Spokane is a city in the state of Washington, in the northwestern United States. It is the seat of Spokane County. It is located on the Spokane River west of the Rocky Mountain foothills in eastern Washington, south of the Canadian border, approximately from the Washington–Idaho border, and east of Seattle along Interstate 90. The city and wider Inland Northwest region is served by Spokane International Airport, west of downtown Spokane. According to the 2010 Census, Spokane had a population of 208,916, making it the second largest city in Washington and the 102nd largest city in the United States.
The first humans to live in the area, the Spokane people (their name meaning "children of the sun" in Salishan), arrived between 13,000 and 8,000 years ago, living off plentiful game. Known as the birthplace of Father's Day, Spokane is officially nicknamed the "Lilac City". David Thompson explored the area with the westward expansion and establishment of the North West Company's Spokane House in 1810. This trading post was the first long-term European settlement in Washington. Completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1881 brought settlers to the Spokane area, and that same year it was officially incorporated as a city with the name "Spokan Falls". In the late 19th century, gold and silver were discovered in the Inland Northwest. The local economy depended on mining, timber, and agriculture until the 1980s. Spokane hosted the first environmentally themed World's Fair at Expo '74.
Many of the older Romanesque Revival-style buildings in the downtown area were designed by architect Kirtland Kelsey Cutter after the Great Fire of 1889. The city also features Riverfront and Manito parks, the Smithsonian-affiliated Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, the Davenport Hotel, and the Fox and Bing Crosby theaters. The Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes serves as the seat of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Spokane, and the city is also the center of the Mormon Spokane Washington Temple District. Gonzaga University was established in 1887 by the Society of Jesus, and the private Presbyterian Whitworth University opened three years later in north Spokane. In sports, the Gonzaga Bulldogs collegiate basketball team competes at the Division I level. Professional and semi-professional sports teams include the Spokane Indians in Minor League Baseball, Spokane Shock in arena football, and Spokane Chiefs in junior ice hockey. As of 2010, Spokane's only major daily newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, had a daily circulation of over 75,000.
The first humans to live in the Spokane area arrived between 13,000 and 8,000 years ago and were hunter-gatherer societies that lived off plentiful game. The Spokane tribe, after which the city is named (the name meaning "children of the sun" or "sun people" in Salishan), are believed to be either their direct descendants, or descendants of peoples from the Great Plains. When asked by early white explorers, the Spokanes said their ancestors came from "up North".
Early in the 19th century, the Northwest Fur Company sent two white fur trappers west of the Rocky Mountains to search for fur. These were the first white men met by the Spokanes, who believed them to be sacred, and set the trappers up in the Colville River valley for the winter.
The explorer-geographer David Thompson, working as head of the North West Company's Columbia Department, became the first European to explore the Inland Empire (now called the Inland Northwest). Crossing what is now the U.S.–Canadian border from British Columbia, Thompson wanted to expand the North West Company further south in search of furs. After establishing the Kullyspell House and Saleesh House trading posts in what are now Idaho and Montana, Thompson then attempted to expand further west. He sent out two trappers, Jacques Raphael Finlay and Finan McDonald, to construct a fur trading post on the Spokane River in Washington and trade with the local Indians. This post was established in 1810, at the confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane rivers, becoming the first enduring European settlement of significance in Washington state. Known as the Spokane House, or simply "Spokane", it was in operation from 1810 to 1826. Operations were run by the British North West Company and later the Hudson's Bay Company, and the post was the headquarters of the fur trade between the Rocky and Cascade mountains for 16 years. After the latter business absorbed the North West Company in 1821, the major operations at the Spokane House were eventually shifted north to Fort Colville, reducing the post's significance.
In 1836, Reverend Samuel Parker visited the area and reported that around 800 Native Americans were living in Spokane Falls. A medical mission was established by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman to cater for Cayuse Indians and hikers of the Oregon Trail at Walla Walla in the south. After the Whitmans were killed by Indians in 1847, Reverend Cushing Eells established Whitman College in their memory, also setting up the first church in Spokane.
In 1853, two years after the establishment of the State of Washington, the first governor, Isaac Stevens, made an initial effort to make a treaty with Chief Garry and the Spokanes at Antoine Plantes’ Ferry, not far from Millwood.
After the last campaign of the Yakima Indian War, the Coeur d'Alene War of 1858 was brought to a close by the actions of Col. George Wright, who won decisive victories against a confederation of tribes in engagements at the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. The cessation of hostilities opened the inter-mountain valley of the Pacific Northwest to safe settlement.
