The Local History

by Logan Camporeale

Category: Interesting Bits

Spokanite

What do you call someone from Spokane? A Spokanite, of course.

Words like Spokanite and Seattleite are called demonyms. They are convenient descriptors that are often touted with a sense of pride. Spokanite has been widely used to identify residents of the city for over 130 years, since before Washington became a state and even before the “Falls” was dropped from the city’s name. A search of newspaper databases and Google Books returned an abundance of hits for Spokanite with the first coming from the 1880s. A couple of the earliest occurrences stood out.

The Washington Standard, November 26, 1886

The Washington Standard was one of the first newspapers to publish the word Spokanite. On November 26, 1886, the newspaper reported that the city of Spokane Falls had won back the county seat of Spokane County, after having it stolen away just six years earlier. The short, sixty-three word article recounts a defining moment in the history of the county and purposefully uses demonyms to differentiate the two parties involved: Cheneyites and Spokanites.

Patent Image of Boyle’s Saluting Device

The earliest occurrence of Spokanite on Google Books is from ten years later. The American Stationer, a magazine focused on the stationary and “fancy goods” businesses, used the word in March of 1896. The publication ran a feature about a peculiar invention from a Spokane man named James Boyle, whom they identified as a Spokanite. The invention, a “Saluting Device,” allowed a hat-wearer to automatically tip their hat in salute by simply bowing their head. At the turn of the century, it was expected for men to tip their hat as a sign of respect. According to the article, this device was “intended to relieve the wearer from the labor of lifting his hat.” Boyle received a patent for the invention but, unlike the word Spokanite, his Saluting Device did not catch on.

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Thanksgiving in Spokane: A Tradition of Volunteerism

Volunteers will make 400 happy tomorrow

Tom’s Turkey Drive has been feeding Spokane’s less fortunate for the past seventeen Thanksgiving holidays. The food drive, a collaborative community effort, collected and distributed over 11,000 Thanksgiving meals in 2016. Countless business and individuals donated to the cause and over 7,000 volunteers gave their time. Participating in Tom’s Turkey Drive is a tradition for Spokanites, a tradition building on over 110 years of charity and volunteerism surrounding Turkey Day.  

Feeding the poor on Thanksgiving has been an annual tradition in Spokane since it’s early years. “The newsboys, messenger boys, poor women and children of the city, will eat turkey and cranberry sauce tomorrow,” The Spokane Press proclaimed in late November 1904. The Volunteers of America, a national organization with a Spokane chapter, took on the huge task of feeding the city’s needy. A large group of volunteers prepared endless stacks of meals, set tables and chairs in the banquet room of city hall, and fed nearly a thousand people a festive Thanksgiving dinner—and they did it every year.

Maud Booth, along with her husband, founded the Volunteers of America in 1896. The Spokane chapter, one of the first, opened that same year.

Much as it is today, the effort was a collaborative one. Local markets and stores donated meat, and the organizers encouraged community members to contribute. But not everyone was generous, and The Spokane Press, a worker’s newspaper, was critical of the greedy: “The cost of feeding 1000 poor will not exceed what one rich man of Spokane would expend in entertaining 50 of his friends at his house. Yet the rich man sits in his elegant home, bounteously provided for amid magnificent surroundings, and gives no thought to his less fortunate fellow man.”

Although the paper was critical of the overindulged, it also engaged in poor shaming. The paper referred to the poor as “street urchins,” a “hungry mob,” and the “lowliest walks of life.” The paper and it’s readership hated bosses and big business owners, but it also disdained folks surviving on the backs of donors.

The newspaper, however, is clear about its stance on those that volunteer:

“The Volunteers do it lovingly, cheerfully and without thanks in many cases. The busy world looks on, remarks it is a good thing, but lend no helping hand.
God Bless The Volunteers.
I wish that there were more of them.”


Let me take this opportunity to thank all of the wonderful volunteers with whom I have worked. You make the world a better place.

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The Path of Totality: Pulling Meeting Minutes Out of the Shadows

On Monday, August 21st, 2017 the moon will pass between the sun and the earth casting a wide shadow over parts of the contiguous United States for the first time in nearly four decades. This unusual event, a total solar eclipse, will only be visible from the path of totality—a seventy-mile wide strip of earth that arcs across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

Skywatchers and armchair astronomers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond will flock to central Oregon in hopes that mother nature will offer a clear sky to enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. Nearly all reservable lodging options within the path of totality, including campsites and home rentals, have been booked. Cities and towns have been planning for the influx of people, holding town meetings and brainstorming ideas to generate revenue from the visitors. Stores are planning to stock up on the necessities and farmers are considering turning fallow fields into fertile campgrounds that they hope to rent for hundreds, or possibly thousands of dollars per site.

