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Daniel Corbin and the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway
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John R. Fahey, the author of this essay, was born and educated in Spokane. He graduated from Gonzaga University and went to graduate school in journalism and political science at Northwestern. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps as a provost marshal and in a program democratizing German prisoners of war. In civilian life he worked as a radio news editor and announcer with several stations and became program director on KHQ radio and TV. This piece first appeared as "Spokane Falls and Northern" in The Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 4, No. 2 (Spring 1960), pp. 17-26. It is reprinted by kind permission.
Spokane Falls and Northern by John R. Fahey
Daniel Chase Corbin, who had a varied career as a freighter in Colorado, land buyer and seller in Nebraska Territory, storekeeper, banker and mining investor in Montana, and railroad builder in Idaho, came to Spokane in 1889 at the age of 57. He was invited by a group of men who wanted to build a railroad north from Spokane Falls to Colville, but had not been able to finance or construct the road themselves.
Corbin was born in Newport, New Hampshire, where he attended the common school. In 1852, at the age of 20, he received a government contract to survey land in Iowa, and six years later moved to Nebraska City, Nebraska, on the Missouri River, where he dealt in real estate. A short time later he moved to Fort Kearney, where he established a ranch and stage station on the Overland Trail.
When gold was discovered in Colorado, Corbin moved to Denver, where he operated military store trains. His autobiography speaks of narrow escapes from hostile Indians in all three territories, and indicates that his personal fortune grew from land dealings in Nebraska.
One day in Denver, he saw a gold nugget on display from Montana, and off he set for Montana in company with hundreds of others. Corbin arrived in Helena with a franchise as the agent of the Woolworth & Barton Company, a freight-forwarding firm that followed the Union Pacific Railway construction for a few years and then sold out. Corbin, in partnership with a James Sherwood, then opened a general store in Helena.
Attracted by the mining opportunities, he joined Samuel T. Hauser and other Montanans in several ventures. There is, today, a small town named Corbin south of Wickes, Montana, an early smelter site, marking one of Corbin's mining ventures. He bought an interest in the First National Bank of Helena, but eventually sold most of his holdings and in 1876 returned to New York where he managed the Manhattan Beach Railway for his brother, Austin.
Corbin kept in touch with Montana events, however, and in 1886 was urged to join Samuel Hauser and others in developing the Bunker Hill property in the Coeur d'Alene mining district. Hauser had obtained smelter rights to the ore, and he wanted Corbin to build a railway under the protection of the Northern Pacific. Corbin had never built a railway before, but he looked over the prospects, decided they were good, and set about railroading.
Corbin's railroad into northern Idaho's mining country was actually the third line projected. As early as 1885, a St. Paul wholesale grocer who had extended his business westward to Thompson Falls, Montana, organized a company to build a railroad. This was Stephen S. Glidden, whose mining interests gradually dominated his grocery business. Glidden's proposed road, from Spokane Falls to Burke, fell through, but it foreshadowed later construction.
A Spokane Falls man, J. J. Browne, headed a second company that planned a road into the Coeur d'Alenes. This one, to be called the Spokane & Coeur d'Alene, was formed in 1886 to build a branch of the Northern Pacific that would leave the main line at the Idaho border and enter the mines. Before Browne's company began construction, however, he consolidated it with the one organized by Hauser and Corbin.
Corbin's arrival in the mining camps was recalled later by Jim Wardner, who said that a few days after he conducted Hauser over the Bunker Hill ground where Hauser and his associates discussed erecting a smelter, "a gentleman on a good-looking mule" rode into the town of Wardner, and introduced himself as Daniel Corbin. He had come via the Northern Pacific to Rathdrum, by stageline to Coeur d'Alene City, by boat to Old Mission, and by "mud wagon stage" to Wardner. So Wardner and Corbin, at Corbin's request, set out to tour the mines, picking up samples of ore as they went.
Before Corbin left for Helena, he discussed right-of-way with Wardner. A week later, Corbin had surveyors on the ground, carefully running a line on public land. There had been some talk of a tram, but this scheme was abandoned when the mines appeared so promising they would support a rail line.
The Coeur d'Alene Railway & Navigation Company was chartered July 6, 1886, as a Montana corporation to build from Thompson Falls to the south fork of the Coeur d'Alene River and then down the river to the Old Mission to connect with steamboats going to Coeur d'Alene City. There the boats would connect with a second railway, the Spokane Falls & Idaho branch of the Northern Pacific, which Corbin also proposed to build (after absorbing Browne's company). This was a total distance of 140 miles, 65 by water.
The incorporators of the Coeur d' Alene Railway & Navigation Company were A. M. Esler, interested in the Bunker Hill smelter; Hauser, Daniel Corbin; A. M. Holter, a Montana mining man; W. F. James of Wardner; James Monaghan; and Clement King. The last two owned the boat line that Corbin bought out and enlarged during the two years he was building and operating the railway.
