A Town No More

The Drowned Town of Gifford

Now submerged beneath Lake Roosevelt, Gifford was a small town founded by a man with a westering spirit.

Beneath the blue-green waters of Lake Roosevelt lie a half-dozen drowning victims: the towns that were flooded by the rising waters behind the Grand Coulee Dam. Gifford, Washington, was one of those towns.

James Gifford, the town's founder, was born in 1843 in the frontier town of Lansing, Michigan. His parents moved from New York to Michigan to support what would become a large family with nine children. It might be from them that Gifford inherited his pioneering spirit.

When the Civil War broke out James, just 19 years old, enlisted in the Union Army. In 1863 he was part of a week-long assault on the Confederate Army that is remembered as The Mine Run campaign. On the fourth day of fighting, he took a bullet to his left leg, which had to be amputated. He was officially discharged June 15, 1864.

On July 4th, 1873, James married Sarah Elizabeth Williams. The couple had four children before deciding to move to the Washington Territory in 1889. The family loaded up a covered wagon with all their possessions, including a china cabinet, and set out to the west.

By 1890 James owned a farm near the Columbia in Stevens County. His four brothers and two sisters settled nearby. As the Gifford family grew in number, so did the community where they had settled. James and Sarah built a store and a post office where Sarah served as postmistress, a position she would hold until her death in 1918. The town's population peaked in 1910, then slowly declined to just thirty-nine people when it came time to move to higher ground.

The dam’s construction forced Gifford to relocate to its current location. The post office and Independent Order Of the Odd Fellows Hall were the only two buildings that the townspeople moved. Everything else was destroyed and the debris removed. Even the trees were cleared away, the last on July 19th, 1941. The original town site of Gifford is now ninety feet below the surface of the water. James Gifford died October 28th, 1926. Some of his descendants still live in Stevens County.


Private James O. Gifford

Private James O. Gifford

Source: Silverado Express View File Details Page

James O. Gifford and Family

James O. Gifford and Family

James and wife Sarah with children, Ira, Lutie, David, and Lizzie. | Source: Silverado Express View File Details Page



The town of Gifford. | Source: Silverado Express View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Angel L. Rios, “A Town No More ,” Spokane Historical, accessed April 28, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/659.


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