City of Cheney settles on its name on September 25, 1880.

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 8/11/2007
  • Essay 8247

On September 25, 1880, the city of Cheney finally settles on its name after a string of four other names in the town's scarce two years of existence. This spot situated about 16 miles southwest of the little village of Spokane Falls first went by the pastoral name of Willow Springs, after the town's main natural feature. Several businesses in town will retain or assume this nostalgic name as will Willow Springs, a national literary journal affiliated with Eastern Washington University's Inland Center for Northwest Writers.

Beginning with Depot Springs

By 1879, the site had been chosen to be a key stop on the coming Northern Pacific line. Settlers and speculators poured into the town and began to lay out a townsite. People began to call it Depot Springs, since the Northern Pacific depot was being constructed near the springs near the city's center. Then people called it Section 13, after its designation on the Northern Pacific railroad survey.

Not long after, the town took the unofficial name of Billings, after the president of the Northern Pacific. This was years before a town along the Northern Pacific route in Montana took the name.

Cheney and His Academy

Finally, on September 25, 1880, a notice appeared in the Spokan Times alerting the world to the fact that the town had settled, once and for all, on the name of Cheney. The town was named in honor of Benjamin P. Cheney (1815-1895), an Eastern Washington business leader and a director of the Northern Pacific.

The choice paid off nicely for the fledgling town: Cheney donated $10,000 to the town to build the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy, which later evolved into Eastern Washington University, which is today the center of Cheney’s economic and cultural life.


Spokan Times, September 25, 1880; E. E. Perry, "How Cheney Captured the County Seat" in N. W. Durham, History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County (Spokane, Chicago, and Philadelphia: J. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912), 395-398; "The Story of Cheney from Pioneers to Present Day," City of Cheney website accessed August 5, 2007 (

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You