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The major city of the Inland Empire of Washington, Spokane sits at the falls of the Spokane River 90 miles south of the Canadian boundary in central Spokane County. Settlement began in 1871, and the town was originally platted in 1881 as Spokane Falls, but was reincorporated in 1890 as Spokane. The name has two possible origins: One is that it came from the Indians who formerly lived in a village at the foot of Spokane Falls that they called “Spehkunne,” meaning “Children of the Sun” or “Sun People” since, when they fished at the falls, they stood in a rainbow or halo of light formed by sunlight striking a cloud of mist. An alternate source of the name is from Illum Spokane, an elderly chief of Middle Spokans, who once lived near the falls. It is the second-largest city in the state of Washington and there are many historic districts and features here that reflect the city’s wealth and growth as the capital of the Inland Empire, where the wealth of the region—acquired from timber, mining and agriculture industries—concentrated.

Several trading posts, owned by Pacific Fur Company, The North West Company, and Hudson’s Bay Company, operated in the vicinity from 1810 to 1826. Settlement followed in 1871, when J. J. Downing, S. R. Scranton, and R. M. Benjamin built a saw mill near Spokane Falls. On February 13, 1878, the town was platted as Spokane Falls, and in Nov. 29, 1881, it was incorporated under the same name. When the town was reincorporated in 1890, the city council altered the name to its present form. The city flourished as the industries in the region prospered; the period between 1900 and 1910 represented the city’s most pronounced period of economic and population growth. Today, a lot of historic fabric remains in the city, and there are several areas worth taking the time to explore.


Historic postcard of Spokane.

Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc

Historic postcard view of Spokane County Courthouse.

Source: Artifacts Consulting, Inc.

1932 Spokane Chamber of Commerce booklet – civic center.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

1962 view of downtown Spokane.

Source: Washington State Archives

Historic image of two women at Spokane Falls.

Source: Washington State Archives.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Browne’s Addition Historic District

Home to Spokane’s millionaires at the turn of the century, in 1900, Browne’s Addition was the most socially correct address in the city. J.J. Browne developed a district of large homes and tree-shadowed streets forming a sharp contrast to the derby homes of working families. His own home was built on the western edge of the district in the early 1880s and stood until 1975. As Browne’s Addition lost prestige, luxury apartments were constructed in the district, then practical apartment complexes, and finally various commercial establishments. But the district is, today, what it has been for 40 years: a district of beautiful houses and high population density.

The Ninth Avenue Historic District

The Ninth Avenue Historic District is an area possessing unusual qualities which distinguish it from its contemporaries and later counterparts. Within this district’s boundaries there are many impressive residences built for the community’s social and financial elite. Their designs reflect the most popular architectural styles of the day, ranging from the stately Queen Anne to the modest bungalow. Yet, in addition to the majestic homes of Spokane’s more prominent citizens, the Ninth Avenue Historic District was also home to an emerging middle class. Teachers, merchants, and contractors purchased homes in the area, creating a neighborhood diverse not only in its architectural composition, but in its economic and social representation as well.

The Marycliff-Cliff Park District

The Marycliff-Cliff Park District of Spokane has been the residential area for many prominent and influential people throughout Spokane’s history. From its earliest development in the late 1880s to the present day, the area’s residents have included the leading citizens of Spokane: bankers, senators, businessmen, mining and lumber entrepreneurs, as well as prominent doctors, lawyers, and architects. As is often the case where the wealthy live, the area rapidly became a showplace of architectural styles, with several the homes designed by Spokane’s leading architects.

Rockwood Historic District

The nationally renowned Olmsted Brothers landscape architects of Brookline, Massachusetts, designed this distinctive neighborhood, with its steep slopes, basalt rock outcroppings, and curvilinear streets connecting a series of pleasing green spaces. It is home to a variety of architectural styles that reflect the evolution of the preferences of residential designers, builders, and their customers during the first half of the twentieth century. The men most instrumental in the development of the neighborhood, Jay P. Graves and Aubrey White, played major roles in shaping the character and form of the city as a whole; Graves through his investment in railroad and real estate development, and White as the great champion of the Spokane park system. Architectural styles bridge the gap between the waning days of Spokane’s “Age of Elegance” and the new generation of designers and builders who left their imprint on Spokane’s built environment during the 1930s and 1940s.