The Spokane Falls & Idaho, built under contract with the Northern Pacific, was incorporated in Spokane County on October 23, 1886. The members of this company were Corbin, Hauser; Adna Anderson, chief engineer of the Northern Pacific; A. M. Cannon, a Spokane Falls pioneer and a director of the Northern Pacific's Spokane & Palouse Railway; Arthur A. Newbery, the Northern Pacific land agent at Spokane Falls; James M. Buckley, assistant general manager of the Northern Pacific's Western divisions; and Paul F. Mohr, who was then building the Spokane & Palouse from Spokane Falls to Genesee, Idaho.
The consolidation of the Corbin and Browne projects came about through the personal intervention of Thomas F. Oakes, Northern Pacific general manager, who was a warm personal friend both of Corbin and Hauser.
Corbin ran into various kinds of trouble during construction. He built innocently on frozen ground and when it thawed, the roadbed collapsed. One of his engines stuck in mud and the railroad was reduced to hauling its own supplies by team. The Northern Pacific directors talked about building the Thompson Falls section of the line rather than leaving it to Corbin. The Washington & Idaho Railway surveyed a branch from Tekoa, Washington, to Mullan, Idaho, with the intention of tapping the mining trade.
But Corbin was first into the Coeur d'Alenes, and his success was spectacular. Some days he carried 60 passengers on his line, although he had only two passenger cars. Most fares rode in the caboose or on benches nailed to flatcars.
"The capacity of the Corbin road is taxed to the utmost," the Spokane Falls Review reported in April 1888. Ore came from the mines in canvas sacks, which were dumped into ore cars at rail sidings, and then routed via the Coeur d'Alene Railway & Navigation Company and the Northern Pacific to the Corbin-Hauser smelter at Wickes, Montana.
Idaho Territorial Governor George Shoup, in his 1890 report to the Department of the Interior, recorded that the Corbin line carried 80,000 tons of Idaho products, mostly ore, in the year ending July 1889. This was the highest tonnage of any railway operating within the borders of Idaho, including the Northern Pacific. Although Daniel Corbin usually kept his business to himself, Poor's Manual of Railroads for 1888 showed that the railroad earned a profit of $17,303 in its first month of operation. Later issues of Poor's carried the notation, "No information," in the space provided for financial reports.
During the summer of 1887, Corbin agreed to sell the Spokane-to-Idaho line outright to the Northern Pacific, which took control October 1, 1887, under a 50-year lease. This sale gave Corbin a chance to reorganize the Coeur d'Alene Railway & Navigation Company, and he turned to a New York politician and financier, Alfred C. Chapin. Corbin's son, Austin, left his position at the First National Bank of Helena, Montana, and moved to Coeur d'Alene City as a company director. Daniel Corbin held the two titles of president and treasurer.
By the summer of 1888, both the Northern Pacific and Washington & Idaho had crews working on surveys, grades, and roadbeds for their lines in the Coeur d'Alenes. The Northern Pacific men openly rebuilt the Corbin road, although the line still belonged to Corbin. By mid-July, 1,500 men were at work on various rail projects in north Idaho and pirating of labor became commonplace. When the inevitable squabbles between the railroads turned into lawsuits, there was a tense threat of warfare between labor gangs of the competitors.
With strong competition facing them, Corbin, Hauser, and the other members of the company agreed that they should sell out. Corbin signed over his line in a 999-year lease to the Northern Pacific on October 1, 1888.
What the Northern Pacific got was one of the most uncertain transportation systems devised by civilized man. The road wound on its single track uphill all the way from the lake to the mines. Downhill, the engines were used only to brake the trains. A traveler claimed the road crossed the south fork of the Coeur d'Alene River 30 times in 20 miles. Spring washouts were common. When the trains ran at night, the wood-burning engines filled the air with sparks that seemed to threaten to ignite both the forest and the train. There were a great many people in the Coeur d'Alenes who longed to turn loose a car at the top of the road to see whether it could coast all the way to Old Mission without flying off the track. As far as is recorded, they never got that chance. No telegraph lines linked the ends of the line, so engineers watched warily around each curve for a train coming toward them, and often pulled their trains onto side tracks to wait for the oncoming cars to go by. Sometimes the railroad stopped altogether while two engineers held their trains on side spurs, each waiting for the other to pass.
Eighteen months after Corbin sold, the newspapers said "the company cannot make a rapid run at present, as the roadbed is rather sharpy and they carry their passengers in a caboose." Shaky perhaps, the Coeur d'Alene Railway & Navigation Company nevertheless opened the storehouse of northern Idaho. Shoshone County alone produced $1.3 million in silver in the year ending November 1888, $350,288 in gold, and $1.7 million in lead. Obviously this output was beyond the poor capacity of wagon roads and mule teams. In his 1890 report, Governor Shoup declared that the Corbin road "was the entering wedge which opened a marvelous treasure of the Coeur d'Alenes to the world ...”
