Date of Award

Spring 2021


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Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA) in History




The history of Spokane Falls's built environment within Washington Territory exemplifies the Pacific Northwest's resettlement and reconstruction in the nineteenth century. The initial benefit of Spokane Falls' geography existed within the primary natural advantage of the waterpower of the falls on the Spokane River. The secondary natural advantage in human-induced transportation networks allowed the settlement center-place status. Spokane Falls W.T. developed as center-places for the periphery's agricultural and mining commodities under a theoretical and structuralized [urban] model. An interpretation of the physical and geographical history of Spokane Falls's built environment from 1871 to 1891 occurred where the city's layout existed within the gird system of the speculative real estate market where geography was the original commodity throughout resettlement. Understanding these spaces' development is possible through the physical documents created simultaneously with the city's physical development. This method of research exposes the forms and methods undertaken in the primary physical development of Spokane Falls. Spokane Falls physically developed from a small frontier community of 350 individuals in 1880 to a small metropolis of 22,500 by 1891. Influenced by the federal government and her legislative acts, the Pacific North West's lands opened to European American resettlement, where geography became accounted for and marketed. With the cadastral survey and space accountability, the legalization of the speculative real-estate market occurred. Capitalist investors and entrepreneurs quickly descended upon the newly established market, hoping for a financial return. Industry developed on the falls where mills harnessed the waterpower, encouraging immigration by the working class into the region. As the city physically expanded, administrators alongside citizens documented the story of improvement. These documents created alongside the physical development allow for an interpretation of the built environment's construction. Documents like newspapers, Sanborn maps, and land plats illustrate the geographic distribution, construction materials, informal and formal development, and the speculative market. When applied alongside the theoretical understanding of urban development as understood at the end of the nineteenth century, collectively, the documents and theory illuminate the history of the physically built environment of Spokane Falls.