Davenport -- Thumbnail History

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 8/26/2010
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9538
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Davenport is the seat of Lincoln County, an agricultural county in northeast Washington's Big Bend region, where dry land wheat farming and cattle ranching are the predominant industries.  As of 2009, Davenport had 1,684 residents, making it Lincoln County's largest town. Davenport's elevation is 2,390 feet above sea level, with an annual precipitation of 10 inches. Surrounded by rolling wheat fields, supported by a dedicated community infrastructure, Davenport serves as an important business, medical, and educational center for residents in this productive agricultural region.

Early Days

Natural springs located at what would become Davenport were an important resting and camping place on a major Indian trail extending east to west across the future Lincoln County.  The trail was used by members of the Lower Spokane band of the Spokane tribe, who foraged for berries, roots, and duck eggs in wetlands surrounding the area's small lakes. Abundant bunch grass growing nearby provided food for horses.

During the 1860s, hopeful gold miners heading for Montana on the trail (by then known as the White Bluffs Road) used the springs for the same purpose.  Aloysius Harry Harker (b. 1848), the first permanent non-Indian settler, arrived in 1880, shortly followed by John (b. 1850) and Emma Eads Nicholls (b. 1863). Their settlement was known as Cottonwood Springs.  Harker operated a combined saloon, store, and post office, and served as post master.

In 1883, John C. Davenport (1830-1919) founded an eponymous town on higher ground nearby, and built a home, blacksmith shop, store, saloon, and warehouse in rapid succession. This little town was destroyed by fire in 1884. Businesses from burned-out Davenport relocated down the hill in Cottonwood Springs, which then took the name Davenport.

The County Seat

The territorial legislature created Lincoln County on November 1, 1883, naming Davenport as temporary county seat.  This spurred a fight with the (then) much larger town of Sprague -- Davenport's few buildings had barely been constructed, and the nearest rail line was 30 miles away.  Spragueans fumingly bore the slight for one year, then emerged victorious when the county seat question was put to the ballot in 1884.  Davenporters at first refused to relinquish their years-worth of official records, but eventually were forced to do so by a raiding party from their rival town.

Sweet revenge came in 1896 when Davenport -- by then clearly the major town in Lincoln County -- regained the seat.  Sprague had recently suffered a major conflagration that had nearly taken the town.  (County records were spared)  Davenport residents built a fine courthouse and county jail, and Sprague released the records.

The Lincoln County Courthouse, built high on the bluff overlooking Davenport in 1897, was an important center for all Lincoln County residents.  Despite the removal of the iron fence surrounding its grounds to aid the war effort during World War II, the imposing courthouse building continued to serve county residents until the night of December 21, 1995, when it was gutted by fire. A local teen admitted setting the blaze and served a prison term. The courthouse was painstakingly restored to its original exterior appearance (including replacing the iron fence that sets off the lush grounds surrounding the building), and modernized in its interior. It reopened with fanfare only one year after the arson incident.


The first train on the Washington Central branch of the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Davenport on February 14, 1889. Initially the line was used to transport cattle to Eastern markets, but as farming began to eclipse ranching in Lincoln County, the trains transported grain. The Northern Pacific also carried new settlers into the county.  Davenport's train depot, constructed in 1889, served the community's passenger and freight traffic.  The two-story building featured living space for the station agent on the upper floor, and was located on the south side of the railroad tracks between 7th and 8th streets.  The station was demolished in 1988.

With the help of funds and volunteer labor provided by Davenport citizens, the Seattle, Lake Shore, & Eastern Railroad reached the town on October 11, 1889.  Davenport citizens rejoiced, since the line would compete with the Northern Pacific and presumably drive down prices. But their triumph was short-lived: the Northern Pacific bought out the line. The depot, built in 1889 at the northwest corner of the intersection of Sinclair Street and Highway 28, was relocated in 1910 and used as a display building at the Lincoln County Fair.

Telephone Lines and the Davenport Times

Davenport gained a single (pay) telephone in 1893, when the Bell Telephone Company strung a connection with Spokane.  The United States government connected Davenport by phone with Fort Spokane in the same year.  Lincoln County: A Lasting Legacy (published in 1988) described the rickety arrangement:

"This line was built with 20-foot lengths of 3-inch pipe used as poles.  Between 1890 and 1894, a crude arrangement was installed consisting of a combination of board diaphragms and rawhide string attached to each end of a wire strung from the local drug store to the railroad station" (p. 131).