To the men who wanted a railway north from Spokane Falls, Daniel Corbin seemed a likely prospect to both finance and build the line. They invited him to inspect the project, and after looking it over, Corbin agreed to take control if Spokane Falls businessmen would contribute $100,000 toward construction. Once the money was assured, Corbin contracted with the original incorporators of the Spokane Falls & Northern, among them James Monaghan and Arthur Newbery, to take control of the project.
Corbin knew and worked with many of the pioneer businessmen of the Inland Empire. He was a competitor, and a victorious one, of F. Augustus Heinze, one of the "copper kings" of Butte, Montana, who built the original smelter at Trail, British Columbia, on property later owned by Consolidated Mining & Smelting Company.
Corbin's importance to the history of the Inland Empire is primarily as a railroad builder; his roads opened the mines of northern Idaho, and provided the first direct rail contact to the mining districts near Nelson and Rossland, British Columbia. No less fascinating is the story of Edward J. Roberts, the man who served as chief engineer for Corbin during construction of the Spokane Falls & Northern system and the Spokane International Railway. Between construction of the two roads, Roberts played an important role in the development of the Coeur d'Alene mining district.
Daniel Corbin's casual disclosure on March 4, 1889, that Arthur Newbery no longer was president of the Spokane Falls & Northern characterized his way of operating. In those years, Corbin kept his business to himself and left publicity to others. Newbery, Monaghan, and most of the other bustling Spokane Falls businessmen liked to talk about themselves. Corbin's chief engineer Roberts had a distinct recollection that Newbery and Monaghan "supplied the talk, and Corbin s supplied the money" for the railroad.
For the most part, the new officers and president of the Spokane Falls & Northern were the men who paid for it. A New York wholesale grocer named Horace K. Thurber, the new president, organized financing of the road. Thurber was also interested in Texas coal, Latin American steamship lines, and southern Idaho ranch land. Thurber joined three railroad and political figures in New York who (as Corbin pointed out) were not closely connected with any transcontinental railroad: J. K. 0. Sherwood, Alfred C. Chapin, and Chester W. Chapin. They floated a first mortgage on July 1, 1889, for $2,260,000 that carried an annual interest charge of $157,200 and would expire July 1, 1939.
Shortly after, in 1890, Sherwood and the Chapins organized The Securities Corporation in New York, capitalized at $500,000, to trade in securities. Control of the Spokane Falls & Northern rested in this firm's office at 192 Broadway throughout its life as an independent railroad. In 1898 control passed first to the Northern Pacific and then to the Great Northern through purchase of its stock.
The address was also headquarters for Austin Corbin, five years older than his brother Daniel, who had built the Manhattan Beach Railway in 1877, and in 1888 was invited to rehabilitate the Philadelphia & Reading, which had gone into receivership. Austin Corbin headed his own bank, the Corbin Bank of New York, and in 1890 gained control of the Long Island Railroad. Austin had been abroad when the Manhattan Beach line was completed on July 19, 1877, and Daniel Corbin, who managed it for a time, represented Austin at the opening ceremony.
Sherwood joined Austin Corbin in his railroad ventures, and was a director of several lines including the Long Island. He was president of The Securities Corporation. The two Chapins cousins were directors of the securities company and each brought to it money and railroad environment. Chester was the son of the Chester William Chapin who served many years as president of the Boston & Albany Railroad. The family fortune grew from the elder Chapin's enterprise as a stagecoach proprietor and mail carrier in Massachusetts. Chester, the son, became president of the New York & New Haven Steamship Company, and one of the organizers of the Central New England Railway.
His distant cousin, Alfred Clark Chapin, was the son of Ephriam Chapin, superintendent of the Cheshire Railway in New Hampshire and a director of the Manhattan line. In adult life, Alfred was considered remote and austere, the kind of man who kept a scrapbook of "useful" reading for 20 years beginning with his first year at Williams College (where he later donated the library.) Alfred was successful in politics and business; he was elected to the New York state assembly in 1882, served as speaker in 1883, and was reelected in 1885.
In 1887 Alfred became mayor of Brooklyn and was reelected two years later. He represented New York in the 52nd United States congress and resigned in 1891 to become New York state railroad commissioner.
Both Chapins and Sherwood had been directors of Daniel Corbin's Coeur d'Alene Railway & Navigation Company. After it was sold to the Northern Pacific, Corbin talked with them about the proposed line north from Spokane Falls, and perhaps they suggested grocer Thurber to Corbin. Thurber had risen to eminence in New York by diligence and sagacity and was often consulted on political and financial affairs.
At any rate, Thurber became president of the Spokane Falls & Northern in February 1889 when the incorporators of 1888 turned control over to Corbin. Newbery was vice president; Alfred Chapin, the mayor of Brooklyn, secretary-treasurer; and Daniel's only son, Austin Corbin II, assistant treasurer and purchasing agent. D. C. Corbin took the title of general manager.
