The Pacific Northwest Forum
Volume X, Number 2, Pages 2-11
Spring, 1985

Spokane's Peaceful Valley

Historic District


by Nancy Gale Compau

This article is based on the nomination of Peaceful Valley Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places. The Valley actually consists of four additions: a portion of Glover's original town site of Spokane Falls, the First and Second Additions to West Riverside, and Bennett's Addition, which lies to the west just before the juncture of the Spokane River and Hangman (Latah) Creek. In order to define boundaries in the District, the nomination is concerned with parts of the first three named additions.

(Nancy Compau is currently in charge of the Northwest Room at Spokane Public Library. -- Note added in 1998.)


Nestled at the foot of Spokane's West Main Avenue and tucked securely in between the bluffs of Browne's Addition and the Spokane River is an area known as Peaceful Valley. The area is unique in its historic integrity. With the majority of the houses dating from the turn of the century, there has been virtually no new construction since 1941. The area has always been a distinct enclave within the city of Spokane, both physically and socially, and this division has been maintained. Most of the homes are simple, wood frame structures, sometimes referred to as the "pioneer" style, a visual reminder of the blue-collar neighborhood of 1900, the only cohesive neighborhood of its kind in the city.

Years before the coming of settlers, this narrow valley along the Spokane riverbank just west of the roaring falls was an inviting place for the Indians of the area to gather. It was not a permanent camp site, but rather one where Spokane Indians came to hunt, fish and dry the salmon which they caught in the river.(1) The Indians learned to raise a few crops from the early traders, and they planted their crops on the rich land along creeks or near springs. Several of these gardens were located in the Valley, which was laced with springs.(2) Indians, fur traders and explorers forded the river between the falls and the mouth of Hangman (Latah) Creek, where the present Chestnut Street now intersects the river.(3) An old Indian trail led up the bluff on the north side to the site of Drumheller Springs.

After a slow beginning following the coming of the first permanent settlers in 1873, the town of Spokane Falls(4) grew more rapidly in the 1880's. The discovery of gold and silver in Idaho and Canada made the town the center for mining gear and supplies. It was a hub of roads, both rail and stage, where produce from the newly developing agricultural regions around the town was brought for shipment. A flourishing town boasting of hotels, gambling houses and saloons, Spokane Falls soon became a favorite wintering place for miners, farm helpers and the lumbermen attracted by the growing timber industry of northern Idaho. Many of these men were Northern European immigrants, as were the workers who came to furnish the labor to rebuild the town after the disastrous fire of 1889, which burned most of the downtown business district. Both the Northern Pacific Railroad, which had been completed from the east in 1883, and the newly reorganized Spokane Chamber of Commerce, undertook advertising campaigns to lure settlers.(5) Later, the Great Northern Railroad Company, whose first train entered Spokane in 1892, ran immigrant trains.(6) Men who had immigrated to midwestern states soon picked up stakes and traveled to this "promised" land.

Below the falls, the beautiful pine groves of Peaceful Valley became the favorite site of Fourth of July gatherings and picnics. When Mrs. George Groshoff attended a labor union picnic there in the 1890's, she was so impressed she persuaded her husband to purchase land so they could live there.(7) Near the intersection of Elm and Main there was once a small bay in the bend of the river. It was a swimming spot for the Indians and later for the townspeople.(8)

James N. Glover held title to the first portion of land that lies immediately to the west of the falls. This was later sold to A. M. Cannon and J. J. Browne and eventually to the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad.(9) The First and Second Additions were a part of the original land grant awarded the Northern Pacific Railroad. When the railroad disposed of its excess holdings, the First Addition passed into the hands of developer C. F. Clough, who was Mayor of Spokane in 1890 and a real estate partner of Jay P. Graves.(10) Clough platted the land into 25 x 100 foot lots, recording the plat on November 6, 1890. These small lots were not unique to Peaceful Valley; there are some twelve other additions in Spokane which were originally platted with lots of this size.(11) The Second Addition was sold to the Riverside Land Company of Tacoma in 1891.

Lots had begun to sell as soon as the land was platted, but the financial panic of 1893 with the subsequent slack in building in Spokane caused a real estate slump, and the bulk of the lots were not sold until things began to improve in the late 1890's and early 1900's. During the 1893 depression, Northwestern and Pacific Hypotheekbanks, a Dutch mortgage company heavily involved in the financial transactions of Spokane, acquired part of the Second Addition, but they eventually disposed of their holdings when the market improved.

