Washington Water Power

Washington Water Power (WWP), renamed Avista in 1999, is one of few local institutions to trace its history to when Washington was a territory. In early 1889, a group of Spokane businessmen organized to harness hydroelectric power from the Spokane River, incorporating as Washington Water Power. The first generator - the Dynamo - only provided enough power for ten street lamps. Once Washington Water Power took over that number grew to 1200 street lamps. However this initial success would soon be threatened by an unprecedented event.

The Great Fire of 1889 devoured the 32-block Spokane business district. With an estimated loss of $6,000,000.00 Spokane Fall's recovery looked bleak. Washington Water Power, only a few months prior old, scrambled to restore electricity to the devastated city. Workers salvaged lights and fixtures wherever possible. Baling wire and barbed wire were used to restore electricity to Spokane's charred business district.

Washington Water Power built its first hydroelectric generating facility on Monroe Street in 1890, and has been producing power from this location ever since. Located at the heart of downtown Spokane, the dam was instrumental in providing electric lighting for Spokane's streets and businesses as opposed to lighting via candles and oil lamps. The dam was rebuilt just before the 1974 World's Fair, and a new underground powerhouse was added in 1992, replacing the vintage 1900-era turbines and generators with a modern generating unit that produced twice the electrical power using the same amount of water flow. WWP also donated 5 acres for expos that later became part of the Spokane Riverfront development.

At the turn of the 20th century, WWP expanded beyond the Spokane city limits. In 1903, Washington Water power constructed the world's largest transmission line, stretching from Spokane to the silver mines of Burke, Idaho. In 1908 the Nine Mile Hydroelectric Development opened coinciding with the peak years of Spokane's Street Cars. Washington Water Power went on to build several other notable dams such as the Long Lake Hydroelectric Development in 1915 which possessed the world's largest spillway.

Like other electric companies, WWP sought to increase the market for electricity with inventions and demonstrations. Demonstrations included the Annual Housekeeper's week at the University of Idaho, the local appliance shop on wheels which took products directly to the streets, and cooking schools held at the Elks Temple. WWP employees even invented and improved electric appliances. Lloyd Copeman developed a temperature control for the electric stove in 1910. Another WWP employee invented the first electric home water heater, while WWP employee Guy Arthur made improvements to the heating coil to prevent mineral build up. WWP even built a series of all electric "model" homes in Spokane, several of which still stand today.

Images

The Washington Water Power Building

The Washington Water Power Building

The iconic green letters of the Washington Water Power building overlooking the Monroe Street Bridge and the Spokane River. Image Courtesy of Avista Corp. Huntington Park Interpretive Exhibits. http://avistalegacy.com/assets/SidebarPDFs/Huntington-Park-Interpretive-Exhibits.pdf View File Details Page

Cooking Class at Elk's Temple ca. 1934

Cooking Class at Elk's Temple ca. 1934

A cooking class hosted by Washington Water Power at Elk's Temple. Washington Water Power employees held cooking classes at publicly and privately to promote the use of electric kitchen appliances. Image Courtesy of Avista Corp. A History of Washington Water Power Company 1889-1989. http://avistalegacy.com/assets/SidebarPDFs/A-History-of-the-Washington-Water-Power-Company-1889-1989.pdf View File Details Page

Washington Water Power's Appliance Store of Wheels

Washington Water Power's Appliance Store of Wheels

Washington Water Power showcased the latest electrical appliances in it's lobby and on it's appliance store on wheels. Image Courtesy of Avista Corp. A History of the Washington Water Power Company 1889-1989. http://avistalegacy.com/assets/SidebarPDFs/A-History-of-the-Washington-Water-Power-Company-1889-1989.pdf View File Details Page

The Great Fire of 1889

The Great Fire of 1889

Image taken the day after the Spokane Fire destroyed the downtown Spokane area. Washington Water Power employees rallied in the midst of the crisis to restore electricity to the affected areas. Notice the wires in the background. Image courtesy of the Avista Corp. A History of Washington Water Power Company 1889-1989. http://avistalegacy.com/assets/SidebarPDFs/A-History-of-the-Washington-Water-Power-Company-1889-1989.pdf View File Details Page

Washington Water Power Employees

Washington Water Power Employees

Five of Washington Water Power's earliest employees ca. 1889. Image Courtesy of Avista Corp. A History of Washington Water Power Company 1889-1989. http://avistalegacy.com/assets/SIdebarPDFs/A-History-of-Washington-Water-Power-Company-1889-1989.pdf. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Paige M. Nash, “Washington Water Power,” Spokane Historical, accessed June 25, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/498.
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