Thurber's role in underwriting the Spokane Falls & Northern was to sell one-and-a-half-million dollars worth of stock. Apparently he had little trouble. There were many financiers, called capitalists at that time, anxious to put money into promising ventures supported by prominent men. In February 1889, the New York Herald reported:
"The development of the northwestern corner of the United States was being rapidly brought about by railroad extensions. The Northern Pacific and its auxiliary lines had gone into various portions of that section, and now another line is to be constructed that will connect directly with the Northern Pacific, and by means of water communication with the Canadian Pacific, although it is absolutely independent of either of these two transcontinental lines. D. C. Corbin, Austin Corbin's brother, has taken hold of the proposed road, which is known as the Spokane Falls & Northern, and has interested a number of New Yorkers in it ... "Alfred C. Chapin, mayor of Brooklyn, is treasurer of the company, and with Chester W. Chapin, Horace K. Thurber, J. K. 0. Sherwood and two or three others, has subscribed $1,000,000 of the bonds of the company According to Mr. Corbin's estimates, $2,500,000 will be needed to construct this road. It is expected that $500,000 more will be subcribed at once by parties whose interest has been aroused by the bright prospects of that part of the northwest through which the railroad will run. This will leave only $1,000,000 of the bonds to be taken by general subscription. The, subscription paper will be in charge of Mr. Thurber."
One obvious reason Corbin enlisted those former associates to finance the new railroad was to hold control of the majority of the stock among those he could trust. Although Engineer Roberts believed Corbin put some of his own money into the road, no figures published show how much Corbin spent from his own pocket and Corbin did not talk about that sort of business.
While his eastern allies provided financial support, Corbin went quickly to the business of building his railway. He opened temporary offices in the Eagle Block in Spokane Falls and leased permanent space in the Washington Building, then under construction. (It burned before completion.)
Under Roberts and James M. Buckley, former assistant general manager of the Western Divisions of the Northern Pacific, Corbin had crews in the field. A party headed by engineer W. C. Mitchell surveyed near Loon Lake; a second group under a man named Maxwell drove stakes near the Little Spokane River. Engineer Roberts confidently expected to begin construction by mid-March.
Colville, indeed, all the country between Spokane Falls and the Columbia River along the proposed route, buzzed with anticipation. Newspapers said the woods were full of home hunters. Colville citizens turned out in enthusiastic bands to tramp the Colville Valley with James Monaghan who arranged this portion of the right-of-way. The Stevens County Miner urged ranchers to cooperate by allowing the line to cross their property.
Early in March, Monaghan told Colville residents that the Spokane Falls & Northern would run through their town if they furnished the right-of-way in the immediate vicinity and donated 40 acres in town for a railroad yard. Monaghan himself contributed property for the right-of-way from his holdings that dated from his days as a freighter, school superintendent, and storekeeper in the Chewelah area. The Miner called this proposition "the most reasonable of any we ever knew a railroad to make to any town." And a three-man committee composed of G. B. Ide, John Rickey, and J. H. Young began raising money to buy 40 acres just four blocks from the Stevens County courthouse.
They ran into one problem. In 1883 Luther W. Meyers, an early settler, had bought 160 acres from Joe Martin, and the land included a great share of what became the town of Colville. In order to be sure there could never be any question about how much land he owned, Meyers ordered a strip of land reserved all around the plat of his property so if someone later found his surveys in error there would be enough land to set the plat aright. With the growth of the town, Meyer's precautionary strip became a sort of real estate no-man's-land that worried engineers and surveyors until the 1920s.
After six days, the Colville committee had collected all but $145 of the $2,000 needed for the land, most of it then owned by a Colville pioneer, John U. Hofstetter. The valley residents near the town apparently made up the difference. Shortly after, Corbin and Buckley went up to look over their 40 free acres, and promised to have the grading done to Colville by September first. (The actual depot property was purchased, according to Roberts's notes, for $5,000.)
Eighteen days after bids for construction contracts were opened on March 22, Superintendent Buckley announced at his office in Room 20 of the Eagle Block that the line was "practically located from the city to the Little Spokane with but 1 per cent grade." Engineers had trouble finding a satisfactory crossing of the Little Spokane: They first tried near Dart's mill, then near Peavine Charlie's where the old, Cottonwood stage forded. Finally a bridge was built about 15 miles upstream from the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers.
Cyrus Burns and John Chapman, who won the contract, had 15 grading crews numbering about 200 men in the field when Buckley and Corbin drove to Colville to see their 40 acres west of the business district. They found the town busy and property values rising all along the proposed route. An Indian interpreter, Robert Flett, estimated that Chewelah land worth $10 to $15 an acre two months before had risen to $50 because the railroad was coming. Buckley bought 80 acres of Colville land northwest of the town proper to lay out in lots and added $5,000 worth of property on Main and Hooker streets in Meyer's addition. Roberts bought one fifth of Buckley's interest when development started.
