Deer Park -- Thumbnail History

  • By Happy Avery
  • Posted 2/26/2016
  • Essay 11193
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Deer Park is located 22 miles north of the city of Spokane in the northwest corner of Spokane County amid the southeastern reach of the densely forested Okanogan highlands of Northeast Washington. Home to 3,864 residents as of 2014, Deer Park stands at an elevation of 2,123 feet on nearly seven square miles of land in the heart of the traditional homelands of the Spokane Indians. Although the Spokanes lived in and around the area for centuries before the first non-Indian explorers penetrated the region in the early nineteenth century, this small bedroom community for the state's second largest city traces its origins to the building of the Spokane Falls & Northern Railroad in 1889. The railroad not only put Deer Park on the map, but also facilitated the growth of the lumber industry that shaped the community's early settler days and helped sustain it through most of the twentieth century. In the contemporary period, Deer Park celebrates its pioneer past while offering a rural escape from Spokane's sprawl to both seasonal outdoor enthusiasts and permanent residents alike.

Northern Exposure

Fierce corporate competition in the fur trade brought the first non-Indians into Northeast Washington in the early nineteenth century. Lakes and streams nestled among rolling woodlands along the foothills of the northern Rocky Mountains made the region one of the last best places for agents of the Montreal-based North West Company, in particular, to pursue beavers and other fur bearing animals. The area's modern environment, which would later prove conducive to other extractive industries as well, started to take shape during the Pleistocene Epoch when ice sheets covered the Okanogan highlands. The end of the Pleistocene nearly 12,000 years ago saw the melting of the ice and formation of the lush, forested valleys of the Columbia and Pend Oreille rivers. Today, Deer Park stands at the southern end of this complex geological region, where it gives way to the more arid Columbia Plateau.

Over time, the region provided ample opportunity for fishing, hunting, gathering, and cultivation by the Upper Spokane Indians who lived there from time immemorial. Outsiders' first glimpses of the area came when David Thompson (1770-1857) passed through in 1811 on North West Company business on one of several trips through the broader region. Traveling southwest from the Pend Oreille River to Spokane House, a fleeting but important trading post established the year before, the well-known trader and cartographer noted in his journal that he stopped for an hour at Beaulieu's Brook, now known as Dragoon Creek, the morning of June 14. His brief stay a few miles southwest of present day Deer Park yielded little detail, however, as he did not record his impressions of the place before moving on to his final destination. Catholic and Protestant missionaries came to Northeast Washington in the decades that followed but bypassed the area in and around present Deer Park.

Although many Indians living to the south and west were relocated to reservations following the Stevens Treaties of 1855, the majority of Spokanes declined to relocate with them. Instead, they continued to try to negotiate a better agreement, as they had no ties to the lands or people of these new reservations. Despite the efforts of famed leader Chief Garry (ca. 1811-1892), Native-newcomer relations in Eastern Washington deteriorated over the next 20 years and the Spokanes were ultimately unsuccessful in retaining their rights to lands near the junction of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers, including the area northwest of the Little Spokane that would become Deer Park. In 1881, President Rutherford B. Hayes (1822-1893) reduced the tribe's original homelands of some three million acres from Northeast Washington to Western Montana to a 159,000-acre reservation along the lower Spokane River some 15 miles west of the present site of Deer Park. Meanwhile, 22 miles south of that site, the community of Spokane, then known as Spokane Falls, welcomed the arrival of the Northern Pacific's transcontinental railroad, which quickly turned the growing city on the westward running Spokane River into the commercial hub of the Inland Empire. The valley spilling north of the river's watershed gleamed with potential for both existing residents and new arrivals looking to break away from urban crowding and commotion.

New Roads Breathe New Life

The establishment of the Spokane Indian Reservation in 1881 along with the building of the Cottonwood Road 14 years earlier facilitated the settlement of the Deer Park area. Newcomers had moved into the Colville River Valley, located farther north in what is now Stevens County, starting in the 1850s. By the 1860s the town of Chewelah, 25 miles north of Deer Park in the southern Colville Valley, was a busy gateway community accommodating farmers and ranchers as well as others passing through to mining and logging districts near Fort Colville, another 25 miles north, and into southern British Columbia. Chewelah's growth and development increased demand for a more direct route to and from the developing Spokane River Valley than the old, roundabout Colville Road, which served to connect the region to Walla Walla. In 1867, Chewelah residents cleared a route through approximately 60 miles of forest following the course of Cottonwood Creek out of the Colville Valley and through present day Deer Park as it meandered southward to the Spokane River Valley where it met the Mullan Road. Although winter snow and spring mud often made the road impassable, the Cottonwood Road nonetheless served as the main thoroughfare for overland shipping and passage between the Spokane and Colville valleys until the arrival of the railroad in 1889.

