Spokane is a city located in the Northwestern United States in the state of Washington. It is the largest city of Spokane County of which it is also the county seat, and the metropolitan center of the Inland Northwest region. It is also the fourth largest city in the Pacific Northwest region, after Seattle, Vancouver (Canada), and Portland (Oregon). Spokane is also the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis. The city is located on the Spokane River in Eastern Washington, south of the Canadian border, approximately from the Washington–Idaho border, east of Seattle, and west of Minneapolis.
David Thompson explored the Spokane area and began European settlement 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 and the center of the fur trade between the Rockies and the Cascades for 16 years. In the late 19th century, gold and silver were discovered in the Inland Northwest. The Spokane area is considered to be one of the most productive mining districts in North America. Spokane's economy has traditionally been based on natural resources, being a center for mining, timber, and agriculture; however, the city's economy has diversified to include other industries, including the high-tech and biotech sectors. Spokane is known as the birthplace of Father's Day, hosted the first environmentally themed World's Fair, Expo '74, and is home to Gonzaga University and Whitworth University.
The city of Spokane (then known as "Spokan Falls") was settled in 1871 and officially incorporated as a city in 1881. The city's name is drawn from the American Indian tribe known as the Spokane, which means "Children of the Sun" in Salishan. Spokane's official nickname is the "Lilac City", named after the flowers that have flourished since their introduction to the area in the early 20th century. Completion of the Northern Pacific Railway in 1881 brought major settlement to the Spokane area.
With a population of 208,916, according to the 2010 Census, Spokane is the second largest city in Washington and the 102nd largest city in the United States. Spokane is the principal city of the Spokane Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is coterminous with Spokane, Stevens, and Pend Oreille counties. As of the 2010 census, the Spokane MSA had a population of 532,253. The Spokane–Coeur d'Alene Combined Statistical Area has 666,247 residents.
The first humans to live in the Spokane area arrived between twelve to eight thousand years ago and were hunter-gatherer societies that lived off the plentiful game in the area. The Spokane tribe, after which the city is named (which means "children of the sun" or "sun people" in Salishan), are believed to be either direct descendants of the original hunter-gatherers that settled in the region, or descendants of tribes from the Great Plains. When asked by early white explorers, the tribe 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. The trappers became the first two white men met by the Spokane tribe, who believed them to be Sama, or 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 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, primarily beaver. After establishing the Kullyspell House and Saleesh House trading posts in what is now Idaho and Montana, Thompson wanted to expand further west. In 1810, Thompson sent out trappers, Jacques Raphael Finlay and Finan McDonald to the Spokane River to build a trading post in eastern Washington that would exchange with the local Spokane and Colville Indians.
At the confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane, Finlay and McDonald built a new fur trading post, which was the first long-term European settlement in Washington state. This trading post known as the Spokane House, or simply "Spokane", was in operation from 1810 to 1826. The Spokane House, operated by the British North West Company and, later, the Hudson's Bay Company, was the center of the fur trade between the Rockies and the Cascades for 16 years. When the Hudson's Bay Company absorbed the North West Company in 1821, operations at the Spokane House eventually shifted to Fort Colville; afterward the company still remained active near Spokane.
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 Battle of Four Lakes and the Battle of Spokane Plains, hostilities between the natives ceased and this opened the inter-mountain valley of the Pacific Northwest to the safe settlement of whites.
Joint American–British occupation of Oregon Country, in effect since the Treaty of 1818, eventually led to the Oregon Boundary Dispute as large influxes of American settlers began arriving by the Oregon Trail. The first American settlers in the present-day city, squatters J.J. Downing and S.R. Scranton, built a cabin and established a claim at Spokane Falls in 1871. Together they built a small sawmill on a claim near the south bank of the Spokane Falls. James N. Glover and Jasper Matheney, Oregonians passing through the region in 1873, recognized the value of the Spokane River and its falls. 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. Glover later became 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 1881, the Northern Pacific Railway was completed, 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 city's population ballooned to 19,922 in 1890, and 36,848 in 1900 with the arrival of the railroads. By 1910, the population hit 104,000 and Spokane eclipsed Walla Walla as the commercial center of the Inland Northwest.