West Downtown Historic Transportation Corridor

Spokane grew to become a supply center for the region’s farmers, ranchers, and miners and as a point of departure for local resources. The city’s West Downtown Historic Transportation Corridor is historically significant because of its association with the expansion of railroads, the advent of the automobile, and the rise of Spokane as a regional distribution center. The district’s extant buildings that housed railroad-dependent businesses, automobile-related concerns, and worker lodgings are associated with the city’s growth.

East Downtown Historic District

The East Downtown Historic District is a collection of historically significant commercial, mixed-use and warehouse buildings anchored by the Northern Pacific Railway Depot. The district is on the eastern edge of Spokane’s central business district. Since the 1890s, this area has been an important part of the downtown’s industrial and commercial heritage by providing housing and business establishments that met the needs of those who came to Spokane to work and live either temporarily or permanently. Two predominant property types have historically characterized the district—warehouses and single room occupancy hotels. This historic district comprises approximately 27 square blocks with a total of 107 resources of which 83 (78%) are historically contributing. The period of significance for the district begins in 1890, with the construction of the Northern Pacific Railway Depot and Fire Station #1 following the great fire of 1889. Over half of the buildings within the district date from the period between 1900 and 1910, which represented the city’s most pronounced period of economic and population growth.

Peaceful Valley Historic District

Peaceful Valley Historic District is a small working class district of the city which lies beneath Browne’s Addition along the Spokane River. It was recommended by the Olmstead Brothers at the turn of the century that beautification of the city would be enhanced if the district was purchased as a park. They felt that the extreme isolation of Peaceful Valley, as well as the crowded building conditions of this poor section of town, were dangerous in case of fire or any natural disaster. The haunt of Spokane’s poorest citizens, Peaceful Valley was known until the turn of the century as “Poverty Flats”.

Riverside Avenue Historic District

Riverside Avenue, between Monroe and Cedar, is undoubtedly Spokane’s most beautiful avenue, flanked on both sides with attractive buildings. Since 1901, the small district has increasingly developed a striking individual character in architecture, usage and atmosphere. With the erection of Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral in 1902, the trend towards stately dignity continued until 1931 with the completion of the Civic Building. The character of the district has been firmly established through the developmental role of each structure in the district. Their individual contributions were of such high quality that the texture of the whole is more than the sum of the individual structures. The district has been unified during the past 75 years by the pomp and circumstance of long usage and general intent.

Nettleton’s Addition Historic District

Nettleton’s Addition was platted in 1887 and became the largest historic district on the Washington State Heritage Register in 2005. This early Spokane streetcar suburb documents perfectly the lifecycle of American cities: initial rapid development (over 70% of the existing housing stock was built prior to 1910), slow decline through the mid-twentieth century and now, urban renewal and gentrification. When Nettleton’s Addition properties first went on the market in 1887, the Spokane Falls Review exclaimed breathlessly that “For beauty of situation the Nettleton Addition is certainly unsurpassed.” The Review went on to describe views of the Spokane River, “…far below, the clear water seethes and tumbles as it winds it tortuous way,” the surroundings, “…from every portion of it a beautiful view of the city and surrounding country can be obtained,” concluding that Nettleton’s Addition “… in many ways is superior to anything that has yet been offered.” Today, Nettleton’s Addition residents are still attracted by these natural features in addition to now-historic homes, proximity to a newly revitalized downtown and a major “new urbanism” development proposed on its southern boundary.

Desmet Avenue Warehouse Historic District

Located slightly north of the Spokane River and the commercial downtown of Spokane, the district is composed of six commercial buildings with a long tenure of warehousing and manufacturing associations. Choice of this locale for such buildings was based on the availability of land and proximity of nearby railroad transport. Construction of a majority of these structures occurred between 1904 and 1915, and roughly coincided with the most productive period of building activity in Spokane. While singly configured as one or multi-storied buildings, this ensemble of warehouses represents one of the larger and most cohesive groupings of such structures remaining on the north side of the Spokane River.

Mission Avenue Historic District

Developed in the late nineteenth century through the combined efforts of Spokane speculators and Jesuit missionaries, the Mission Avenue Historic District is the most intact remnant of the city’’s first residential suburbs and includes a significant collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century houses located on one of the city’s oldest landscaped boulevards. Seven blocks long, the district is unified by the canopy of trees that divides the broad boulevard. Facing the street on either side are a variety of Queen Anne, Four Square-, Craftsman- and Bungalow-tyle houses that reflect the substantial architecture of the period and the original suburban character of the area. While other parts of the boulevard have suffered from new construction, the district still reflects a period when the area was an impressive drive that formed the centerpiece of one of the city’s finest residential neighborhoods.