This is not the first time that the Pacific Northwest has fallen in the path of totality. In 1979, a total solar eclipse swept across Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota before proceeding into Canada. The event, billed as the country’s final total eclipse of the century, generated a “solar mania” comparable to today’s excitement. Taverns in the path created specialty drinks like the “Total Eclipse.” And the Seattle Science Center chartered a plane to fly above the Columbia Gorge for a champagne-enhanced view of the eclipse with no chance of pesky clouds getting in the way.

Keyword searchable newspapers are a useful source to understand how Pacific Northwesterners engaged with the last total solar eclipse, but they can be hard to come by. In fact, there does not seem to be any freely-accessible keyword-searchable Washington State newspapers from 1979. Not even a subscription service at Newspapers.com has anything. (Although it did provide some local details, the clipping above came from the Associated Press in a newspaper out of San Bernardino, California.) Fortunately there is another keyword-searchable collection that can help use to fill in the gaps and provide a more nuanced local perspective when newspapers are not doing the job.

The Minutes and Meeting Records Collection at the Washington State Archives, Digital Archives is made up of official accounts of meetings conducted by over two hundred local government agencies from the 1850s to the present. They are a running record of the most important business conducted by an agency. The records are completely keyword searchable and they provide a different window into the challenges of the eclipse in 1979. Instead of city councils and boards of commissioners laboring over how to accommodate an influx of visitors, as might have been expected, a keyword search for just the word “eclipse,” and then a handy date sort, shows that it was school districts that were talking about the event.

Unlike this year’s eclipse, the one in 1979 occurred in February well before children got out of school for the summer, and in the middle of winter when camping trips and others vacations were not as appealing. Instead of concerns about inundated cities and public lands, the records show that at least five school districts in Washington State had educators and administrators that were worried about the possibility of students damaging their eyes while trying to watch the solar eclipse on their way to school. The concerns were raised in public meetings, and in Vancouver School District an ophthalmologist was consulted to guide an action plan. Most school districts instructed teachers to educate their students about the risks of looking at the sun and agreed upon different start times to ensure that students were not walking to school when the event occurred—a practical local-level response to the eclipse, but not the one that was expected.

This is not an earth-shattering discovery shedding light on the long duree history of human responses to eclipses, but it is an interesting bit that fills in our understanding of how communities reacted to previous eclipse events. It also shows us how a simple change in the circumstances of these two events—the time of year—vastly changed the local response.

Using keyword searches of the Minutes and Meeting Records are an effective way to unpack local perspectives on national issues, and they certainly are not limited to the eclipse. For example, while trying to understand local impacts of forced relocation, searching the collection for the word “Japanese,” and then sorting it by date, revealed an organized effort to prevent displaced Japanese from resettling in their communities during World War II. The Grant County Commissioners were even in favor of the construction of a “concentration camp” within the county to imprison those who were relocated.

Similarly, a researcher interested in the AIDS epidemic in Washington State would be handedly rewarded from a simple keyword search for the word “homosexual.” The query revealed that in the 1980s agencies like the Snohomish County Health District were actively engaged with the challenges their community faced with the spread of HIV. It was such a pressing issue that an “AIDS Update” was a recurring agenda item at their meetings.

As pajama-bound historians we often rely too heavily on keyword-searchable newspapers to understand local impacts of national events, even when keyword-searchable minutes and meeting records from local government agencies are readily available. As more states and local governments put their minutes online and make them keyword searchable, a deep chest of immensely valuable local history sources will become easily accessible to historians trying to understand local impacts of national events. Let the keyword searches begin.

 

Eclipse image courtesy of Temple University Libraries.

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Mapping Segregation: Racially Restrictive Covenants in Spokane

The inclusion of racially restrictive covenants in property documents was widespread in Spokane. These covenants include a clause that reads something similar to: “No person of any race other than the White or Caucasian race shall use or occupy any building or any lot except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race domiciled with the owner or tenant.” In my last blog post I mentioned three specific additions that still have racially restrictive covenants on the books today. They were Comstock Park Second Addition, High Drive First Addition, and High Drive Second Addition all of which fall within the Comstock Neighborhood. At that stage in my research, it appeared that the covenants were an isolated phenomenon on the South Hill. I could not have been more wrong.

In the past few days I have uncovered thirty-seven more racially restrictive covenants that are still on the books in Spokane County. With the help of friend and archivist, Anna Harbine, we created a map to show just how pervasive this practice was in Spokane. In the process of mapping we discovered that there are racially restrictive covenants on the South Hill, Audobon neighborhood, Shadle Park, Spokane Valley, the “Y”, and northeast Spokane. Take a look at the map below and check if your addition still has these covenants on the books. After you click on an individual covenant area you can navigate to the covenant document itself.