After the 1883 discovery of gold, silver, and lead in the Coeur d'Alene region of northern Idaho, this precipitated a rush of prospectors into the region. The Inland Empire erupted with numerous mining rushes from 1883 to the late 19th century. Mining emerged as a major stimulus to Spokane. At the onset of the initial 1883 gold rush near Coeur d'Alene, Spokane became the outfitter of choice among prospectors due to the areas proximity, lower prices, and convenience of being able to obtain 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, began shortly 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 an effort to starve the fire, firefighters began demolishing buildings with dynamite. Eventually winds died down and the fire exhausted of its own accord. In the fires' aftermath, 32 blocks of Spokane's downtown were destroyed and one person was killed.
While the damage caused by the fire was a devastating blow, Spokane continued to grow; the fire set the stage for a dramatic building boom. After The Great Fire of 1889 and the rebuilding of the downtown, the city was reincorporated under the present name of "Spokane" in 1891. Just three years after the fire, in 1892, James J. Hill's Great Northern Railway had arrived in the newly created township of Hillyard (annexed by Spokane in 1924)—the chosen site for Hill's rail yards. The railroads in Spokane made it a transportation hub for the Inland Northwest region. Spokane became an important rail and shipping center because of its location between mining (particularly Idaho's Silver Valley) and farming areas. After the arrival of the Northern Pacific, the Union Pacific, Great Northern, and Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific railroads, Spokane became one of the most important rail centers in the western United States.
The expansion and growth of Spokane abruptly stopped in the 1910s and was followed by a period of population decline. Spokane's slowing economy largely contributed to this decline. Control of regional mines and resources became increasingly dominated by national corporations rather than locals, diverting capital outside of Spokane and decreasing growth and investment opportunities in the city.
During this time of stagnation there became unrest among the area's unemployed, who became victimized by "job sharks" who swindled men who applied for jobs. Job sharks charged a fee for signing up workers in the logging camps and employment agencies were known to cheat itinerant workers, with bribes sometimes paid to periodically fire entire work crews, generating repetitive fees. It is around this time in Spokane that the first of many nation-wide free speech fights conducted by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or "Wobblies" had begun, spread, and garnered national attention. In 1908, the IWW launched a campaign led by James H. Walsh with the slogan "Don't Buy Jobs" in the streets around the Spokane employment agencies. More IWW union members from all over the West soon arrived to participate in what was becoming a publicity venture. Within a few weeks the jails were overflowing from those violating the ordinance prohibiting soapboxing. Among those jailed was feminist labor leader Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, who published an account in the local Industrial Worker of her experiences in a Spokane jail.
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 cumbersome rail freight rates and stiff competition, Spokane became a noted leader in the manufacture of doors, sash, blinds, and other planing mill products. The oppressive rail freight rates were much higher in Spokane than the rates in coastal cities such as Seattle and Portland, so much so that merchants in Minneapolis could ship goods first to Seattle and then back to Spokane for less than to ship directly to Spokane, even though the rail line ran through Spokane on the way to the coast. The 1920s and 1930s saw the similar, but less drastic slow growth of the prior decade. The Inland Northwest region was heavily dependent on extractive products produced from farms, forests, and mines which experienced a fall in demand. Spokane's situation improved with the start of World War II as aluminum production was initiated in Spokane due to the area's inexpensive electricity and the increased demand for airplanes.
After decades of stagnation and slow growth, Spokane businessmen formed Spokane Unlimited, an organization that sought to revitalize downtown Spokane. A recreation park showcasing the Spokane falls was the preferred option, and after the successful negotiation to relocate the railroad facilities on Havermale Island, this allowed the proposal of hosting a world's fair to be realized. Spokane hosted the first environmentally themed World's Fair in Expo '74 on May 4, becoming the smallest city yet to host a World's Fair. This event transformed Spokane's downtown, removing a century of railroad industry that built the city and reinvented the urban core. After Expo '74, the fairgrounds became the Riverfront Park. The late 1970s was a period of growth for Spokane.
The success seen in the late 1970s and early 1980s once again was interrupted by another U.S. recession in which silver, timber, and farm prices dropped. Although a tough period, Spokane's economy had begun to benefit from economic diversification, being the home to growing companies such as Key Tronic and having research, marketing, and assembly plants for other technology companies helped lessen Spokane's dependency on natural resources.
In the new century, Spokane is still reinventing itself 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 been promising, resulting in the expansion of the University District with a medical school. Although the city faces challenges such as relatively low wages, pockets of poverty, areas of high crime, and a sense of doubt regarding aspects of city government, there is an air of optimism for the city's future.
The city has experienced renewed growth since the opening of the River Park Square Mall, initiating a major 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), 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. This new "urban village" directly across the Spokane River from downtown will blend residential and retail space with plazas and walking trails.