A rural crossing east of Liberty Lake only whispers to a past that’s intertwined with both the pioneer name Kendall and the Spokane River, some 20 miles east of today’s mixed-use urban neighborhood known as Kendall Yards.
In fact, it’s hard to see any evidence near Interstate 90’s Exit 299 that marks how early settler A.C. “Charles” Kendall set up groundwork there for a once-thriving community of homes and businesses in what became the town of Spokane Bridge. A road by that name still remains.
Not far from present-day Rockin’ B Ranch and a Centennial Trail parking lot, the site once held a key crossing operated by Kendall, who owned other enterprises there. Additional parts of the old town fell to freeway construction decades ago, but historians believe it was the Spokane region’s first community of white settlers.
“I’ve said for quite a while now that history for the Spokane region really began in the Spokane Valley,” said Jayne Singleton, Spokane Valley Heritage Museum executive director.
By 1864, Kendall was operating a store just west of the future Washington-Idaho border near an early wooden bridge, which was built by other entrepreneurs around 1862. Within a few years, Kendall also had a blacksmith operation and a hotel at the site, plus he’d purchased that bridge, thought to be the first to span the Spokane River.
The town also held the region’s first post office by 1867, five years before a post office was established at Spokane Falls. The settlement’s hotel even hosted a James N. Glover, “father of Spokane,” as he made his famous voyage to Spokane Falls in 1873. However by then, the Spokane Bridge hotel likely had a different owner.
For many years, historians knew little about Kendall, but some details have surfaced in recent years with the discovery of his probate documents, Singleton said. She and co-authors Chuck King and Nancy Pulham are writing a book about Kendall and Spokane Bridge’s early history that they hope to release later this year.
“We mostly knew him as A.C. Kendall,” said Singleton, adding that he died in 1873. But before his demise, “he had 150 acres, a hotel, a store and the bridge.”
Charles or “Charley” Kendall likely traded a bit with Coeur d’Alene tribal members, she said. The Mullan Road ran along the north side of the river, so the bridge site grew in its attraction to early settlers as a main river crossing.
Early newspaper articles indicate that Kendall bought the bridge fairly soon after it was constructed.
“Most of the history that’s been written paints a picture of the first store and the first post office in this region, which was inside the store,” Singleton added.
“It was opportunity that brought him to the area, because there was opportunity,” she said. Gold had been discovered in British Columbia and Montana, so the opportunity for commerce was incredible at that point.
“You have hundreds of miners, the freighters who were supplying the miners, and there’s selling of provisions in the store. Crossing the bridge generated revenue.”
Seth T. Woodard, an early Spokane Valley settler and historian who died in 1960, wrote a letter to the editor of The Spokesman-Review in 1935 about Kendall’s role with the bridge. Woodard and his siblings rode horses to a school at Spokane Bridge at one point during his childhood.
Woodard wrote that the territorial legislature at the session of 1861 accepted the incorporation of the Spokane Bridge company to construct the bridge. It was for a span across the Spokane River, he wrote, “at or near the government crossing. A maximum schedule of charges to be made, which ran from 25 cents for a foot passenger to $2 for a four-horse wagon, was established.”
The writer claimed that soon after being built, the bridge was sold to Kendall, who “operated the bridge until 1872, when he sold it to M.M. Cowley.”
Woodard said the old government crossing was about a mile west of “the present bridge” in 1935 and “directly north of the viaduct, where the Appleway goes under the electric.
“After fording the river from the south, the old road ran parallel with and below the hill for about one-quarter mile, going up the north bank at the little draw near the present home of John Murray.”
Plante’s ferry competition
In fall 2018, Singleton wrote a museum piece about the region’s early bridge builders and ferry operators. Turns out, the early Spokane Bridge pushed business away from Antoine Plante’s historic ferry operation in Spokane Valley.
From 1852 to 1864, Antoine Plante operated a ferry at a horseshoe-shaped ford known then as the easiest place to cross the river near today’s Upriver Drive. He profited from the freight traffic bound for the Colville mines and the Mullan Road.
Historians have said the Plante’s ferry toll was $3 to $4 for each vehicle, 50 cents for each person, and 15 cents per animal. But when the bridge opened, it cost much less for a crossing and people might have considered it safer, Singleton said.
“When you have the option of paying maybe two bits or $4, you’ll opt for two bits,” Singleton said. “When the first bridge was built, it put an end to Plante’s ferry.”
The bridge, even before Kendall operated it, fell victim to rushing waters and other debris more than once. In 1865, it was washed out but was quickly rebuilt.
“High spring runoff, without any dams in place, literally wiped out bridges at the time,” Singleton said. “At least one time, it was caused by logs being floated down the river.”
By 1872, Kendall was in ill health and sold some of his properties to Michael M. Cowley. According to Woodard’s letter, that included the bridge, which fell down again shortly afterward. Over the years, the bridge, including rebuilt ones, carried different names: Pioneer Bridge, Kendall’s Bridge, Cowley’s Bridge and of course, Spokane Bridge.
Singleton doesn’t think that the M.M. Cowley as a settler had any family relationship to Henry T. Cowley, another Spokane pioneer. A home that once belonged to M.M. Cowley still stands along Wellesley Road, she said.
Singleton and others connected to the museum have heard that early photographs were taken of some of the wooden bridges, but one has yet to surface in the public arena.
“We haven’t ruled out the possibility of someday locating an image of one of the very early bridges, if not the first, maybe the second or third one,” she said. “For anyone with photographs or maybe family history of Spokane Bridge in that general area, now would be the time to share that information.”
Well into the 1930s, Spokane Bridge still thrived, Singleton said. The town once had a one-room school house, dance hall, some lumber operations, gas stations, the Cranston Box Factory and a number of houses.
“As it grew on into the 1920s and 1930s Spokane Bridge is growing concern. There’s a lot of businesses and the railroad goes through there. The Cranston Box Factory is operating by 1910.”
A steel bridge, thought to be in the vicinity of the older ones, was built around 1911, she said.
A Spokane Chronicle “60 years ago” article referred to an Oct. 5, 1911, story, “The old Spokane bridge across the river near the Idaho line, where the first settlement in the Inland Empire was made, will be a thing of the past after today. Under the direction of county engineer C.L. Grave, contractor O.H. Stratton commenced the work of tearing down the structure this morning in order to replace it.”
Spokane County gave up title to that bridge in 1941 with the straightening of the Appleway and construction of a concrete bridge upriver. The old bridge was closed around 1948.
The Spokane Bridge post office closed in 1958. Another newspaper article in July of that year described the end.
“A Valley landmark yielded to progress this week as the old Spokane Bridge post office building was razed to make way for a new interstate highway. Mrs. Charlotte Carpenter, post mistress at Spokane Bridge, said the state highway department purchased the land west of Spokane Bridge along the south side of Appleway as part of the proposed route of the freeway-Coeur d’Alene highway.
Greenstone Corp., a development company that built the modern Kendall Yards, gives a nod on its website to the past meaning of its name, including a Charles Kendall tribute:
“Our community’s name reflects the rail history of the site and celebrates Charles Kendall – the first to bridge the north and south banks of the Spokane River.”
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