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

Argonne Road closing for rail work Tuesday; route runs through history of Millwood

Argonne Road is closing.

Starting Tuesday, for a full day or more, users of the heavily traveled road through Millwood will need to find a detour while the Union Pacific rail crossing near Euclid Avenue is replaced.

As one of the few routes over the Spokane River and with daily traffic counts well over 32,000, Argonne’s closure is a big pain for a lot of people.

Though it won’t ease the pain or make the commute any better, the relatively brief road closure is just the latest in a long history of Millwood, which was built around transportation and subsequently transformed by the appearance of the automobile, much like many other American communities.

Argonne has been at the center of it all.

According to a 1955 Spokesman-Review article, what is now the route of Argonne was originally a small trail that people used to go south to Dishman for wood and to Shelly Lake, farther east, for ice.

In these pre-road days, the trail’s users had to pass through 17 wire gates between Trent and Dishman. “Property owners didn’t pay much attention to transportation in these days,” the paper reported, and were “more interested in keeping their cattle within their land.”

The trail eventually turned into what was called Woodard Road, named for Joseph Woodard, an early homesteader who owned much of the land south of the river in what is now the city of Millwood. North of the river, parallel to Woodard Road, was Foults Road, named for the Foults, early white settlers who owned much of the land on the river’s north bank. The two roads ran the same route, but with no bridge to connect them, they remained two.

As the population grew in Millwood and around the region as a whole, the area gained the name Woodard Station, after the road, the homesteader and because of a new stop on the Coeur d’Alene-Spokane Electric Railway. Around 1903, Woodard gave the right-of-way for the new electric train, part of an electric railway network connecting the cities of the Inland Northwest.

Around this time, a bridge was built over the Spokane River to help people, and goods, get to the train and into Spokane and elsewhere. The bridge connected Foults Road to Woodard Road.

Boom times continued, and like the rest of the nation, the people of Spokane replaced nearly every other mode of transportation with the automobile. Not 15 years after its completion, the old bridge was deemed unfit for cars, and condemned.

As the automobile began to remake the American landscape, war was ravaging Europe.

By 1918, the “Great War” had been going on for four years in Europe. Americans were latecomers to what later would be called World War I, but when U.S. troops arrived for the war’s last, bloodiest battle, it was in grand, lethal fashion.

The Argonne Forest is about 140 miles northeast of Paris, near the borders of Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. With the entry of the U.S., and the appearance of mind-boggling numbers of young American troops, the Allies decided to strike and the forest saw the first battle in the final successful offensive.

Beginning in late September 1918, what became known as the Meuse-Argonne Offensive ran for 47 days and was the largest offensive in U.S. military history. It’s hard to describe just how massive and fatal this offensive was. About 1.2 million American soldiers were there. During the three hours leading up to the offensive, which began in the Argonne Forest, the Allies used more ammunition than the Americans and slave-holding Confederates did during the entire U.S. Civil War. Those three hours cost a total of $180 million, or $1 million per minute, according to a biography of George Patton.

When the offensive ended, so did the war, but at great cost. The Americans suffered more than 192,000 casualties, with 26,277 killed. Every two minutes for 47 days, an American soldier was killed. The war was over, and the Argonne Forest witnessed the carnage.

Two years later, to the day, two bridges were added to Spokane’s inventory of river crossings: the Argonne Bridge and the Marne Bridge, which crosses Latah Creek on Riverside Avenue. Both were named for battles and both dedicated on Armistice Day, Nov. 11, 1920, “to the men of Spokane County who died in the Great War.”

For further remembrance, the roads of Woodard and Foults were renamed as well, and Argonne Road was born.

That same decade saw huge change for the electric interurban railway that had defined the small town of Woodard Station. It merged with other electric rails serving the region. In 1929 it became part of the Great Northern Railway and, later, the Burlington Northern Railroad. People no longer wanted trains to ferry them between the cities around Spokane – they had their cars. The railroads largely became conduits for freight.

In 1927, Woodard Station was officially incorporated as Millwood, the first town in the Spokane Valley to become an official city. The days of homesteading were long gone, and industry had arrived. The new name recognized the area’s largest employer, the Inland Empire Paper Co., and its huge paper plant.

The crossing of the old Coeur d’Alene-Spokane Electric Railway tracks no longer exists, so isn’t the one being replaced this week. Those long-gone tracks and their old right-of-way were just south of the Union Pacific tracks that will see this week’s work. But the route of the old electric rail tracks may have a bright future. Since 2014, the city of Millwood has had plans to turn the old rail route into a multiuse trail for bicyclists and pedestrians, running from Vista Road to Trent Avenue, and crossing Argonne.

Plans show it’ll be called the Millwood Trail. For now anyway. Who knows what the future holds for the trails and roads of old Woodard Station.

In the city

Major work renovating Sunset Boulevard has reduced the road to one lane in each direction from Royal to Lindeke. The $2.5 million project will update the pavement surface by grinding the existing pavement down and overlaying it with new asphalt. When complete, the road will be reconfigured with three lanes. Two will be for traffic going uphill, and one for downhill. A new bike lane will be installed on the south side of the road.

Road crews will pave Fifth Avenue between Perry and Arthur streets Friday, in work related to the construction of the large stormwater and sewage tank in nearby Liberty Park.

Similar work has tangled up commuters in Peaceful Valley. Work there has shut down Cedar Street from Main Avenue to Water Avenue; Water Avenue from Cedar to Ash Street; and Main from Monroe Street to Cedar.

Crews are sealing cracks on Maple Street from Northwest Boulevard to Francis. Be aware and slow down.

Workers will be out grading alleys in the city in the following locations: N. 2200-2500 Cincinnati/Hamilton; W. 1100 Knox/Shannon; S. 1700 McClellan; E. 1000-1300 Indiana/Nora; E. 1000-1500 Columbia/Joseph; and E. 1700 Columbia/Joseph.

High Drive between 21st and 29th avenues remains closed as the city renovates the South Hill major road. When done, it will look like the upper, southern portion of High Drive, with new stormwater treatment features, bikeway and wide pedestrian path.

Residential grind and overlay maintenance will close the following streets beginning today: Division Street and Manito Boulevard, from 33rd to 37th avenues; and Fifth Avenue from Freya to Havana.

Also today, Washington State Department of Transportation crews will be fixing the pavement of Trent Avenue between Perry Street and Mission Avenue with a grind and overlay project.

In the Valley

Sprague Avenue between Sullivan and Corbin roads is getting some maintenance work. Twenty-four-hour lane restrictions are in place through Aug. 14.

Work to install an Intelligent Transportation System has reduced Fancher Road from Sprague to Broadway, and Broadway from Fancher to Park, to one lane. The project is installing fiber optic cable, Ethernet switches, a Hub Ethernet switch, splice closures, pull boxes and all work associated with conduit installation, including trenching, horizontal directional drilling, concrete sidewalk and curb replacement. Also, the project includes pavement patching, landscaping work and temporary traffic control. Similar work will impact University from Fourth to 16th later this summer.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly described George Patton’s role in World War II.