Whitney's Map of Spokane Falls shows no houses in the Valley in 1890, but the Spokane Falls Review of August 12, 1891, stated that:

the district immediately below the falls upon the south side of the river which has for some time been inhabited by families of very humble circumstances, is being rapidly cleared of its former denizens and their domiciles and restored to its primeval character. This work has been undertaken by Msrs. Cannon and Browne, proprietors of the tract, and by the City Board of Health.(12

This referred to Glover's Addition and indicates that a few people were living in Peaceful Valley at that time. It also explains why it was once called "Poverty Flats." Clough is credited with rechristening the area as "Peaceful Valley" after Sol Smith Russell's currently popular play of that name.(13) Early Valley inhabitants preferred the title, "West Riverside Addition," but over the years "Peaceful Valley" became the commonly used name for the area.

Laboring-class families, most of whom were immigrants, purchased the lots and built their homes in Peaceful Valley. These people were not the financiers who conceived the city, but they were the backbone of the town, literally its builders. The 1903 City Directory shows 77 Peaceful Valley men working in the construction industry. They were stonemasons, carpenters, mill workers, lathers, bricklayers, plumbers, teamsters, lumberjacks and laborers who poured their sweat into long hours at low pay to construct and maintain Spokane.

The houses were often humble dwellings, built in most cases by the owners themselves, but they were neat and tidy. Often the men, like one of the Finnish carpenters, would carve their own decorative porch brackets. Most lots had gardens, some had picket fences, and they usually included other outbuildings as well as the inevitable outhouse that, if located on the river's edge, emptied directly into the river. One of the unique features of Peaceful Valley was the series of small "row houses," single-room dwellings attached to each other and often under a single roof. These were built as rentals by enterprising homeowners to accommodate the bachelors who "wintered" in Spokane when laid off from their seasonal jobs.

Contractors such as George Groshoff and the team of Nathan A. Carpenter and Malcolm McNeil built homes and sold them to others. Groshoff, a prominent brick contractor, also built the largest brick apartment in the Valley, which still stands at West 1608 Main. In order to increase their income, many families took in boarders. They lived dormitory-style on the second floor while the family shared the first floor. Women would rise early in the morning, start the fire, cook a huge breakfast and pack lunch pails for all the men. Few of the women held jobs outside the home.

Cut off as it was by natural barriers, the neighborhood of Peaceful Valley became close-knit and friendly. Main Avenue, the principal road into the Valley, was a steep, dirt path which led west underneath the south end of the existing Monroe Street Bridge. It was a difficult hill for horse-drawn vehicles to negotiate. The Valley was composed largely of Finnish and German immigrants, although there were Swedes, Italians and at least two black families, the Bass's and the Lipscomb's, whose descendants still live in Spokane. The Finns, in a cooperative effort, built the Finnish Social Hall at 2022 West Clarke that became the center of social activities.(14) Dinners were prepared by neighborhood women before social events, and the main hall was the scene of Christmas parties, programs and festivals. Everyone in the valley was welcome, and residents have fond memories of dancing to the music provided by local musicians. The men of the neighborhood often worked together on construction jobs and spent their off hours fishing together in the river or swapping stories over a glass of beer. The Finns brought another custom with them, the steam bath. An integral part of Finnish life, they were social as well as therapeutic places. C. J. Pesonen had a steam bath at 1516 West Main, and Henry Saari had one at 1609 West Clarke. One of the largest was ope rated by Mattias Nopanen in the basement of his home at 1603 West Main.(16) According to descendants, no Finn would allow a week to slip by without a visit to the steam bath.

Until 1917, all ages of Peaceful Valley children climbed up the steep winding paths to attend school in the big, brick Washington School building which was located on the corner of First and Ash in Browne's Addition. Stimulated by pathetic stories of little Valley children whose health was presumably endangered by having to struggle through snow, rain and mud to attend school on the hill, Valley mothers were able to convince the School Board of the need for their own school, and Cowley School, a two-room brick structure, was built for the lower grades.(17) This school operated until the 1930's, when it was closed for lack of sufficient numbers of children to warrant its maintenance costs. School was the first introduction many of the children had to English since native European languages were commonly spoken at home.