Colville was then a cluster of frame buildings and houses with rutted dirt streets and no sidewalks. The Silver Crown, a frame hotel, had a saloon on the ground floor and a balcony that extended over the muddy street so the guests might walk out and see what was going on without putting on their boots.
The town lay on a gradual incline above the depot site. Most of its commerce came from hay farmers in the fertile valley around, and from the smelter sitting on a granite bluff behind the town, where 40 to 50 men worked when ore could be bought. There had been a Fort Colville once, a pinpoint of civilization in the early western wilderness, and a little town named Colville in a valley northwest of the present community. All that remained of either were a few scattered piles of mortar. The citizens of old Colville had carted off most of the brick and iron from the fort for their new town, which was abandoned in turn when the legal title of the land seemed disputable. There was now a good deal of mining excitement in the area, and some mining in the rocky hills around the Colville Valley.
Advertisements in the Spokane Falls papers clarioned the awakening of Colville. One ad declared the four-block Spokane addition (between the town and the depot) was selling up to $300 a lot. In the central business district, a handful of façaded frame stores, lots ranged in worth from $500 to $2,500, prices that compared with Spokane Falls business property.
Another ad claimed that Colville was growing 20 percent each month and now had 800 residents. So rapid was the growth, the advertisement maintained, that Colville businessmen set up the Stevens County Immigration Bureau to handle requests for information. It was, more properly, a promotional organization. The bureau rented Spokane Falls offices in Victor Dessert's Pacific Hotel, which had a glass case full of mineral displays in the lobby. In Colville a $30,000 hotel was rising, and the town started a new schoolhouse.
John U. Hofstetter had sold his Main street home, and he and his wife formally dedicated a part of their property to the town as Chandler's addition. The addition was named for Aaron Chandler, a North Dakotan, who made a profession of following railroad construction in many parts of the country. When he saw an opportunity, Chandler stepped in to buy land, plat townsites or develop towns already lying on the railway route. Once he had platted his addition, Chandler reserved three lots for the new Hotel Colville, which he ordered built as a copy of the Grand Hotel in Spokane Falls. Except for moving the entrance to conform to Colville's arrangement, the hotel was built as almost a replica of the Grand. (It did not open until 1892. However, Aaron Chandler himself came to the town to organize its management.)
Once Corbin had satisfied himself with his Colville property and saw that surveying and grading were well begun, he packed to go to New York to buy steel rails, four locomotives, and passenger and freight cars. But first he went over the construction plans with Roberts and in later years Roberts remembered their talk clearly.
Corbin wanted the Spokane Falls & Northern built as fast and as cheaply as possible. In Roberts he had an engineer who already held the record for rapid construction on the Minot to Great Falls section of James Hill's railroad. Corbin explained that the Colville country would have to be settled before the railroad could expect a paying freight business. Roberts and Buckley had already scoured the countryside for business opportunities and Corbin had their report at hand. There would be no need to run trains fast, Corbin added, so there could be as many curves in the line as suited the construction engineers. By going around hills and even stumps, the railroad could save money it otherwise would spend to blast and fill. Roberts recalled that the conversation ended with his remark to Corbin, "I'll build it cheap -- and you run it economically."
Roberts, who was paid $300 a month and expenses, followed his instructions to the letter. He estimated the road saved $10 every time he built around a stump three feet across or bigger, rather than blasting it, digging out the roots, and filling the hole. If there were 100 stumps a mile, as Roberts guessed, he saved $1,000 a mile in this way alone. A cost sheet kept by Roberts indicates that the construction cost approximately $8,604 a mile. Most railroads felt that $10,000 a mile was inordinately cheap.
The final survey delineated a route that generally followed the old Colville trail and wagon road that wound northward through eastern Washington. The route was serpentine, as the Stevens County Miner complained of early surveys. Afterward the men who ran the trains nick-named the road "the Snake."
Build it cheap, Corbin had said, and build it fast. He believed that men raised to a pitch of enthusiasm could work rapidly over a short period. So he set a brisk example calling bids, hiring engineers, getting crews into the field, running surveys. In an interview he once explained, "I believe in pushing an enterprise of this kind. It works things up to a high pressure and is, in the end, the cheapest." Spokane Falls businessmen admired this trait in Corbin. They said he "took hold."
By the end of May 1889 surveys were completed for 55 miles of the Spokane Falls & Northern and 40 miles were graded. John R. Reavist, a newspaper writer, described the construction scene:
"Following the surveyors, who locate the line, there is a small army of woodchoppers who cut out the space for the road through the forest. Then come the graders who are stationed at various points and who gradually fill up the vacant spaces between them. Most of the road is on an easy grade ... "Then come the tie cutters who are working all along the line getting out and piling up the ties ready to be put down when tracklaying begins. Sawmills are also busy at various points cutting timbers for bridges ... the white tents grouped along at various camping places remind me of an army in the field. Indeed it is an army, for there are about 1,000 men employed in the grading alone."
