Spokane History Timeline

Trolleys, Streetcars and Steam Dummies - 1888

Did you know that before automobiles came to Spokane, there were trolleys?


In the late1880's Spokane was in need of a cheap way to get to new houses being built, the result trolleys. John J. Browne, Francis Cook, C. Herbert Moore, Andrew Jackson Ross, were important in Spokane's first street railways. This leads to the next fact; the first streetcars used horses to pull them along.

The Spokane Street Railway began operations in April, 1888. The tracks went from downtown to Browne's Addition. The main reason horses were eventually abandoned is that their dung clogged up the rails and stunk up the streets of Spokane.

*NW Room, Spokane Public Library

A second company, Spokane and Montrose, led by Francis Cook, T.J. Dooley, and Horatio N. Belt began operating a new line in Nov,1888, using steam driven streetcars called Steam Dummies. The Line went south looping up to Grand Blvd and an undeveloped potential park called Montrose Park, now called Manito Park.

Spokane Streetcar

This line was converted to newfangled electric streetcars in 1892, with electricity purchased from WWP. After the Panic of 1893, J.P Graves took over the Spokane and Montrose and changed the name to Spokane Traction Company.

A third company, the Spokane Cable Car Company built the first Monroe Street Bridge, also in 1888, for their cable car railway.

In 1889 Ross Park built an electric generating plant and streetcar line to new houses at Ross Park on the north side.

As the city grew, there was a rapid expansion of streetcar lines and competition became fierce. WWP bought up most of the smaller trolley lines. WWP expanded from 42 miles of track in 1903 to 109 miles in 1910. At the same time Spokane Traction Co. had 250 miles of track. By 1908 both WWP and rival Spokane Traction Company had 12 lines to all parts of Spokane, sometimes just a block apart.

An ad for the new electric streetcars read "Imagine speeding down the street at the amazing speed of ten miles per hour. Gliding up hills effortlessly and traveling in style to all the corners of Spokane Falls for only a nickel." Now we may not think that ten miles per hour is very fast today, but when that ad was written it was pretty speedy.

Often when high school students got on the streetcars they rocked the cars making them jump the tracks. That stopped the car until someone came to put it back on track.

After 1912 the number of riders started to slip, "loss in patronage due to increase use of automobiles". Then came buses, these buses were cheaper, faster, but less luxurious. The trolleys were burned in a huge bonfire on August 23, 1936. This was the end of the trolleys.

*A motorized "streetcar" replica takes commuters downtown from the Spokane Arena.

copyright (c) 1999, Discovery School.
All rights reserved.
Revised: September 22, 2002 and March 19, 2004; 10/4/2009
Reports completed in 1999 and 2001.
Last Modified on July 29, 2011