Friendships often developed between the Peaceful Valley children and the wealthy offspring of Browne's Addition families because of their school connections. For the children from the Valley, a visit to one of the mansions was a memorable event. Martha Karhila Spaeth remembers the lovely dolls belonging to one of her friends.(18) Reggie Wilson carries memories of spats between the Browne's Addition and Peaceful Valley boys.(19)

There were a number of grocery stores and butcher shops in the Valley; however, most of them changed ownership several times. An exception was the Peaceful Valley Grocery, owned and operated by the Numata family from 1922 until competition from the large supermarkets forced its closure in 1969. The only visible reminder of the stores is the dilapidated frame building on the corner of Main and Maple that once housed the Main Grocery. Genevieve Platzer Pangburn worked in that store as a young woman and remembers selling ice cream to spectators at Glover Field events.(20)

Two leading firms in Spokane, the Ryan and Newton Company and the Spokane Drug Company, maintained livery barns in the Valley. The only large business was the Spokane Casket Company that began operations in 1901 under the ownership of the Smith family, who also had a funeral parlor, undertaking business and florist shop uptown. It remains today, although coffins are no longer manufactured there, but at its peak it was a major manufacturing concern, with approximately fifty employees.(21)

Reacting to a study prepared by the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, who proposed more parks for Spokane citizens, the Park Board in 1912 purchased a portion of Glover's Addition from the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad to build a stadium.(22) Its central location made it an ideal site. Glover Field, as the new stadium was to be called, lay on the east end of Peaceful Valley, between Main Avenue and the river. It had open bleachers on the south and west ends, with locker rooms underneath. It was the scene of football games and track meets between Spokane's two high schools and was used for carnivals, fairs and the annual May festival. In the spring of 1925, the bleachers were condemned, but the land continued to be used. During the Indian Congresses of 1925 and 1926, the Indians pitched their teepees on the land where their ancestors had camped.(23) In subsequent years, Glover Field was used as a boxing training camp and was the home of the Sportsman's Fair for a time.

In 1950 the Junior League of Spokane donated $15,000, which was matched by community donations, and the Glover Field Recreation Center was established.(24) A former barracks building from Geiger Field was purchased, moved onto the site, remodeled and decorated with help from League members and the community. A softball diamond and play apparatus were installed on the grounds. Extensive programs run by volunteers were established for children and adults in sewing, cooking, arts and crafts, and exercise, and during the evenings the building was used for dances and showing movies. From this evolved the Peaceful Valley Community Center, now located in the building. For the residents of this neighborhood, the Center is very important. It functions like the town hall in a small village. It is not only a social gathering place, but it is a meeting-ground where homeowners feel comfortable working out common community problems which affect the welfare of everyone in the Valley.

The 1920, 1930 and 1940 City Directories show that Peaceful Valley had much the same composition as it had in earlier years. It was still a neighborhood of laborers, and many of the original families still lived there. Lumberjacks and miners continued to come to the Valley to winter. World War II brought changes to the Valley as well as the town. The expansion of military bases and war material production plants brought an influx of people and housing was at a premium. Real estate investors bout vacated property in the Valley and began the cycle of absentee ownership that would plague the Valley for years to come.

When the Maple Street Bridge was built in 1957, the physical and social fabric of the Valley was disturbed. Several blocks of homes were destroyed or moved to make way for the piers of the new bridge. Heartsick homeowners, who had lived most of their lives there, saw their homes torn down. The bridge crossed the center of the Valley, leaving a wide gap underneath its span. This area has now been converted into tennis courts and playgrounds. A local artist was commissioned to paint caricatures of colorful local figures on the bases of the piers.

