Harnessing the Falls

Although Spokane's initial growth was slow, with the arrival of the railroads its population and industry expanded rapidly. The falls, once prized for their beauty, were put to work powering mills and electric plants. Spokanites took pride in the development of their city and fought neighboring Cheney to claim the county seat. Even periodic floods and the devastating fire of 1889 could not repress their determination to make theirs the preeminent city of the booming West.


"Virgin grandeur"

Carrie Strahorn, who visited the Northwest in 1880, wrote: "The virgin grandeur and beauty of the Spokane country appealed to us as no other place had done in all our travels. The little village of four hundred or five hundred people straggling over the park-like openings among the pines impressed us as one of the most picturesque in America."


"A new world"

"On the Spokane River bank in 1880, you would have seen a sight the Indians had known long before James Glover came to Spokane. Return to the same spot just ten years later, and you would see a new world. Bridges spanned the river and connected islets to the shore. Union Pacific tracks ran right beside the falls. Flumes pushed into the current, diverting the water into flour mills, sawmills, and hydro-electric plants. Trees were cut back to make way for buildings. Fill dirt had eliminated at least one of the river channels. Piles of lumber lay along the shore, and the floor of one sawmill extended from the south bank of the river to Havermale Island, hiding the southern-most channel."


"Natural wonder"

"With factories growing up beside Spokane's falls, the river seemed to be reduced to human proportions. But occasionally an accident or a flood reminded Spokanites of the primitive power of their falls....The citizens continued to view the floods with mixed emotions. Their practical natures told them the falls were there to be harnessed, but they were still drawn to the river as a thing of beauty. Like James Glover a few years before, urban Spokanites were committed to making the falls useful, but they were still fascinated by the natural wonder in their midst."

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Go on to Chapter Four.