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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Fancher Beacon tower taken down

The historic Fancher Beacon tower that once held a powerful rotating light for early aviation is now gone from atop Beacon Hill in east Spokane.

Named after Maj. John T. Fancher, the beacon was erected in 1928 just months after his death at an air show in Wenatchee and named in his honor.

The rotating beacon held a 10 million candlepower lamp with 36-inch lens, which could be seen from a distance of 150 miles.

It was accompanied by a large lighted arrow fastened to the tower and pointing toward Felts Field.

Vandalized by gunfire over the years, the light operated until about 1950 but has long since been gone. The tower had stood until now. A stone memorial plaque to Fancher and the 5-foot concrete piers remain at the site.

The old 70-foot lattice tower was dismantled in recent weeks to make way for a 120-foot emergency communications tower, part of a countywide upgrade in communications.

Because the new tower project was eligible for federal funds, officials were required to undertake a cultural and historic survey of the site.

Airport officials hired consultant Stephen Emerson of Archisto Enterprises to document the history. The Airport Board owns the site.

Emerson found that the tower was not eligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Places because its original integrity was largely gone.

A historic display of the Fancher Beacon is being put together for the Felts Field terminal.

“It’s Beacon Hill because of that beacon,” Emerson said. “This was before radar and they had to fly from light to light.”

Fancher was raised on a family farm at Espanola west of Medical Lake. He attended high school in Spokane and was a gifted athlete, according to Emerson’s survey.

During World War I, he volunteered for the aviation corps and eventually commanded an airfield in France at the rank of major.

He returned to the farm for a few years.

A group of prominent businessmen raised money to improve what would eventually become Felts Field to house a National Guard squadron commanded by Fancher starting in 1924.

Two years later, pilot James Buell Felts was killed in a crash near the airfield, leading Fancher to rename the field in his honor.

Fancher died in Wenatchee from injuries suffered while putting on a nighttime display of aerial bombing during the Apple Blossom Festival in 1928.

Several bombs had failed to ignite. Fancher was on the ground checking them when one exploded in his hand even though the bombs had delay fuses.

New Keller ferry named

A vessel being built for the Keller Ferry crossing on the Columbia River now has a name.

The Washington State Transportation Commission decided last month to call the new boat the Sanpoil.

It is an Anglicized form of the name given by indigenous people to the Columbia River as well as the native inhabitants of the region, state officials said.

More than 500 suggestions were submitted after the state asked for help in choosing the name to recognize the significance of indigenous culture on the river.

Components for the new $12 million ferry are being assembled at a Foss Maritime yard in Rainier, Ore. Later this fall, parts will be shipped to Grand Coulee for assembly. Launch is expected in July 2013.

The Sanpoil will replace the Martha S, which has plied the crossing on state Highway 21 north of Wilbur for 64 years.

The new ferry will be 116 feet long and able to carry 20 cars, but it can also accommodate freight. The Martha S is 41 feet shorter and carries up to 12 cars.

The free ferry handles more than 60,000 vehicles a year.

Public transportation input

In other business, the Washington transportation commission has launched a public input program it calls Voice of Washington State.

State residents can go to and sign up to share their views on the future of state transportation.

Participants can join one of seven regional online discussion forums to post ideas and interact with other participants. Also, participants can join a survey panel for occasional online surveys.

The input will be used for policy planning.

Transportation officials said they are hoping for strong participation from Northeast Washington.

Biking backer takes new job

Barb Chamberlain, a bicycle advocate and a founder of Bike to Work Week, is taking a new job as executive director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, which is based in Seattle and has a presence in Spokane.

She leaves a job as director of communications and public affairs for Washington State University Spokane.

She had also served on the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board.