Spokane Falls & Northern Railway reaches Colville on October 18, 1889.

  • By Laura Arksey
  • Posted 8/18/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9118
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On Saturday, October 18, 1889, the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway, built by Daniel Chase Corbin (1832-1918) under contract with the Northern Pacific, reaches Colville.  Prior to that time, transportation between the new town of Spokane Falls (later Spokane) north to Colville had been by stagecoach, wagon, or horseback over the Colville Road, originally a military road linking Wallula and Fort Walla Walla to Fort Colville. The routing through Colville is contingent upon the community’s donating land in the vicinity for right-of-way and 40 acres in town for a railroad yard. The townsfolk raise money to purchase land, mainly from John U. Hofstetter (1829-1906), the “Father of Colville.” They construct a frame depot at the cost of $1,525. 

Dreaming of a Railroad

For 10 years, the residents of Colville and the surrounding area had been hoping for a railroad. The Spokane and Colville stagecoaches left Spokane at 6 a.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and did not arrive in Colville, some 70 miles to the north, until noon the following day. Freighting was similarly slow and arduous, with the roadway deep in mud, dust, or snow, depending on the season.

A railroad would open up vastly improved shipping possibilities for the products of ranches, farms, forests, and mines of the area. Its passenger service would relieve the isolation of Colville Valley residents. Early in 1889, excitement grew when word got out that construction of the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway was about to begin from Spokane toward Colville and ultimately, by means of subsidiary links, into the rich mining area of southern British Columbia. 

Buzzing with Anticipation

“Colville -- indeed, all the country between Spokane Falls and the Columbia River along the proposed route -- buzzed with anticipation. Newspapers said the woods were full of home hunters. Colville citizens turned out in enthusiastic bands to tramp the Colville valley with James Monaghan (b. 1839) who arranged this portion of the right-of-way. The Stevens County Miner urged ranchers to cooperate by allowing the line to cross their property” (Fahey, 21). 

The first train to carry passengers over the newly laid track from Chewelah, 20 miles south of Colville, was actually the construction train. Residents from Spokane Falls came to join in the festivities at Colville. The community celebrated the arrival of the first train at the new depot with a 42-gun salute from farmers’ rifles and pistols, then repaired to Luther (sometimes spelled Louther) Meyers’ (1833-1909) Opera House to hear speeches by local dignitaries. Immediately a committee began planning a more formal celebration to be held later.  

In 1898, the Spokane Falls & Northern became part of the Great Northern system. Freight trains still rumble through Colville, but passenger service there, as in many places, is a thing of the past.

Sources: John R. Fahey, “Spokane Falls and Northern,” The Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring, 1960); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “Daniel Corbin and the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway,” (by John Fahey), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed August 17, 2009); Carlos A. Schwantes, Railroad Signatures Across the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993), 139.

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