Initially, homesteaders making their way into the Deer Park area on the Cottonwood Road from the south stopped short of the site that would become the town by five or six miles. Neighboring Wild Rose and Half Moon prairies, so named by the first non-Indian families to take up residence there, offered open land to those looking to make a claim. Many of these pioneers were new immigrants from Norway and Sweden who found the landscape and climate comfortably familiar and the soil suitable for farming. The area also attracted substantial numbers of German and English newcomers. Scandinavian and other Northern European immigrants consistently represented 12 to 15 percent of Deer Park's growing population through the 1920s, shaping the community's enduring social tapestry.

Louis C. Gemmill (1849-1924) and James Evans (1855-1929) were the first settlers in the area, arriving in 1883. Others soon followed, including Rowland Hazard (ca. 1837-?) who opened a general store and post office at Wild Rose Prairie in 1885. As these early pioneers removed old-growth timber stands to clear the land for farming, they ironically planted the seeds for the local lumber industry. Gemmill was among the earliest to establish a sawmill along the south bank of Dragoon Creek and within a few years several sawmills were in operation throughout the area. The trick, however, was hauling logs to market on a rough, often impassable road. Fortunately for early lumbermen in the Deer Park area, the call of the established logging and mining districts further north had already sounded among railroad investors in Spokane.

Surveyors identified a route from Spokane to Colville sometime before 1888 while Spokane business leaders James Monaghan (1839-1916), James Glover (1837-1921), Arthur Newberry (1852 - ?), and Frank Rockwood Moore (1852-1895) invited railroad and mining tycoon Daniel Chase Corbin (1832-1913) to oversee the financing and construction of the new line. A key developer of Western Montana and North Idaho, Corbin arrived in Spokane in February 1889 to take control of the fledgling Spokane Falls & Northern Railway Company. Construction began a month later and crews rapidly laid tracks through the spring and summer while most of downtown Spokane sizzled in a catastrophic fire that July. In August 1889 workers reached the point, located five miles past Wild Rose and Half Moon prairies, that surveyors had identified for a stop. The abundance of deer roaming the forested park-like landscape had caught the attention of the surveyors, who named the site accordingly. As crews pressed on toward Colville, the siding at Deer Park quickly morphed into a town.

A Town Is Born

The first Spokane Falls & Northern cars rolled into Colville in October 1889. By this time, two recent arrivals to the Deer Park area, William Hopkins Short (1863-1930) and his brother-in-law George Crawford, had shrewdly seized the local lumber industry. Recognizing the potential opportunity in supplying Spokane with Deer Park timber to rebuild after the fire, the partners rented a portable sawmill and set up shop at the railroad siding on the heels of its construction. Business boomed for Short and Crawford, whose immediate access to the trains allowed them to lead area competition in providing most of the lumber to resurrect the commercial capital of the Inland Empire. Within a year the lumbermen purchased the portable sawmill, which they later replaced with a permanent structure, and the surrounding lands that would form Deer Park's city center. Short and Crawford's loggers needed food and other supplies, as well as lodging, while the trains lured farmers and ranchers from the prairies. Short built a boarding house a stone's throw from the mill and an unknown area resident opened a small store.

After the initial boom from the Spokane market, local demand sustained Short and Crawford for a few years as Deer Park and the railroad attracted new residents and businesses. Not long after they replaced the portable sawmill in 1892, however, Crawford left the partnership to attend to his ailing father in Minnesota while Short took over as supervisor of the newly incorporated Washington Mill Company and another of Deer Park's leading historical figures, Peter J. Kelly (1858-1908), bought the small store. Kelly expanded the store building to two stories and added apparel, hardware, and farm machinery to his inventory of general merchandise. Although Kelly's People's Supply dominated the local retail market, Short's boarding house, also rebuilt and expanded in 1892, became the hub of social activity for miles around. It was a large three-story building with office space for company executives, living quarters for the Short family, and rooms for employees in addition to offering a large kitchen, dining room, parlor, and library. Featured in Spokane's newspaper and the lumber trade journal as "the showplace of northern Spokane County," Short's boarding house was like no other in the region with amenities and accommodations that brought an air of sophistication to the community (Sherry, 362).