In 1905, the Bell Telephone Company sold their line to John A. Hanson, an entrepreneur from Hunters (42 miles north of Davenport in Stevens County) who had started his own phone company in 1901. Interstate Telephone Company bought Hanson out in 1917, consolidating those customers with another local phone company called Washington Consolidated Local and Long Distance. For the next 40 years, all of Davenport's telephone operations were staged out of a small office -- in order for the night operator to be able to sleep, Davenport residents were discouraged from placing phone calls after 9 p.m. In 1953, Interstate was purchased by the much-larger General Telephone Company of the Northwest, and phone equipment was converted to the dial system. In 1971, Inland Empire Telephone Company purchased General, and the Davenport office was relocated to Medical Lake.

Frank M. Gray, formerly a printer in Walla Walla, founded what was at the time the Big Bend region's only newspaper, the Lincoln County Times, in Davenport in 1885.  Frank Dallam (1849-1928) took over in 1889, followed by several other publishers in quick succession.  James Odgers (1850-1908) founded a second Davenport paper, the Davenport Tribune, in 1889.  The two papers were merged in 1918, becoming the Davenport Times-Tribune.  "Times" was dropped from the title in 1955.

A Growing Town -- Despite Disasters

On May 24, 1890, Davenport residents voted to incorporate as a fourth class town.  Albert W. Turner (b. 1861) was elected mayor, and William Finney (b. 1833) was voted in as treasurer.  A certified copy of the incorporation was filed in Olympia on June 9, 1890.  On December 8, 1903, Davenport residents decided by majority vote to become a city of the third class.  The town by then had 1,616 residents. Lincoln County's board of commissioners passed the resolution advancing Davenport's status from town to city on August 15, 1904.  In 1994, the classification of City Third Class was eliminated, and Davenport's classification became City Second Class.

Settlers arrived, purchased acreage, broke sod, and planted wheat -- which rapidly became the town's main industry, as was the case throughout the Big Bend region.  The town's fortunes rose and fell according to the wheat harvest, with bountiful crop years benefiting both individual farmers and the small businesses that served them.  By 1907, Davenport's amenities included restaurants, bakeries, blacksmiths, hardware stores, five grocery stores, four hotels, nine churches, fraternal lodges -- in short, many ingredients for living comfortably. 

Davenport suffered a severe fire on September 8, 1898, and another on June 20, 1903. Both times the town was quickly rebuilt.

Melting snow pack on nearby fields caused Cottonwood Creek to overflow its banks and flood the town, most notably in 1910, 1930, and 1950. Careful attention to maintenance of snow-packed fields, and a bridge rebuilding project that allowed the creek to flow more freely, subsequently eased flooding.


Davenport and several other towns received electrical power as early as 1903 from the Big Bend Light and Power Company, and after 1915 the Washington Water Power Company. Beginning in April 1941, the Lincoln Electric Cooperative was providing Davenport with electricity produced by Grand Coulee Dam. In the early 1990s, Lincoln Electric Cooperative merged with Inland Power & Light, a not-for-profit cooperative organized in 1937 and owned by its membership. Inland is a "preference customer" of the Bonneville Power Administration, eligible to purchase power from BPA at its lowest cost-based rates.

During the 1930s, construction of Grand Coulee Dam swelled Davenport's population, as it did those of all communities within the region, attracting both laborers and tourists. Many of these enjoyed the thick milk shakes and other ice cream confections available at Davenport's Mitten Cafe, a small restaurant and candy store where generations of Lincoln County residents and visitors rewarded themselves at the end of a successful trip into town.

Pop and Flour

Davenport's first flour mill, operated by A. A. Davis, opened in 1904. The town's location in the heart of one of Washington's most productive wheat-growing regions made flour milling a necessary -- and profitable -- undertaking.  Several other mills operated in Davenport over the following decades. The largest of these was owned by the Washington State Grange. It produced "Grange Best" and "Pomona Best" wheat flours, had a 500-barrel-per-day capacity, and operated until 1939. 