By modern standards the tools that built the Spokane Falls & Northern were primitive. Roberts's notebooks list such equipment as Stackpole transits, Gurley transits, a Buff and Burger transit, Stackpole levels, Gurley levels, an aneroid, one hand level, a clinometer (to measure angles of elevation or slope), one pocket compass, 10 100-foot chains, and one steel tape. These instruments located the road. Roberts recalled that the workmen used some plows drawn by horses, handscrapers (like a hoe), wheelbarrows, shovels, and boards. Near the end of the first year of construction, several wheelscrapers were added. In 1890 a tracklaying machine was tested, but Roberts always felt it slower than hand workers. For the most part, the railroad was built by horses and hands.
Corbin had gone to New York the first week in March and was back by the middle of April. Within five weeks the first shipment of rails reached Spokane. The newspapers said tracklaying would begin on June 1. Corbin, on a visit to Colville with his 26-year-old son, was quoted in the Stevens County Miner as assuring questioners that they could "expect the locomotives at Colville on or before October 1, 1889."
Locomotives numbered 310 and 311 for the Spokane Falls & Northern rolled into Spokane Falls on May 23, 1889, after a tandem journey over Northern Pacific tracks. With 26 new freight cars, the locomotives were sidetracked at the Northern Pacific freight depot. Spokane citizens made a point of visiting the yard to see the new olive-green engines on which the name of the road was misspelled "Spokehane." (This misspelling appears on the blueprints prepared by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania for the first Spokane Falls & Northern engine. The name was lined out and the proper spelling lettered on the blueprint.
The engineer who rode the first engines from the Baldwin works eagerly repeated his story of the trip to the rubbernecks. He was making a short stop at St. Paul, he said, and left the first engine to look over the second. When he climbed into its cab, a man ordered him off, claiming to represent the company. The real engineer declared that he pulled his revolver and the imposter fled. Quite a number of hoboes nestled in the tank of the second engine, so when it arrived in Spokane, the tank had to be cleaned of boards, socks, and clothing discarded in it.
The two engines were wood-burning Baldwin class 8-30D, a code designation that means each engine had eight wheels consisting of a front truck and six driving wheels in a popular arrangement known as the Mogul. Under the Whyte system of classifying engines, the engines were 2-6-0 type, since engines were generally classified by wheel arrangement, cylinder size, and service intended or a combination of these. The engines had steel and iron boilers 52 inches in diameter, capable of 130 pounds of steam pressure, and 18-inch cylinders.
The blueprint numerical code indicated that the first Spokane Falls & Northern engine was the 304th built by Baldwin. Each engine weighed 90,090 pounds and had a wheelbase of 22 feet 8 inches. The pistons were cast iron rings sprung into solid heads. A good deal of wood went into the engine construction; the cab was painted ash and the bumper, oak bolstered with iron. The tender was oak-framed and, like the engine, painted olive-green with a colored trim.
With engines and cars on hand, Corbin determined to begin laying track northward from Spokane Falls. He hoped to do it secretly on the afternoon of Thursday, May 30, 1889, with only a few key men present such as Newbery and Buckley. But the nosy citizens got wind of the furtive ceremony, perhaps when a number of Spokand Falls & Northern cars were loaded with rails and other materials and hauled to the junction of the Spokane Falls & Northern and Northern Pacific tracks, where the tracklaying was to begin. About 200 persons trooped after the annoyed officials of the railroad and watched as Daniel Corbin drove the first spike.
Once begun, tracklaying went fast. In 10 days the track reached Dragoon Creek 21 miles from Spokane Falls, and by August 4th, extended to the north end of Loon Lake, 40 miles from Spokane Falls. Already in early August a construction train was running over the track laid and would pick up freight for delivery in Spokane Falls.
The newspapers noted that four new Troy passenger cars arrived for the railroad. The road would terminate at a union depot to be built on four lots (lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 in block 2, River Front addition) near the river. The red brick depot would stand on the north bank of the river and on the east side of Victoria Street, the name given Division street north of the river. It would be shared by the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern (the "Seattle & Elsewhere"), the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company, and the Spokane Falls & Northern.
Crews worked night and day at the depot site. At 2 o'clock each morning they set off charges of giant powder to remove rock from the grounds, and filled a pond with the debris. Contracts for leveling and filling amounted to approximately $100,000 and Corbin's road alone undertook the expense of tearing out a jutting rock that had been cut through for Victoria Street.