As in any neighborhood, the character of the inhabitants gives it flavor, and Peaceful Valley has had its share of colorful people. While individual histories do not exist for most of the early residents, some stories have survived to become part of the Valley's shared heritage. There was six-foot-six "Death-on-the-Trail" Proctor who settled in the Valley in the 1890's.(25) He was a former Indian scout and guide in the Dakotas. And there was Frank "Scotty" Anderson, an immigrant from Scotland who quoted poetry and loved politics. Scotty served as a state representative in the 1930's and was known as the unofficial "mayor" of Peaceful Valley.(26) Other colorful characters included: a refugee from the Russian Revolution who worked as a maid and then a riveter during World War II;(27) the beer-drinking bachelors who never bothered a woman if "she acted like a lady"; women of "questionable livelihood" who rented row houses in later years; Jesse Leuppe, a retired military man who loves to walk his dog and who can recite the names of Valley residents from years past.(28) Lawrence J. "Dutch" Groshoff, son of early-day contractor George Groshoff and well-known band leader and banjo player, spent most of his young life there.

Though a number of homes in the Valley have suffered from gradual deterioration and some alterations, the integrity of the district is largely intact. New home-owners are showing an interest in restoring their houses. Peaceful Valley's scenic location and its proximity to downtown makes it a unique residential area and one that has long held fascination for developers. For over ninety years, the Valley has resisted change and has remained a slow-paced, individualistic neighborhood in the heart of a bustling, noisy city. It is a significant and vital reminder of the heritage of the American laborer.

NOTES

(1)David C. Wynecoop, Children of the Sun (Spokane: Comet and Cole, 1969), 7.

(2)William S. Lewis, comp., "Indian Accounts of the Settlements of Spokane County," statements of Thomas Garry, Moses Phillips, Aleck Pierre, Charley Warren, John Stevens, David John and William Three Mountain. Moses Phillips, Interpreter, TS, Spokane Historical Society, Spokane, October 20, 1916, Spokane Public Library.

(3)A.M. Denman, TS, Talk to Northwest History Students, Spokane, 1947, Spokane Public Library.

(4)The name of Spokane Falls was officially changed to Spokane in 1890.

(5)O.C. Pratt, The Story of Spokane (Spokane: mimeograph, 1948), 89; Frank Dallam, et al., Settler's Guide to Homes in the Northwest (Spokane Falls: Review Press, 1885); H.N. Stockton, Clarence E. Weaver, ed., Spokane of 1900 (Spokane: Shaw Borden Press, 1900).

(6)The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), March 23, 1899, 5.

(7)Interview with Lawrence J. "Dutch" Groshoff, January 19, 1983, Spokane, WA.

(8)Nelson W. Durham, History of the City of Spokane (Spokane: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912), 405.

(9)Ticor Title Company, Spokane, WA. Tract Book 64A.

(10)Ticor Tract Book 201.

(11)Standard Atlas of Spokane County, Washington (Chicago: George A. Ogle & Co., 1912).

(12)Spokane Review, August 12, 1891, 5.

(13)Raymer's Dictionary of Spokane (Spokane: Charles D. Raymer & Co., 1906), 97.

(14)Interview with Harold Paulson, March 14, 1985. Greenacres, Washington.

(15)R.L. Polk & Co., Spokane City Directory (Spokane: R.L. Polk & Co., 1930).

(16)Interview with Lauri "Larry" Nopanen. March 13, 1985. Spokane, Washington.

(17)The Spokane Press, November 16, 1916. The Spokesman-Review, July 1, 1917, 17.

(18)Interview with Martha Karhila Spaeth. September 9, 1982. Spokane, Washington.

(19)Interview with Reginald E. "Reggie" Wilson. September 9, 1982. Spokane, Washington.

(20)Interview with Genevieve Platzer Pangburn. August 11, 1982. Spokane, Washington.

(21)Interview with Howard Whitney. October 6, 1982. Spokane, Washington. Interview with Russell Mather. January 30, 1985. Spokane, Washington.

(22)"The Olmsted Brothers Report," Report of the Board of the Spokane Park Commission, 1891-1913 (Spokane: Inland Printing, 1913), 44-45, 72.

(23)The Spokesman-Review, October 30, 1925, 1, 2, 6; July 24, 1926, 1, 2, 8, 9.

(24)Spokane Yellow Sheet, Spokane Junior League Newssheet, May 1949, 1.

(25)Spokane Daily Chronicle, January 2, 1897, 1.

(26)The Spokesman-Review, April 19, 1945, 6.

(27)Interview with Ida Org. August 27, 1982. Spokane, Washington.

(28)Interview with Jesse Leupe. May 13, 1982. Spokane, Washington