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Almira

This town grew rapidly when construction on the Coulee Dam began and became known as “The Gateway City to the Grand Coulee Dam,” serving as the construction headquarters for a period of time. It was also a shipping point for wheat; nearly 750,000 bushels were handled each year through its warehouses.

This area is adapted to dry wheat farming and sheep and cattle grazing. Water is supplied here by deep wells, manned by tall windmills which are turned by the prevailing westerly winds. The dry climate and sandy soil are most favorable to the raising of hard Bluestem wheat—a crop that brings a high price in western markets.

A large silo to the immediate north of town and wheat fields surrounding town indicates the area is still active in wheat production. One- to three-story brick buildings with interesting classical details, ca. 1930s, line Almira’s main commercial street (N. Third Street) In 1933 Almira’s Town Hall building (SW corner of Third and Elm Streets) became the headquarters for the Bureau of Reclamation’s Grand Coulee Dam project. During construction, a shuttle bus provided transportation from headquarters to the dam for the engineers and other workers who lived here. After construction, businesses that were not involved in local agriculture closed down, returning the town to its pre-dam/boom-time days. A one room, adobe jail on Elm Street is unique, although it looks to be mainly used for storage nowadays.

When founded in 1889, the place was named Davisine, for Charles C. Davis, owner of the site and first merchant in the area. He later sold part of his interest to two men, Rodgers and Reed, who wanted to establish a town site. When Mrs. Davis signed a deed, the two purchasers noticed that her given name was Almira, and christened the new town Almira. A second story goes that Mrs. Davis’ name was chosen by the chief engineer of Northern Pacific Railway when Mr. Davis sold him a right-of-way across the property.

Images

Ca. 1955 view of downtown Almira.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1955 view of downtown Almira, showing the landmark Almira Hotel (left, two stories).

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Almira Hotel

This is the third hotel to grace this location, constructed out of the ashes of the previous Hotel Almira, lost to a fire in 1916. Construction began on the new $60,000 Almira Hotel in 1917. The three-story building contained a total of about 45 rooms, space for a retail store and cafe and served as home to the post office and telephone office. Upon its completion in 1918, the hotel became the de facto town center and neighborhood hub. The second and third floor single occupancy hotel rooms were originally furnished with metal-frame spring-coiled beds, oak dressers, and chairs and rocking chairs. Each room had a window which could be opened for fresh air and was equipped with an electric light fixture at the ceiling. Community bathrooms, including a bathtub, were located on each floor, and a multi-paned skylight illuminated the stairwell. Throughout the 1920s the hotel prospered.
The hotel suffered a slight bump in vacancies during the Great Depression, until the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in 1933. Located 20 miles south of the dam site, the town of Almira served as the construction headquarters for the large WPA project, and was the largest and most prominent accommodation in town. Flyers and maps were printed and Almira was dubbed the “The Gateway City to the Grand Coulee Dam.” The hotel reaped the economic benefits associated with the construction of the dam through most of the 1930s, but by the 1940s, dam activities had slowed due to World War II. After the war, dam construction resumed but most of the workers and officials had moved to the newly created towns of Grand Coulee and Coulee City. Activity in the Almira Hotel changed along with the times. The drugstore and soda fountain were replaced by a cocktail lounge called the “Wheat Room.” The upper two floors, however, still served as a hotel for tourists and traveling salesmen for the next 20 years. In 1960, U.S. Highway 2 was redesigned to bypass downtown Almira. Business slowed and the Almira Hotel closed except for the lounge on the first floor which operated on and off for the next 40 years.