One of Spokane’s most influential founding fathers is the one most people have probably never even heard of. That would be Francis H. Cook, contemporary of Louis Davenport, A.M. Cannon, W.H. Cowles, James Glover, J.J. Browne, Samuel Havermale, Joel Ferris and the other pioneers for whom streets, schools and sections of the city are named.
But consider that Cook started the first newspaper in Spokane, was the town’s biggest booster, purchased 680 acres of prime land with plans for a park and residential area to be named Montrose (now Manito) Park, established the city’s first motorized streetcar, developed the area that is now Wandermere Golf Course and built the road to the summit of what was then Mount Baldy (now Mount Spokane) – and quite a bit more.
And still, he is perhaps the least known of all the notables of Spokane’s past. That may be because it’s hard to be popular when often being at cross purposes with other influential people, which was true even before moving to Spokane, according to several historical texts, most recently Doris J. Woodward’s book “The Indomitable Francis H. Cook of Spokane: A Man of Vision.”
His simple grave is at Spokane’s Riverside Memorial Park, but a more elaborate memorial erected nearby by the Fairmount Memorial Association gives proper due to his adventures.
An Ohio native, the 20-year-old Cook moved to Olympia in 1871, where he worked at and then purchased the Olympia Echo, running it as an independent publication even though he was a conservative Republican. So as not to offend powerful politicians, other newspapers at the time remained silent on the controversial contract system of overcrowding in what was then referred to as insane asylums. Yet his newspaper spoke out against the practice, and the 1875 Legislature had to change the policy. In 1877, Cook started the Tacoma Herald, the first newspaper in that city.
Active in Republican politics, he antagonized railroad interests by writing a plank in the Republican platform that favored requiring the Northern Pacific Railway to build 25 miles of new road each year heading east from the Puget Sound.
In 1879, he started the first newspaper in Spokane, the Spokan Times. Although the town’s population was not even 100 at the time, he and his newspaper became great promoters and advocates for the region he termed “the great Spokane country,” and they are credited with attracting hundreds of newcomers to the area. In her book, Woodward tells how Cook was elected to the Washington Territorial Legislature, largely because of railroad practices he deemed unethical, and became its youngest presiding officer. It was during his term that Spokane County came into creation.
Cook purchased the large tract of land on the South Hill, planned it for development, and with a $25,000 loan from the Provident Trust Co. began construction of the Spokane & Montrose Motor Railroad. It began operation in 1888 as the town’s first motorized streetcar and was powered by a wood-burning steam engine which pulled two passenger coaches from downtown Spokane to the site of the present Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist and continuing to about 19th Avenue.
Cook lost his fortune and South Hill land in the financial crash of 1893. He and his family moved north of the city along the Little Spokane River and developed the area where the Wandermere Golf Course is now located. Always drawn to Mount Baldy, he sold his farmlands in 1909 to purchase a 160-acre tract of land leading to the summit of the mountain.
With his son Silas, he constructed cabins for the family to live in and took two years to build the road by hand, thus opening the mountain to the public for recreation. On Aug. 15, 1912, a dedication of the newly renamed Mount Spokane was attended by Gov. Marion Hay, the first Miss Spokane Marguerite Motie, Aubrey L. White (who became known as the father of Spokane Parks) and the Cook family.
The dedication caravan, made up of eight vehicles and one motorcycle, left from The Spokesman-Review building in downtown Spokane and drove the 36 miles in three hours. The final portion of the journey up Cook’s road was completed on foot or by horseback.
Recognizing the importance of the road and the mountain, Cook arranged for the property to be put under the control of Louis Davenport in 1920. About a month later, Francis H. Cook died at his home in Spokane.
But the Cook adventure continues, in a manner of speaking. Those interested in geocaching will find his burial site pertinent now in one such adventure. Check out geocaching.com and use GC code 36HG8. Cook may not have been the hero he should have been in his own time, but outdoors adventurers are getting the opportunity to learn all about him today.