There are two small triangles of land that mark the east and west ends of the five-block stretch of Riverside Avenue that makes up the Riverside Avenue Historic District (also known as the Spokane Civic Center Historic District) just west of downtown Spokane.
One is very visible and well-known – but the other, less flashy and more obscure, has perhaps an even more interesting story to tell.
At the east end of the district, where Riverside meets the busy north-south arterial of Monroe Street, is a triangle with a tall monument honoring Ensign John Robert Monaghan, a Spokane son who died in a conflict in Samoa in 1899. It stands across from the entrance to the Spokane Club, and many thousands of drivers pass by daily.
The historic district, which is elegant for its center green space and beautiful lindens, is anchored at the west end by a triangle of land that has on it a smaller granite obelisk commemorating the volunteer servicemen who participated in the Spanish-American War, the Philippines Campaign and the Boxer Rebellion (China Relief) between 1898 and 1902. It is situated just across from the San Marco Apartments at the intersection where Sprague and Riverside avenues converge at Cedar Street. Much less traffic flows by there, and those who do pass by likely don’t even notice it.
But what is interesting about the little triangle of land at the west end isn’t so much what’s there but rather what was there. It is the place where the old frontier Territorial Road from Walla Walla joined the White Bluffs Road from the Columbia River. The Territorial Road (not to be mistaken for the more famous Mullan Road) was established in 1862 as a route from Walla Walla to Fort Colville on the Columbia River. It was at the site of Spokane Falls – at that very place where the triangle of land now exists – that it met up with the White Bluffs Road.
White Bluffs was an agricultural town along the Columbia River that was depopulated in 1943 to make room for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. It was first settled in 1861, and a ferry was constructed there to handle traffic for men and materials headed for the gold fields in British Columbia. Once crossing the river, the route was north and east along the White Bluffs Road.
The freight road followed an old Indian trail and was described in a January 1917 article in Washington Historical Quarterly as traveling from White Bluffs northeast to Crab Creek, “thence to Sheep Springs; thence northeast by Duck Lake draw and thence northeast to Ivy Lake; thence six miles to Booth Springs, thence 13 miles northeast to Cottonwood Springs (now Davenport); thence to Mondovi, Deep Creek and Spokane Falls; thence east to Rathdrum, Idaho …” and on to the south end of Pend Oreille Lake, where a steamboat took men and cargo north.
Also interesting is how Riverside Avenue came to no longer run immediately parallel to the Spokane River in the downtown area. The explanation is in Robert Hyslop’s “Spokane Building Blocks.” Riverside Avenue got its name from the part of the road west of Monroe Street (now the historic district) where it ran along the top of the south bank of the Spokane River gorge and served as the main road into the city from both the west and south. It was intended to continue running close to the river and, indeed, the town site plat provided for a direct connection with what is now Spokane Falls Boulevard. A gully – later filled with debris from the fire of 1889 – forced Riverside to turn south and enter downtown a few blocks south of the river.
The historic district became part of the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, as it was home to many historic civic structures built before World War I and some a bit later – among which are the Comstock Library, the Masonic Temple, Spokane Club and others. And the median strips down the center were put in place under the recommendation of the Olmsted Brothers Landscape Architects of Brookline, Mass., also noted for their design and improvements of most of Spokane’s major parks.
It may just look like a quiet little bit of green space, but there is a lot of the region’s history flowing from that one little triangle of land.