Despite the dry heat of Spokane Fall's summer and the railroad construction, Corbin and his associates kept furiously busy on a variety of enterprises. Corbin joined Jim Monaghan and Clem King in building a water works for the town of Coeur d'Alene. Monaghan, King, Buckley and W. S. Norman organized the new Spokane Savings Bank; their first announcement listed Corbin as a director, but his name was dropped soon after. Norman promoted the Washington Water Power Company, listing D. C. Corbin of New York and Spokane Falls as a reference in the first prospectus. And Corbin began to invest in mining claims in the country his railroad would penetrate.
Monaghan and King, with Newbery, Frank Moore and B. M. Whiting, planned a $100,000 rapid transit line northward from the Spokane Falls business district on Monroe Street. Cyrus Burns, the contractor, campaigned for mayor (He was beaten in the fall). Corbin squeezed in another trip to New York.
By August 4, 1889, the railroad's steel track was ribboning northward from Loon Lake. Surveyors paced trial course over the granite hills between Colville and the Columbia River, scouting the railway route beyond Colville. Men and horses sweated almost within shouting distance of Colville. The locomotives were running as far as Loon Lake and businessmen along the line frequently hitched rides into Spokane Falls on the construction train.
This August 4, 1889, was a still Sunday in Spokane Falls. In a row of frame buildings near Railroad Avenue and Post Street, opposite Spokane Falls wooden Northern Pacific passenger depot, smoke curled in a wisp and a handful of idlers watched without trying to stop what seemed to be a little fire, expecting the volunteers to handle it easily.
The firefighters arrived clanging on the run, hitched their hoses and began to pump, but nothing happened. There was no water. The quiet scene suddenly burst into shouting and running. Men spun the hydrant handles while others held empty nozzles. The fire grew lazily and the smoke broadened into a stream. The great Spokane fire had begun.
Dusk fell as crowds in the dirt streets retreated from flames lighting the smoky sky. While the fire raced toward the river, workmen tried to dynamite a barrier. By nine that night, the fire was almost under control, and by midnight, martial law had been declared. As Monday dawned 32 city blocks lay scorched.
Early in the sweep of the fire, someone warned Corbin at his hotel and he hurried to the five rooms of the Eagle block that served as Spokane Falls & Northern offices. Roberts was on his heels, and each man scooped up what he considered most valuable. Corbin dumped the company's vouchers, books, contracts and other papers into a box and dragged them into the street. Roberts collected his field notes, maps and construction data. These were hauled across the river. Buckley arrived too late. The Eagle block burned with his maps and plans and the office furniture kindled to the last stick.
New company offices were established in two combination cars near the site of the depot, where rock blasting and leveling continued. Corbin thought the depot would be completed by the end of the year and he could move his offices into the new building, a two-story brick structure on 14 acres surrounded by a freight house, roundhouse, water tank, and machine shops, most of them connecting with the depot building. (The building was torn down in 1958.)
Railroad men in town helped fight the flames on August 4, and many on the line left their jobs to rush to Spokane Falls as the news traveled north. But in the following days, as a tent city blossomed in the black debris of burned buildings, the railroad construction regained its pace. By August 21, grading was finished into Colville and tracklaying reached Squire's ranch, 48 miles from Spokane Falls. Trains now ran on schedule each day to Loon Lake and the towns between, leaving Spokane Falls at 4:30 p.m. and returning the next morning.
On September second, the Colville stage began running to Springdale to connect with the advancing railway, then about 40 miles out of Colville. Originally C. O. Squire had homesteaded the site and platted it as Squire's City. But the railroad called the station Springdale and the post office took the railway name.
Springdale was one of several villages established by Corbin as the Spokane Falls & Northern built northward. It was on a flat place called Walker's Prairie where the rails crossed the Colville wagon road. When the Colville stage began connecting with the trains, the tracks already extended nine miles toward Springdale.
The Spokane Falls & Northern published its first timetable on Sunday, September 1, 1889, and the event was memorialized by an editorial in the Spokane Falls Review. The timetable went into effect the following day, Monday. From the evidence of this schedule, the trains averaged about 16 miles an hour on the winding road, allowing one-minute stops at each station.
There were a few sour comments to leaven the enthusiasm of most of the countryside, and most of these came from towns not on the line. One resident of Chattaroy observed, "From Chattaroy to Spokane Falls it is now 22 miles instead of 18 ... hardly a whole loaf for Chattaroy, with a siding station two miles away, called Crescent ...”
The countryside along the railway rustled with activity. Randall H. Kemp, a one-eyed geologist who frequently contributed articles to the newspapers (Corbin employed him as a publicist occasionally), noted that a number of sawmills sprang up in the wooded country, between Spokane Falls and Loon Lake, and "pine timber is being shipped by daily trainloads into Spokane."
