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Then and Now photos: Hillyard

Neighborhood grew around railroad hub

In 1892, James J. Hill, the architect and president of the Great Northern Railroad, arrived in Spokane. He told a newspaper reporter: “I am coming here to get your business and to carry your freight.” Hill was anxious to complete his company’s tracks through Spokane, already an important train hub of the Northwest. As a shrewd businessman, he asked many landowners to donate right-of-way to finish his tracks, promising that Spokane’s notoriously high shipping rates would naturally fall. But when Hill finished his layout of tracks through the city, lower rates didn’t materialize. He built the Great Northern depot on a scenic spot by Spokane Falls in 1902 and battled competitors, government antitrust agents and stockholders to build an empire that stretched from Minneapolis to the Pacific Ocean. Hill put his railroad yards outside of the city to avoid city taxes. Around those yards, where locomotives were built and repaired, grew Hillyard, a blue-collar neighborhood on the edge of town. When citizens pushed for incorporation, Hill, who ruled his empire from a luxury railroad car called The Manitoba, threatened to move the yards. Hill, nicknamed the “Empire Builder,” died in 1916. Hillyard became part of Spokane in 1924. Upon his retirement in 1912, Hill said, “Most men who have really lived have had, in some shape, their great adventure; this railway is mine.” – Jesse Tinsley


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