Joint American–British occupation of Oregon Country, in effect since the Treaty of 1818, eventually led to the Oregon Boundary Dispute after a large influx of American settlers along the Oregon Trail. The first American settlers in what is now Spokane were J.J. Downing and S.R. Scranton, cattle ranchers who squatted and established a claim at Spokane Falls in 1871. Together they built a small sawmill on a claim near the south bank of the falls. James N. Glover and Jasper Matheney, Oregonians passing through the region in 1873, recognized the value of the Spokane River and its falls for the purpose of water power. They realized the investment potential and bought the claims of and the sawmill from Downing and Scranton for a total of $4,000. Glover and Matheney knew that the Northern Pacific Railroad Company had received a government charter to build a main line across this northern route. Amid many delays in construction and uncertainty over the completion of the railroad and its exact course, Matheney sold his interest in the claim to Glover. Glover confidently held on to his claim and became a successful Spokane business owner and mayor. He later came to be known as the "Father of Spokane".
In 1880, Fort Spokane was established by U.S. Army troops under Lt. Col. Henry Clay Merriam northwest of Spokane, at the junction of the Columbia and Spokane Rivers, to protect the construction of the Northern Pacific Railway and secure a place for U.S. settlement. By June 30, 1881, the railway reached the city, bringing major European settlement to the area. The city of Spokan Falls (the "e" was added in 1883 and "Falls" dropped in 1891) was officially incorporated as a city of about 1,000 residents on November 29, 1881. The marketing campaigns of transportation companies with affordable fertile land to sell along their trade routes lured many settlers into the region they dubbed "Spokane Country".
The 1883 discovery of gold, silver, and lead in the Coeur d'Alene region of northern Idaho lured prospectors. The Inland Empire erupted with numerous mining rushes from 1883 to 1892. Mining and smelting emerged as a major stimulus to Spokane. At the onset of the initial 1883 gold rush in the nearby Coeur d'Alene mining district, Spokane became popular with prospectors, offering low prices on everything "from a horse to a frying pan". It would keep this status for subsequent rushes in the region due to its trade center status and accessibility to railroad infrastructure.
Spokane's growth continued unabated until August 4, 1889, when a fire, now known as The Great Fire (not to be confused with the Great Fire of 1910, which happened nearby), began just after 6:00 p.m. and destroyed the city's downtown commercial district. Due to technical problems with a pump station, there was no water pressure in the city when the fire started. In a desperate bid to starve the fire, firefighters began razing buildings with dynamite. Eventually the winds and the fire died down; 32 blocks of Spokane's downtown core had been destroyed and one person killed.
Despite this catastrophe, and in part because of it, Spokane experienced a building boom. The downtown was rebuilt, and the city was reincorporated under the present name of "Spokane" in 1891. According to historian David H. Stratton, "From the late 1890s to about 1912, a great flurry of construction created a modern urban profile of office buildings, banks, department stores, hotels and other commercial institutions" which stretched from the Spokane River to the site of the Northern Pacific railroad tracks below the South Hill. Yet the rebuilding and development of the city was far from smooth: between 1889 and 1896 alone, all six bridges over the Spokane River were destroyed by floods before their completion. In the 1890s the city was subject to intrastate migration by African-Americans from Roslyn, looking for work after the closure of the area's mines. Two African-American churches, Calvary Baptist and Bethel African Methodist Episcopal, were founded in 1890. Just three years after the fire, in 1892, James J. Hill's Great Northern Railway arrived in the chosen site for Hill's rail yards, the newly created township of Hillyard (annexed by Spokane in 1924). Spokane became an important rail shipping and transportation hub for the Inland Empire, connecting mines in the Silver Valley with agricultural areas around the Palouse region. The city's population ballooned to 19,922 in 1890, and to 36,848 in 1900 with the arrival of additional railroads. By 1910 the population had hit 104,000, and Spokane eclipsed Walla Walla as the commercial center of the Inland Empire. In time the city came to be known as the "capital" of the Inland Empire and the heart of a vast tributary region. After the arrival of the Northern Pacific, Union Pacific, Great Northern, and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroads, Spokane became one of the most important rail centers in the western U.S.