Prospectors tramped the brush near Loon Lake and Colville, but as the leaves turned in 1889, the most promising areas appeared to be near Chewelah, where the Eagle silver-lead mine had been located four miles east of town. Eight miles northwest of Chewelah lay a cluster of freemilling silver lodes: the Finley Silver King, May Tompkins, Mary Anderson, Granite State, and others. Among the claim owners was James Buckley who was betting heavily on the new country.
"Colville ... deserves more than a passing notice," Kemp observed. "The Indian and halfbreed method of doing business has become a thing of the past. New blood is being infused. The town has been incorporated and has a board of trustees ... . It is expected a few of the principal streets will be graded this fall. A two-story brick bank and brick schoolhouse is in course of construction."
Fashionable parties now rode the Spokane Falls & Northern to Loon Lake for a Sunday outing on the lakefront park Corbin was developing. On weekdays the train left Spokane Falls at 7 a.m. and returned from the lake at 5:50 in the evening, round trip fare, $2. On Sundays, the train left Spokane at 8:30 a.m. and returned at 6. The fare was $1.50.
By October 1, the tracks were laid past Chewelah and the road published a new timetable extending service to Valley and Chewelah. Trains leaving Spokane Falls at 7 in the morning arrived in Chewelah at half past noon. Breakfast in Spokane and lunch 65 miles north seemed fast indeed to men accustomed to traveling by horse. (The Spokane Falls and Colville stages left Spokane at 6 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and arrived in Colville at noon the following day. The train pulled out of Chewelah at 1:30 p.m. for the return trip and arrived in the Falls at 7:10.
In the first week of October, the tracks advanced within 12 miles of Colville. Corbin, Buckley, Monaghan, and Newbery hustled into town to oversee plans for the arrival of the first train, and Corbin then went to New York City. Without doubt he was off to talk to his backers about pushing past Colville to the Columbia River, perhaps even into Canada, but his trip attracted little notice in the excitement over the approaching entry into Colville, and the arrival on October 7, 1889, at 2:20 p.m. of the first Union Pacific train into Spokane Falls. It was a special, followed at 10:10 p.m. by the first Union Pacific passenger train into the city.
As the Spokane Falls & Northern drew daily nearer Colville, speculation increased about its route to the Columbia. Surveying parties were still in the field. The route had not been definitely chosen, whether by Kettle Falls or directly to Marcus. The direct route to Marcus was shorter but steeper. In addition, Corbin was dickering with old Luther Meyers, who held the waterfall at Kettle Falls, the second best power potential in Eastern Washington. If the railway went past Kettle Falls, Corbin felt he should be rewarded with an interest in the water power plant that could be built there.
Meyers had donated $500 toward the money needed to buy 40 acres for the railroad in Colville, and he felt that he had an interest in the route the road took. So he and Corbin's lieutenants disputed the debt each thought the other owed, and Meyers, a stubborn Canadian of German extraction, shook his head at each new approach.
The Colville stage trip shortened as the days passed and the puffing engines drew closer. The stage ran through barnyards along the graded route of the new railroad, and stage passengers could peer out at construction crews shooing aside chickens as they worked.
In Colville, Main Street was graded and a new board sidewalk hammered down. The bank cost $4,500 and the schoolhouse $3,800, the only brick buildings in town, symbols of its new promise. A traveler from Colville told the newspapers on October 18th that the trains were running within three miles of Colville. But it turned out the trains moved faster than the news. On October 18 1889, a Saturday, about noon, the tracks were laid to the new frame depot that cost $1,525. A trainload of Spokane Falls citizens rode to Chewelah in passenger cars and then hopped a construction train to finish the journey by rail into Colville.
Technically, the railroad was several weeks late. Corbin's agreement with Colville, signed when the town provided him land, called for grading to reach the town by September 1st and tracks shortly after. But nobody seemed to remember or mind. The 600 to 800 souls of Colville were content merely to see the tracks finally at their doorsteps, early or late, after more than 10 years of talking and hoping for a railroad.
Colville celebrated the arrival of the first construction train with a 42-gun salute from farmers' rifles and pistols, and after cheering the train crew, the joyful citizenry elbowed into Meyers' Opera House to hear speeches during the evening. Jacob Stitz, who presided, maintained enough order to appoint a five-man committee to plan a formal celebration in "a becoming manner." While the celebrants were thus noising their good fortune, Sheriff Gilbert B. Ide went quietly round to the station house to sign a contract to deliver freight from the railway to the businessmen of the community.
So the railroad reached Colville. For a week, as it came closer, the citizens had been receiving the morning Spokane Falls Review on the evening of its publication, and a correspondent marveled, "Surely civilization is dawning upon us.”
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Daniel Chase Corbin (1832-1918)
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (William Roberts Collection)
Arrival Number 1, Northport, Spokane Falls & Northern, June 15, 1897
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (William Roberts Collection)
Beaver Falls and Nelson and Fort Sheppard Extension, Spokane Falls and Northern Railroad, n.d.
Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Image No. L95-97.81)