Out-of-work men and boys spent most of 1937 embedding jagged granite slabs along the roadway near the twisting path of the Little Spokane River, a safety feature of a road named for the wealthy Spokane banker who oversaw its construction.
Rutter Parkway’s surface and route have changed significantly since the Civilian Conservation Corps completed the work in February 1938. But the rocks, referred to as “dragon’s teeth” because of their craggy appearance, have remained in place, mostly untouched by road workers but susceptible to the occasional rockslide and larceny-minded motorist.
That’s about to change. During a repaving project this summer, Spokane County engineers determined the rocks were impeding grading projects and snowplows. Now, the city, county and state are all vying for some of the roughly 400 remaining stones for their own projects, with an eye to preserving the history the quarried granite represents.
“When they put the parkway in, it was more of a trail than a road,” said Kelly Curalli, an environmental program coordinator with the Spokane County Engineering Department.
A Spokesman-Review article published Feb. 27, 1938, toward the end of construction, said the rocks were quarried at nearby gravel pits. Civilian Conservation Corps workers with Company 949 – part of the New Deal pitched by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to employ young men during the Great Depression – installed the rocks as a safety measure for vehicles traveling the then-unpaved roadway, under the watchful eye of R.L. Rutter. The county voted to name the road after the former banker, who donated his time to supervise the project – which conveniently gave him better automobile access to his nearby rural estate.
“The original roads were narrow, one-way trails with turnouts,” the newspaper article reported. “If vehicles met between turnouts, one had to back before they could pass.”
Today, Rutter Parkway is a two-lane road that bridges Waikiki Road near the Spokane Country Club to Indian Trail Road, near a canoe put-in at the Little Spokane River Natural Area. Curalli said she would like to see the dragon’s teeth rocks line the parking area of a trailhead along the north side of the river, where hikers can park before visiting the Indian Painted Rocks a few minutes’ walk away.
“We’re trying to do a responsible thing,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with community things that we could do with them, to preserve some of the history.”
The rocks weigh a couple hundred pounds apiece and stand up to 5 feet tall, according to a report authored by Eastern Washington University’s Stephen Emerson in 2004, when the Washington Department of Transportation planned to realign Rutter Parkway at its western terminus in Nine Mile. That $4.5 million project forced crews to move some of the rocks and place others in storage, joining other stones that over the years had tipped over or fallen down to the river’s edge. A landslide in 1999 required six of the dragon’s teeth features to be removed.
Curalli contacted Megan Duvall, the historic preservation officer for the city and county, when it became apparent the county would move the rocks. Duvall and others contacted different agencies to see who might have a use for the stones.
Representatives for both the Spokane County and city of Spokane parks departments said they’d been contacted about using some of the rocks once they’re moved. Curalli said that would likely occur in phases.
“There are some areas where they might want to add guard rails,” she said. The rocks also impede shoulder work, which could cause water to pool along the roadways and create a hazard.
Aside from plans for informational plaques and a few ideas about where the rocks could go, their future is far from set in stone.
“This is still just kind of tumbling around,” Curalli said.