A Time Gone By Three Valley Natives Talk About Their Memories Growing Up Here Before Development Boomed
ERMA WHITE Train was only connection between the Valley and rest of world in the 1920s
When Erma White was growing up in the Spokane Valley, her home in Yardley was considered to be out in the country.
Way out in the country.
In 1920, when White was 10 years old, only 6,550 people lived east of Havana Street.
White has a phone directory of the time that boasts listings for “Spokane, Ferry, Lincoln and Stevens County, including 21,029 telephones.”
“I remember when the folks decided to sell the place,” said White, now 86 and living in Millwood. “It was hard to sell. Nobody wanted to be all the way out there.”
The area around Felts Field, now covered up with industry, railroad tracks and large storage tanks, was then blanketed with fields of sunflowers and alfalfa.
In 1912, the year White’s family moved to the Valley, the state commissioner for horticulture reported that the Valley led all of Washington in apple production.
There were more than 7,200 acres here planted with 600,000 apple trees.
White, whose maiden name is Seehorn, recalled playing “run, sheep, run” and climbing trees with her sister, Lois, and children from the two other families that inhabited Yardley at that time.
“It was all fields. We had bluebirds and meadowlarks,” White said.
“My father used to imitate them.”
The Seehorn family ran a small herd of dairy cows on its five acres on Fancher Road and grew watermelons.
“My father used to sell them to the Davenport Hotel for 5 cents a pound,” White said.
In the summer, wind rushing across the dry fields used to whip up dust storms that boiled with such intensity that White’s mother would light a lantern in the middle of the day so people could find their house.
“They were really awful,” White said.
The Valley was connected to Spokane and the rest of the world by an electric train line that ran between downtown and Liberty Lake and by Felts Field, then known as the Parkwater Airport.
White said she and her family used to walk a half mile to the train stop on Fancher Road to go into Millwood for church.
She remembered taking the same train into Spokane when she was young to see her first talking movie.
“Now that was a big deal,” White said.
The rest of her traveling was mostly on foot. “We just thought nothing of it,” White said of all the walking. While White never got to take a plane ride when the barnstorming acts entertained crowds at Parkwater in the years just after World War I - the fee was $5 - she did get to see Charles Lindbergh when he toured the field.
She also watched the Army Air Corps pilots stationed at Parkwater do stunts over Millwood as part of their training.
“Oh my, they’d never let them do that today,” she said.
White graduated from West Valley High School in 1928 with a class of about 30 students.
Teachers used to check the girls for rouge.
“They’d test you and fine you if you were wearing it,” she said. “We only had bloomers back then, too. No slacks.”
There weren’t many organized activities for kids back then, but White joined one of the few that was around - the Campfire Girls.
The organization held meetings at the Orchard Avenue community center, and the girls would camp out on the banks of the Spokane River.
“Campfire was one of our biggest deals growing up,” White said. “It was a lot of fun.”
MIKE SILVEY Rural flavor of the Valley gave kids many places to play and things to do in 1950s
Mike Silvey’s childhood memories are filled with raspberry bushes and bicycles, 39-cent hamburgers and train whistles.
Life in the Spokane Valley was much simpler in the 1950s and ‘60s, when Silvey, now 45, was coming of age.
There were fewer houses and fewer trees, but more trains, orchards and empty fields.
The population of the Valley in 1960 was about 45,000 people.
“It was real rural,” said Silvey, a 1969 graduate of Central Valley High School. “There weren’t many houses past Fourth or Valleyway. It was mostly fields, and there were hardly any trees except for the fruit trees.”
But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The farm fields and irrigation ditches gave Silvey and his friends places to play and work in the summer.
He recalled riding his bike to an irrigation ditch that ran east and west through the Valley, about where Mission Avenue is now, to go swimming.
“When you were older, you’d sneak down to the river and go swimming there,” Silvey said.
Liberty Lake was another place to cool off on a hot summer day, Silvey remembered.
“It was like going to Priest Lake in those days,” he said. “There were several resorts, but very few houses. Now, it’s essentially a private lake.”
Silvey, who today owns a construction company, earned his money in those days picking raspberries for 35 cents a flat and baling hay.
“There were a lot of summer jobs you could do back then and there weren’t nearly as many kids out here to do them,” Silvey said. “It was no problem earning a few dollars.”
