Spokane History Timeline

Hillyard or Hill's Yard, 1895

Hillyard once was its own town that began in 1892. The town was built around the Great Northern Railroad (GNR) and was named after James J. Hill who was a Great Northern Railroad magnate. It was named Hillyard because James was so important, and since the town was around the Great Northern Railroad yard, thus it was “Hill’s yard”.

Originally, fur traders from Hudson’s Bay referred to the area as Horse Plains or Wild Horse Prairie. When the town first started in 1892, James Hill came looking for a flat place to build machine shops and roundhouses for the railroad. He also wanted to be outside of the city for less fees and taxes.

Hillyard locomotive shops
L88-408.86 - Aerial view of the Great Northern Shops, Hillyard

In 1895, the town had acquired 486 residents, and had a hotel, three churches, and six saloons. The Great Northern RR had a 20-stall engine house, paint shop, a car shop, blacksmith shop, boiler shop, machine shop, storehouse, and offices. Of the 486 residents only 40 were employed, but there was a prediction that the numbers were soon to jump. There was talk of incorporating Spokane with Hillyard earlier. The vote was 45 wanted to and 44 didn’t. James Hill came to town and threatened that if that were to happen, only empty buildings would be left by April 1, 1896. Most people bailed on the vote and Hillyard remained its own town. By 1900 the GNR had 350 workers. During labor unrests in 1911, the railroad brought in many immigrant (Italian and Japanese) workers.

In 1913, Jared Herdlick was the mayor of Hillyard, but not for very long. In June, Jared disappeared as it seemed, and nobody knew were he was. Three months later word came in that he had suffered amnesia while around the hills of Portland. Then he came back to Hillyard and demanded his job back. Once the public declined, he argued no more and went back to his regular life.

But when 1916 came around, the railroads had expanded greatly and the population grew to about 4,000 residents. Most new residents were immigrant laborers and Hillyard started to become more of a Japanese and Italian town.

GNR Locomotive in Hillyard
L87-1.17648-20 - Great Northern Locomotice No 3053 with carpenters at Great Northern Shops, 1920

In 1924, Spokane had grown so big that it was on the verge of colliding with Hillyard’s borders. Spokane had been very interested in the merging of the towns for a while. They had another vote in March 1924. 595 wanted to merge but 600 didn’t. Soon, in September 1924 the vote was 808 to 681, and it was decided that they were to become one town. Hill had died in 1916, so he couldn’t protest. But since the GNR was outside of city limits, it was still its own area outside of Spokane. All of Hillyard’s streets (except the main streets of Market and Diamond) got new names given by Spokane. The City Hall was changed to a fire station.

The rail yards were especially important in 1927. When GNR decided that they needed a fleet of freight locomotives built bigger than any on the west side of the Rocky Mountains so far, and strong enough to haul 5,000 tons of weight across the Mountains and to the east side. They built a steam locomotive class called the R-1 Mallet in November, the year 1927. They built about 1 a month and over the next few years. At least 26 R-1 Mallets steam locomotives were built in Hillyard.

The years dragged on, and other forms of transportation were taking over.  Hillyard’s shops were converted to diesel repair shops. In the 1960’s, airplanes and locomotives were big competitors. The GNR struggled to keep up. Even with all their hard work, they were failing in business. In 1968 Great Northern RR was merged with Northern Pacific to become Burlington Northern, and the major yards were moved away, and just local repairs were remainaing. By 1982, they had to shut down totally.

Mural in Hillyard
Mural in Hillyard celebrating James Hill and Hill's Yard - Market Street



Hillyard has been a working class, immigrant neighborhood of Spokane. There has been some teasing and stereotyping of the neighborhood. During one election of the town, someone made a bumper sticker saying “I’m Frum Hillyurd and I Voat.” Hillyard is still considered the poorest and cheapest part of Spokane. But lots of historic buildings and antique houses are still intact. The town is still a haven for Russian and Southeast Asian immigrants. There is a building showing the history of Hillyard called the Hillyard Heritage Museum.  





Between 1904 and 1912, many of the town's houses were built, to house railroad workers working in the local yard. Hillyard was the home of the Great Northern's famed shops where locomotives were manufactured, repaired, and refurbished. At the time, the Hillyard shop was the largest in the nation.


Photos used with permission from Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/ Eastern Washington State Historical Society.

L88-408.86 - Aerial view of the Great Northern Shops, Hillyard
L87-1.17648-20 - Great Northern Locomotice No 3053 with carpenters at Great Northern Shops, 1920. Libby Studios.

copyright (c) 2011, Discovery School.
All rights reserved.
Report created May, 2011.
Last Modified on January 3, 2012