Although Deer Park's economic development slowed through the middle years of the 1890s, as was the case throughout the nation following the financial Panic of 1893, the town continued to grow and establish its permanence. Agriculture and lumber helped keep the Deer Park economy afloat and attract new residents. By the end of the decade, James J. Hill's (1838-1916) Great Northern Railway had absorbed the Spokane Falls & Northern and Deer Park was home to approximately 300 people with three general stores in addition to The People's Supply as well as a church, a school, a hotel, a blacksmith and harness shop, and a livery and feed stable. Short's newly formed Standard Lumber Company was the leading enterprise, employing 35 men, and his boarding house remained the center of Deer Park and the surrounding area's social life. In addition to Short's, eight sawmills were in operation within 10 miles, all relying on Deer Park's shops and services for goods, supplies, and entertainment. The town stood on firm ground at the turn of the twentieth century.

Apples to Apples

Although production remained strong, the lumber industry had dramatically altered Deer Park's landscape by the early twentieth century. Most of the old-growth timber in the immediate area was gone by 1906, fueling new ideas among outside speculators for the cut-over land left behind while local business leaders thought about formally organizing the community as a municipal corporation. With federal irrigation of the Pacific Northwest underway following the passage of the Newlands Act in 1902, Floyd L. Daggett (1862-1933), an insurance broker and mayor of Spokane, along with his brother-in-law, John D. McIntyre, a Seattle engineer, launched an irrigation agriculture scheme to develop apple orchards around Deer Park. The venture was one of the largest economic development projects in Deer Park's history, and bore striking resemblance to the land-selling efforts of the railroads and regional boosters throughout the Northwest.

In 1906, Daggett and McIntyre incorporated the Arcadia Irrigation Association and started buying up stump lands south of Deer Park. The plan was to irrigate an original site of 4,473 acres with water from Dragoon and Spring Creeks, using Deer Lake as a reservoir. After planting and cultivating apple trees on five to 10-acre irrigated tracts for four years, Arcadia would turn over an established orchard with a perpetual water right to previously contracted buyers. Initially, tracts sold at $120 per acre, although demand from urban land-seekers within the state of Washington as well as Minnesota soon allowed the partners to raise prices to $400 per acre and reorganize Arcadia as a corporation at roughly the same time Deer Park itself incorporated as a fourth class city in June 1908. In 1909 the company was reorganized one more time, as the Arcadia Orchards Company, but without Daggett and McIntyre. Olaf L. Olsen (1881-1958), the son of a Deer Park pioneer merchant, and Edward N. Robinson (1875-1940), an attorney from St. Louis, took over. Under Olsen and Robinson, Arcadia expanded the project to 20,000 areas, buying more unlogged or sparsely treed land from lumber companies, and tirelessly promoted its land of seemingly boundless opportunity just north of Spokane.

Arcadia's production and sales peaked from 1910 to 1916, enticing buyers from 32 states, three Canadian provinces, and England while the apple industry exploded across the state of Washington. Arcadia's top seller, however, was a somewhat small, pinkish-red Wagener variety that proved less competitive than the Delicious, Jonathan, and Winesap varieties produced elsewhere around the state. Stiff competition along with a relatively short growing season, financing woes, poor management, and several national business recessions contributed to Arcadia's eventual failure. Arcadia was already limping along by the time the post-World War I agricultural depression took hold in 1920 and was officially defunct by 1925.

Although relatively short-lived, Arcadia held an important place in Deer Park's history. Its officers were leading members of the community and its promises of land ownership and fortune in the apple industry brought international attention and 26 percent population growth to the little hamlet on the old Cottonwood Road. Along with remnants of the company's canals and flumes, its dam at Dragoon Creek, and a few rows of apple trees scattered among the area's recovering pine forests, Arcadia's name can be found on a housing division, an elementary school, and a street to remind contemporary locals and visitors of the company's historical role.

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Despite the fall of Arcadia, Deer Park continued to grow and prosper in the twentieth century not only because of the persistence of the lumber industry but also because of its proximity to Washington's second-largest city and commercial center of the Inland Northwest. In 1914, William Short had sold his Standard Lumber Company to Walter M. Leuthold (1887-1968) and Ralph L. Wilson, who promptly renamed it the Deer Park Lumber Company. Deer Park Lumber operated until the late 1950s when it merged with Potlatch Forests of Lewiston, Idaho. Both companies carried Standard Lumber's torch as key economic drivers in the area, consistently employing hundreds of workers until the last Potlatch mill closed there in 1972. As important as the sawmills were to the town's history and economy, the end of the lumber industry did not spell disaster, as Deer Park's economic sustainability independent of the lumber industry was evident long before the last sawmill closed. In the early years, many observers assumed Deer Park would follow the boom-bust cycle of most western towns built upon an extractive industry and wither away once the best timber had been harvested. While Deer Park's timber outlasted expectations, it was the tenacity of early newcomers committed to the rural niche they had carved for themselves that lent permanence and cohesion to the community.