He spent his money at Ron’s Drive-In - where a burger, fries and Coke cost 39 cents - and at the Dishman Theater, now the Deja Vu night club.
“I remember going to see my first movie there,” Silvey said. “It was ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth.”’
Winter Saturdays were spent playing basketball and hanging out in the gym at North Pines Junior High.
High school was a time of two-a-day football practices in August, followed by “a root beer float at the A&W; and a jump in the river to cool off.”
Legendary football coach Charlie Dean used to run his players until they were ready to drop, Silvey recalled.
“But we won a lot of games in the fourth quarter because we were in better shape than the other teams,” he said.
The rivalry between Central Valley and University high schools was intense even then, Silvey said, with CV students making night-time raids to steal the U-Hi victory bell.
There also were summer dances at the newly opened University City Shopping Center.
“Kids from all over the city would come,” Silvey recalled. “It was the place to be.”
There was dinner with the family every night and Spokane Indians games on the radio.
Some people operated businesses where kids could pay a fee to jump on a trampoline for a half hour.
The social and political upheaval that surged through much of the nation during the 1960s missed the Valley, Silvey said.
“There weren’t any protests or political movements out here,” he recalled with a smile. “It was pretty calm as far as that goes.”
Almost everything about the Valley was pretty calm at that time, Silvey added.
“Sometimes it seemed a little boring, but we always found something to do,” he said. “It was the simpler things. It was a fun place.”
JEANNE HAUENSTEIN Even in the 1970s there were more animals, more space, less traffic
In the 1970s, Jeanne Hauenstein could look south from her parents’ home in the Spokane Valley and see nothing but places to ride her horse.
“It was very, very rural,” Hauenstein said of the area around 16th and Bowdish, where her parents have lived for all of her 27 years. “I remember taking the horses out and riding in the fields.
“There was hardly any traffic at all to spook the animals.”
The Nolans (Hauenstein’s maiden name) had plenty of animals to spook.
In addition to horses, her family kept ducks, cows and other livestock on its one-acre lot.
“Yep, we had our own mini-farm right there,” Hauenstein said. “It was a neat way to grow up.”
The fields south of the Nolan homestead are now crammed with houses. Subdivisions extend well beyond 32nd Avenue today.
It’s hard to find a place to ride a horse in that area.
But Hauenstein can remember climbing over the back fence to meet her friends to play in the woods and fields.
They’d take along their Barbies, she said, or play hide-and-seek and other games.
Hiking in the nearly untouched Dishman Hills was a good way to spend some time as well, she said.
For a big treat, they’d walk or ride their bikes to the 7-Eleven at 16th and University to buy candy.
“We pretty much went everywhere by bike or by horseback or by walking,” she said.
When she got to be a teenager in the early 1980s, she, like other kids across the nation, were struck with mall fever.
Her favorite destination became the University City Shopping Center.
There was just something about a trip to U-City, Hauenstein said, which was always bustling with shoppers looking for bargains at J.C. Penney and The Crescent department stores. Teenagers from everywhere would congregate there.
“University City was the mall to be at,” Hauenstein said. “That’s where you could hang out and meet your friends and shop. There were never any vacant stores. It was a lot different than it is today.”
Her favorite store was La Chapina, a boutique that carried “the trendiest clothes and the latest fashions.”
“It was the coolest,” Hauenstein said.
She even worked for a time at a store in the mall.
Summers were filled with softball and baseball games, baby-sitting and trips to Liberty Lake.
“We spent a lot of time at the lake. We did a little swimming at the beach,” she said. “It was basically nothing out there then. Now look at it.”
Hauenstein attended high school at Gonzaga Prep.
Many of her friends lived on the South Hill or the North Side and going to their houses gave her a good perspective on Spokane, she said.
She always liked returning home to the Valley.
“It was easier to get around out here. There was no north-south freeway, but you could buzz along on I-90,” Hauenstein said. “Even during that time, I knew the Valley was the place for me.”
It still is.
She and her husband set up housekeeping in the Valley soon after they were married, and they both have jobs at the same company at Liberty Lake.
“That was part of the deal,” Hauenstein said with a laugh.
She doesn’t think she’ll ever leave.
“It’s almost as if all my memories are here in the Valley,” Hauenstein said. “I’m pretty deeply rooted here.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color Photos