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Jim Kershner’s This day in history

Mon., March 21, 2011

From our archives, 100 years ago

Residents of the Palouse country were trying to get accustomed to a jarring change in their skyline. The old Steptoe Butte Hotel, perched at the summit of Steptoe Butte, had vanished in a spectacular blaze on the night of March 15, 1911.

The fire made Steptoe Butte look like a mighty torch which “lighted up the heavens for many miles around,” reported The Spokesman-Review. The townspeople of Oakesdale turned out on the streets to watch in awed silence.

One man, J.F. Davis, took out his telescope and attempted to identify “the firebugs” – arson was suspected – but the fire was so bright he couldn’t make out any details near the building. Davis was the son of J.S. “Cashup” Davis, who built the lavish hotel in 1888.

Cashup Davis had been convinced that tourists would flock to it from all over the country. Yet the same element that gave the hotel its appeal – its lofty perch on an isolated butte – also was its biggest drawback. It was too difficult to get to. It closed in 1901, a few years after Cashup’s death, and became a “home for mice and bats.”

The cause of the fire was never determined.

Also on this date

(From the Associated Press)

1804: The French civil code, or the “Code Napoleon” as it was later called, was adopted. … 2001: Space shuttle Discovery glided to a predawn touchdown, bringing home the first residents of the International Space Station.

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