In early Spokane, steam trains brought people from far-off places. But it was electric trains and streetcars that carried them around Spokane and to nearby cities.
Frederick Blackwell of Coeur d’Alene built the Coeur d’Alene and Spokane Railway, connecting Spokane for business and recreation in Idaho around 1903. Blackwell connected his tracks to the Spokane Traction Co. streetcars run by businessman Jay P. Graves. Graves established a new company, the Spokane & Inland Empire Railroad, in 1904. The regional electric train system became known as “the Interurban” and had a large depot downtown.
After buying electricity from the Washington Water Power (WWP) company, his streetcar competitor, for several years, Graves built his own hydroelectric dam at Nine Mile on the Spokane River in 1908.
One venture in electric transportation was Spokane Interurban Railway, incorporated in 1906, which began laying tracks for a new commuter line to Cheney in 1907.
The Cheney extension would take off from the Hayford stop on the Washington Water Power company’s tracks from Spokane to Medical Lake. H.L. Bleecker, lead partner in Spokane Interurban, was on the board of Washington Water Power and planned to sell the new section to WWP early in the construction process.
One impetus for the new line: The state college in Cheney had 460 students enrolled for the fall of 1907, making it one of the largest teacher-training colleges in the Northwest.
Before the Cheney line was built and the depot opened in Cheney in 1908, Graves and Blackwell were partners with rail magnate James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway in creating a new electric line south to Colfax, Washington, and Moscow, Idaho. In 1909, Hill bought the entire S&IE system, funneling passengers to his main line through Spokane.
All train ridership declined slowly through the 1910s. Service to Cheney and Medical Lake was discontinued around 1922. That same year, Graves’ streetcars merged with other lines under WWP ownership to create Spokane United Railways.
The remnants of the Spokane & Inland Empire Railroad folded into the Great Northern in 1929 and was slowly dismantled. The last electric trains ran to Moscow in 1940.
The Cheney depot sat empty for awhile, and was later used as a nursing home, a laundry and a number of restaurants. It’s been the El Rodeo Mexican restaurant since 2007.
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