I still have four more covenant areas to map and unfortunately, I think there are still a number of racially restrictive covenants that I have not yet found. I will continue to add these additions to the map as I find them, with the gracious help of another friend, Matt Wright.

Now that we know where most of the covenants are, we can start working on a plan to get them removed or amended. Would you support removing these covenants in your addition?

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Restrictive Covenants: Lasting Remnants of Segregation in Spokane

Does your neighborhood have rules that prevent people of color from buying or renting a home on your block? Most of us would say “no” without hesitation. But are you sure?

In my most recent blog post, I featured a fascinating publication from 1968 called Race and Violence in Washington State: A Commissioned Report. The report featured some interesting maps that showed how the Black population was concentrated in certain areas of Spokane. You can see that there are two parts of town where the vast majority of Spokane’s Black population lived, downtown and the East Central Neighborhood. It may seem as if these were the two neighborhoods that Black people choose to settle in, but to some extent that choice was already made for them.

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Looking at the map, you may notice that within city limits there were only two population “dots” south of what appears to be 10th Avenue. That means that in 1960 only around twenty Blacks lived on the South Hill. Furthermore there were no Blacks living south of about 20th Avenue. This was not because Black people were not interested in living on the South Hill but rather because neighborhoods on the Hill actually prevented Blacks from buying or renting homes in their neighborhoods.

When some South Hill neighborhoods were platted, restrictive covenants were set in place preventing residents from parking trailers or building unattractive outbuildings in their front yard. Mixed in with these harmless building restrictions were bold and clearly stated rules that explicitly prohibited Blacks and other non-whites from purchasing or renting homes within the neighborhood. For example, the restrictive covenants for the Comstock Park Second Addition, High Drive First Addition, and the High Drive Second Addition written in 1953 assert that “no race or nationality other than the white race shall use or occupy any building on any lot, except that this covenant shall not prevent occupancy by domestic servants of a different race or nationality employed by an owner or tenant.”

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Scan of Restrictive Covenant filed with the Spokane County Auditor for the Comstock Park Second Addition. Credit: Eastern Region Branch, Washington State Archives.

Those exact covenants were authorized by Spokane’s very own William Hutchinson Cowles Jr., publisher of the Spokesman-Review and Spokane Daily Chronicle for 25 years and owner of significant property across the city. Cowles was not alone, many real estate developers included these racially motivated restrictive covenants in order to ensure that many cities, including Spokane, would remain segregated. Upper-middle class white folks were attracted to these neighborhoods because they would not have to live near Blacks, Asians, Indians or any other people of color whose presence in a neighborhood would “lower property values.”

These particular covenants were written in 1953, five years after the Supreme Court deemed it unconstitutional for states to enforce these restrictive covenants, in Shelley v Kraemer. The Court determined that the covenants themselves were not unconstitutional, however for a state to enforce the terms of the covenant would be a violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. Even though these restrictive covenants could not be enforced after 1948, Spokane real estate developers like Cowles continued to include them in the restrictive covenants they drafted.

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Portrait of William H. Cowles Jr. in 1962. Cowles was the publisher of the Spokesman-Review and Spokane Daily Chronicle from 1946-1970. He was also a prominent land owner. Photo Credit: Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/Eastern Washington State Historical Society, Spokane, Washington, L87-1.1327-62, Charles Libby.

 

A simple Google search for “Spokane restrictive covenants” turns up two interesting results. One is a Google Book result for a recent book by Dwayne A. Mack called Black Spokane: The Civil Rights Struggle in the Inland Northwest. He discusses restrictive covenants in Spokane among other Civil Rights Issues. I am planning to pick it up at the library. The second is a Spokesman-Review article by Jim Kershner from May of 1997. It is an overview of the history of segregation in Spokane. Near the end of the article there is an interview with Carl Maxey, a Black Spokane Civil Rights Attorney, who discusses the impact of the decision in Shelley v. Kraemer. In talking about segregationists, he said that the Court’s decision gave Blacks a “foothold to blast their legal foundations out from under them.”

Even though these covenants cannot be enforced many of them are still on the books in Spokane neighborhoods. With some help from a local archivist and good friend, Allie Honican, I tracked down three Spokane additions that still have restrictive covenants barring non-whites from owning or renting homes in their neighborhoods. They are Comstock Park Second Addition, High Drive First Addition, and High Drive Second Addition all of which fall within the Comstock Neighborhood. I am going to email a link to this blog post to the neighborhood council chairperson for the Comstock Neighborhood Council to make them aware of the issue. Also, if you live in one of these neighborhoods please reach out to the neighborhood council and other residents to make them aware of this glaring remnant of the racist covenants that perpetuated segregation in our communities.

Let’s work together to make Spokane more inclusive.

 

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