Early 20th century
Expansion abruptly stopped in the 1910s and was followed by a period of population decline, due in large part to Spokane's slowing economy. Control of regional mines and resources became increasingly dominated by national corporations rather than local people and organizations, diverting capital outside of Spokane and decreasing growth and investment opportunities in the city. During this time of stagnation, unrest was prevalent among the area's unemployed, who became victimized by "job sharks", who charged a fee for signing up workers in the logging camps. Job sharks and employment agencies were known to cheat itinerant workers, sometimes paying bribes to periodically fire entire work crews, thus generating repetitive fees for themselves. Crime spiked in the 1890s and 1900s, with eruptions of violent activity involving unions such as the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), or "Wobblies" as they were often known, whose free speech fights had begun to garner national attention. Now, with grievances concerning the unethical practices of the employment agencies, they initiated a free speech fight in September 1908 by purposely breaking a city ordinance on soapboxing. With IWW encouragement, union members from many western states came to Spokane to take part in what had become a publicity stunt. Many Wobblies were incarcerated, including feminist labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who published her account in the local Industrial Worker.
After mining declined at the turn of the 20th century, agriculture and logging became the primary influences in the Spokane economy. The population explosion and the building of homes, railroads, and mines in northern Idaho and southern British Columbia fueled the industry. Although overshadowed in importance by the vast timbered areas on the coastal regions west of the Cascades, and burdened with monopolistic rail freight rates and stiff competition, Spokane became a noted leader in the manufacture of doors, window sashes, blinds, and other planing mill products. Rail freight rates were much higher in Spokane than the rates in coastal seaport cities such as Seattle and Portland, so much so that Minneapolis merchants could ship goods first to Seattle and then back to Spokane for less than shipping directly to Spokane, even though the rail line ran through Spokane on the way to the coast. Local morale was affected for years by the collapse of the Division Street Bridge early in the morning on December 15, 1915, which killed five people and injured over 20, but a new bridge was built (eventually replaced in 1994). The 1920 census showed a net increase of just 35 individuals, which actually indicates that thousands left the city when considering the natural growth rate of a population. Growth in the 1920s and 1930s remained slow but less drastically so, forcing city boosters to market the city as a quiet, comfortable place suitable for raising a family rather than a dynamic community full of opportunity. The Inland Empire was heavily dependent on natural resources and goods produced from mines, forests, and farms, which experienced a fall in demand. The situation improved slightly with the start of World War II as aluminum production commenced in Spokane due to the area's cheap electricity (produced from regional dams) and the increased demand for airplanes.
Second half of the 20th century
After decades of stagnation and slow growth, Spokane businessmen formed Spokane Unlimited in the early 1960s, an organization that sought to revitalize downtown Spokane. A recreation park showcasing the Spokane Falls was the preferred option, and after successful negotiation to relocate the railroad facilities on Havermale Island, Spokane hosted the first environmentally themed World's Fair in Expo '74 on May 4, becoming the smallest city at the time to host a World's Fair. This event transformed Spokane's downtown, removing a century of railroad infrastructure and reinventing the urban core. After Expo '74, the fairgrounds became the Riverfront Park.
The growth witnessed in the late 1970s and early 1980s was interrupted by another U.S. recession in 1981, in which silver, timber, and farm prices dropped. The period of decline for the city lasted into the 1990s and was also marked by a loss of many steady family-wage jobs in the manufacturing sector. Although this was a tough period, Spokane's economy had started to benefit from some measure of economic diversification; growing companies such as Key Tronic and other research, marketing, and assembly plants for technology companies helped lessen Spokane's dependence on natural resources.
As of 2014, Spokane is still trying to make the transition to a more service-oriented economy in the face of a less prominent manufacturing sector. Developing the city's strength in the medical and health sciences fields has seen some success, resulting in the expansion of the University District with a medical school branch. The city faces challenges such as a scarcity of high-paying jobs, pockets of poverty, and areas of high crime.
The opening of the River Park Square Mall in 1999 sparked a downtown rebirth that included the building of the Spokane Arena and expansion of the Spokane Convention Center. Other major projects include the building of the Big Easy concert house (now the Knitting Factory) and renovation of the historic Montvale Hotel, the Kirtland Cutter-designed Davenport Hotel (after being vacant for over 20 years), and the Fox Theater (now home to the Spokane Symphony). The Kendall Yards development on the west side of downtown Spokane is one of the largest construction projects in the city's history. Directly across the Spokane River from downtown, it will blend residential and retail space with plazas and walking trails.