Native Americans, called the “Spokanes”, were the first to live along the banks of the Spokane River, where they fished for salmon. The meaning of the name Spokane (the original spelling did not contain an “e”), is “Children of the Sun” or “Sun People.”
Riding horseback through the area in 1873, James N. Glover, the man who is credited with being the “father” of Spokane, was “enchanted….overwhelmed…with the beauty and grandeur of everything.” Determined to live in that magnificent setting, Glover purchased the rights to the land and sawmill that J.J. Downing and Seth Scranton had constructed on the riverbank and opened a store and stable. His early trade consisted mainly of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene Indians who made their home in the vicinity, fishing in the river and hunting the plentiful game. Prior to the coming of the settlers, the only white men the natives had seen were the occasional explorers, fur traders
The discovery of rich silver and lead deposits in north Idaho and British Columbia, the vast forests and the fertile soil encouraged settlement. Immigrants were enticed by the advertising promotions of the Northern Pacific Railroad, which arrived in 1881 and linked transcontinentally in 1883. By 1889-the year Washington Territory became Washington State-the town’s population had swelled to nearly 20,000 and it was home to 10 banks, 8 architectural firms, 16 blacksmith shops, 18 hotels, 3 flour mills, 3 breweries and 51 saloons. There were 90 real estate offices operating here that year.
Statehood was not the only occurrence that year that marked a new beginning for Spokane Falls. A terrible fire swept through the city, in a matter of hours reducing years of effort to rubble and ruin. Thirty-two blocks–virtually the entire downtown business district– were destroyed. The tragedy served to strengthen, not weaken, the community. As soon as plans could be drawn and materials obtained, the city grew up all over again. And this time its face wore the brick and mortar look of permanence rather than the rough wooden facade of the frontier boom town. In 1891, the citizens voted to drop the “Falls” from the city’s name and Spokane became the official town moniker.
Now Spokane is the largest city between Seattle and Minneapolis, and is the second largest city in the state. The Spokane metropolitan area population now stands at 405,000 and stretches from the downtown area to the Washington/Idaho border. The Indian fishing grounds on the Spokane River are now Riverfront Park, the site of the 1974 World’s Fair. Spokane is the smallest city ever to host a World’s Fair. Fishermen still fish off the bridges in Riverfront Park. In 1977, Spokane was one of the U.S. cities to be designated an “All American City.” Spokane has retained much of its history through its buildings. A self-guided walking tour of Spokane’s historic downtown buildings is available at the Spokane Visitor Information Center, 201 W. Main, (509) 747-3230 or (800) 248-3230.