Water Power

MAC 100 Stories: A Centennial Exhibition - Story 12

For nineteenth-century pioneers like James Glover, falling water represented power - the power to grind flour, to saw logs, and to build a city. These were the fundamental industrial activities in a region still rich in timber and already rich in grain and they would draw people to the village of Spokane Falls. The mill business, though lucrative, was also volatile. Owners made their profits then quickly sold out and moved on. As this doggrel from The Spokesman-Review put it:

"There was Simon, who built him a mill,
And dressed dudish sufficient to kill
On the banks of this stream
Ah it seems like a dream.
He's departed, but it's with us still."

But mills were also literally volatile. Flour and sawdust were both explosive and flammable. This spot was the site of the Spokane Mill Co., which survived the Great Fire of 1889 only to partially burn in 1892. To trap logs coming down the Spokane River, the mill companies filled the southern channel with earth.

Electricity in Spokane began in 1885 with a single generator in the Spokane Flour Mill. Demand grew rapidly, and four years later local investors formed Washington Water Power and built a power station near Monroe Street. The company ran electric streetcars to encourage residential expansion and grow the market for electricity. By 1920, Washington Water Power had electrified the Hillyard rail yards, built a 100-mile transmission line to the mines and constructed three dams along the Spokane River. Electrification brought enormous social and economic progress, but the dams that generated that power permanently altered the landscape and the fishing traditions of the Plateau tribes.

Harnessing the river defined Spokane as a community before, during and after the mining and railroad booms. In 1897, The Spokesman-Review asked its readers to celebrate the Spokane River in verse, and even the most satirical poems lauded the manifest and majestic power of the falls.

As years of European-American settlement passed into decades, the edge of the river became encrusted by businesses that depended on its power and water. Spokane was enriched by its namesake river, but only sometimes remembered it.

MAC 100 Stories: A Centennial Exhibition is told on the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture campus in Spokane's Browne's Addition, with additional highlights at 15 sites in Spokane and eastern Washington. The exhibit experience (February 22, 2014 - January 2016) weaves stories and programs about Inland Northwest people, places and events by capitalizing on the MAC's extraordinary collection. www.northwestmuseum.org

Spokane Historical presents 15 regional and city tours in partnership with the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture and its 100 Stories exhibition.

Images

Sawmill Phoenix, 1920s

Sawmill Phoenix, 1920s

The site of Glover's Spokane Mill Co. continued to run as a mill under different owners and names, including the Sawmill Phoenix. Image courtesy of the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives View File Details Page

"Great Falls of the Spokane River, W.T.," 1858

"Great Falls of the Spokane River, W.T.," 1858

Sketched by Gustavus Sohon, this drawing from 1858 shows the Spokane Falls before pioneer settlement in 1871. Image LC-USZ61-1953 courtesy of the Library of Congress. View File Details Page

Lower Falls, 1881

Lower Falls, 1881

The city of "Spokan Falls" was incorporated in 1881 with nearly a thousand residents. This image depicts the falls at the time of incorporation. Image L87-1.17806-20 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture View File Details Page

Spokane Mill Company

Spokane Mill Company

Owned by Spokane's founding father, James N. Glover, the Spokane Mill Co. was one of the earliest mills to operate on the Spokane River. Image L84-197.19 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture View File Details Page

South Channel of the Spokane Falls, c.1903<br /><br />

South Channel of the Spokane Falls, c.1903

By 1900, many businesses established themselves along the river, harnessing the power of the falls. Image L87-1.169 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture View File Details Page

Howard Street Bridge Construction, 1908

Howard Street Bridge Construction, 1908

Looking North from Canada Island, construction of the Howard Street Bridge made transportation easier between industry and the downtown sector. Image courtesy of the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives View File Details Page

Sanborn Map of Long Lake Lumber Company

Sanborn Map of Long Lake Lumber Company

This map shows the mill that several prominent businessmen have owned under various names, including James Glover's Spokane Mill Company. Image courtesy of the Spokane Public Library's Northwest Room. View File Details Page

Spokane's Lower Falls, c. 1904

Spokane's Lower Falls, c. 1904

As a natural source for energy, the Spokane Falls lay at the heart of Spokane's early industrial center. The image here is taken from the northern bank of the River capturing Washington Water Power Co. and the Monroe Street Bridge in the background. Image L87-1.529 courtesy of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Clayton Hanson, “Water Power,” Spokane Historical, accessed March 22, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/14.

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