Open space relatively close to a major urban center made the Deer Park area an ideal place to land for migrating settlers and merchants even before rail service reached the region. Once the railroad came, residents gained access to national markets as well as an easy day trip to Spokane. Deer Park thus became only more attractive as a rural escape from Spokane and, especially during the Arcadia years, Seattle and other big cities around the country. The town also benefitted from the rise of the automobile industry in the early twentieth century, which encouraged the building of highways, like the Inland Empire Highway winding through central and eastern Washington. Although only a short stretch of the original highway still bears the name in the present era, the Inland Empire Highway helped solidify Deer Park as a bedroom community of Spokane. Today's U.S. Highway 395 continues to facilitate Deer Park-Spokane travel, making the once two-day wagon ride a 35-minute commute. Meanwhile, local interest in building an airport first surfaced in 1929 and took hold in the mid-1930s as developers sought to build a series of airports between Spokane and the Canadian border as part of a strategic link to Alaska. Deer Park's municipal airport was finally dedicated in 1944 for general aviation and remains open, providing flight training and serving as a base to combat regional summer wildfires.

From its emergence in the late nineteenth century, Deer Park's growth and development have been directly tied to the entrepreneurial spirit of Spokane's elite and modest opportunity-seekers alike. Yet while few have settled in Deer Park without at least stopping in Spokane first, the community has built and preserved its own unique identity blending rustic, small-town charm with suburban amenities.

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau website accessed October 1, 2015 (; "Okanogan," Washington Department of Natural Resources website accessed November 2, 2015 (; T. C. Elliott, "David Thompson's Journey in the Pend Oreille Country," Washington Historical Quarterly 23, no. 3 (July 1932), 173-176; "Deer Park, Spokane County, 4th Class, Order of Incorporation," June 24, 1908, AR3-3-15, Secretary of State Records of Cities and Towns Incorporated 1890-1966, Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; Nancy Ann Fisher and Etta May Bennett, Pioneer Days Reviewed: Historical Resources of the Deer Park Area (Spokane: N. A. Fisher, 1970); Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Spokane County -- Thumbnail History" (by Ann M. Colford), "Daniel Corbin and the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway" (by John R. Fahey), and "Chief Spokane Garry (ca.1811-1892)" (by Jim Kershner), (accessed October 9, 2015); Peter Coffin, "Peter J. Kelly: Early Deer Park Businessman/Store Owner," Mortarboard (Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society), no. 77 (September 2014), 937-941; Peter Coffin, "William Hopkins Short: Founding Father of Deer Park, Washington," Ibid., no. 54 (October 2012), 657-665; Peter Coffin, "Lumber Sawmills in the Deer Park Area," Ibid., no. 30 (October 2010), 373-377; Judy Haden Sherry, "The Short Boarding House: A Deer Park Landmark," Ibid., no. 29 (September 2010), 361-365; Peter Coffin, "The Cottonwood Road: An Early Farm to Market Road" and "Foreign Born Citizens of the Clayton-Deer Park Area Population of Eastern Washington, 1900 to 1930," Ibid., no. 24 (April 2010), 301-303, 305-310; "Deer Park Historical Timeline," Clayton/Deer Park Historical Society website accessed October 1, 2015 (; Jonathan Edwards, An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington (San Franscisco: W. H. Lever, 1900), 278; Jesse Tinsley, "Photos: Deer Park's Creation Story a Standard Western," Spokesman Review, September 26, 2011 (; "Spokane Tribe History," Spokane Tribe of Indians website accessed October 9, 2015 (; John Fahey, "Selling the Watered West: Arcadia Orchards," Pacific Historical Review 62, no. 4 (November 1993), 455-474; "Potlatch Forest, Deer Park Lumber Firms Will Merge," Spokane Daily Chronicle, July 19, 1956, p. 1; Nelson Wayne Durham, History of Spokane and Spokane Country: From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time, Vol. 1 (Spokane: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912), 616-617; City of Deer Park website accessed October 15, 2015 (

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