods. At about the same time, the first missionaries arrived in the area, establishing a mission on Walker's Prairie, 25 miles north of Spokane Falls.

The great westward expansion of the 1840s attracted a number of settlers to the area, but a clash with local tribes, culminating in the Whitman Massacre, led to the closing of eastern Oregon (the Spokane area was then part of the Oregon Territory) to settlement in the 1850s. In 1871J. J. Downing and his family located a claim on the banks of the Spokane River. Within a year, the small settlement included a sawmill, a post office, and a general store. In 1873, James N. Glover, who is called the "father of Spokane," rode through the area on horseback. He was, he wrote, "enchanted . . . overwhelmed . . . with the beauty and grandeur of everything." Glover bought the rights to Downing's land and sawmill and opened a store and stable. His early trade was with the Spokane and Coeur d'Alene Indians who lived in the region. The town was registered as Spokane Falls in 1878. By 1880, the town had a population of 75 people, a weekly newspaper, and several baseball teams. In 1881 it was incorporated.

Rapid Population Growth Builds Sophisticated City

Spokane Falls grew steadily throughout the ensuing decades, changing from a rough frontier community into a solid city, complete with all the trappings of Eastern culture: a college, a library, and a number of theaters. The transcontinental railroad reached Spokane Falls in 1883, ensuring the town's success. Fire destroyed much of the town in 1889, but residents quickly rebuilt. By 1890, the city had a population of 30,000 people and changed its name to Spokane when Oregon entered the Union. By 1910, the population had jumped to over 100,000 people.

In 1974 the city was host to the World's Fair, Expo '74, which focused the world's attention on Spokane. Development of Expo '74 buildings and other improvements at the fair site in downtown Spokane created a modern city center with an extensive system of enclosed skywalks. Expansion and development continued through the 1990s and into the new century. Faced with the possibility of losing important downtown retailers, Spokane embarked upon an ambitious and large-scale effort at renewing the city center. These efforts have been enormously successful, as Spokane has continued to attract new retailers and businesses as well as residents who are fleeing high prices in California and in Seattle.

Historical Information: Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Research Library and Archives, 2316 W. First Avenue, Spokane, WA 99204; telephone (509)456-3931; fax (509)456-2770