Like many of its predecessors, this mill was destroyed by fire. Rebuilt within a year, the Grange mill operated around the clock during World War II in order to satisfy contracts with the United States government.  By the time the war was won, however, flour production nationwide had shifted away from small farmers using flouring collectives to larger corporations. When Davenport's mill closed in the spring of 1955, it was the last smaller milling operation in the state to still its machinery.

The Pioneer Bottling Works, established in 1904 by Arthur (1872-1916) and Emma Einbeck (1881-1968), produced carbonated beverages.  Davenport residents enjoyed the company's peach, rhubarb, sarsaparilla, celery, and banana-flavored soda pop.  (Eventually 26 flavor choices were available.) As the business expanded, customers could order the treat delivered by wagon, and eventually by train to communities along the Northern Pacific and Great Northern railroad lines.  After Emma Einbeck's death in 1968, her children Art Einbeck (1902-1982) and Gertrude (1906-1989) kept the business bubbling until Art's death in 1982.

Reading and Swimming

The Davenport Public Library was founded in February 1926, by the Davenport Study Club and the Fortnightly Study Club.  The initial collection was assembled during a fundraising dinner, the admission to which was 50-cents and one book.  Library books were allotted a portion of the city hall, and new books were purchased with funds raised by teas and bake sales hosted by the board of directors. The city council gradually began paying some of the library's bills, and in 1943, added the library to the city budget.

Wending its way through the center of town and banked by towering cottonwood trees, Davenport's Cottonwood Creek continued to draw townspeople seeking refreshment as the decades passed.  As of 2010, the creek's banks still attract brown-baggers who carry their lunches to nearby picnic tables or park their cars in the shade, roll down their windows, and enjoy their noon meal while listening to the creek's gentle burble.

Davenport kids rejoiced in 1928, when the town gained a swimming pool in the City Park, near Cottonwood Creek. The American Legion and the Davenport Commercial Club spearheaded fundraising efforts for the pool, and community businesses and individuals supported the project with dollars, time, and building materials.  The Lions Club funded pool improvements in 1956.  Subsequent updates over the years have ensured Davenport families a spot of respite during the burning days of their region's dry summers.

Clubs and Civic Organizations

Almost from the time Davenport was founded, clubs and civic organizations have played an important role in community life. Davenport's Masonic Lodge (Acacia Lodge 58), for example, has been active since before Washington's statehood. The Order of the Eastern Star was organized in 1912. The Lions Club (organized in 1953) has undertaken scores of projects that have enhanced community life, including fundraising for youth activities like scouting and baseball, improving landscaping at Lincoln Hospital, lighting football and baseball fields, purchasing street signs, sponsoring blood drives, and numerous other activities. The Town and Country Club (organized in 1960) supports projects at Lincoln Hospital, among other activities.

Davenport has had an American Legion post since 1919. The post is named in honor of Clinton S. Brown, the first soldier from Davenport to lose his life in France during World War I.  Following World War II, Davenport's American Legion post membership swelled. Legionnaires teamed with members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars to build Davenport's Veterans Community Memorial Hall.  In 1920, Davenport's American Legion post gained a women's auxiliary and, in 1930, a junior auxiliary. These organizations have undertaken many important community projects over the years. 

Davenport's Veterans of Foreign Wars post was formed in 1946. Its name honors Jim M. Gale, who served in the United States Navy and was the first Davenport resident to lose his life during World War II. In 1947, the post gained a women's auxiliary.

Youth organizations active in Davenport include the 4-H clubs, the Campfire Girls (organized in 1917), the Boy Scouts (organized in 1919), and the Girl Scouts (organized in 1946).

The Wilson Grange was organized in 1921, and quickly became an important center of community life. Funding for many of the organization's projects and activities was paid for by the "Women's Work" committee with proceeds from the sale of homemade candy, box suppers served to hungry crowds at dances, and card party admission fees.

Some organizations that were, in their time, woven into the fabric of Davenport's community life have since disbanded.  Davenport's Odd Fellows Lodge was founded in 1889, but by 1988 had so few members that it was forced to relinquish its charter.  Other organizations now defunct include the Women's Civic League, the Soroptimists, the Fortnightly Study Club, and the Country Homes Club (also known as the Bluestem Community Home Demonstration Club), the Woodmen of the World, the Knights of Pythias, and the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.).

The Doctor's Orders

Beginning in about 1904, Davenport was served by several small hospitals. Most of these were operated directly by physicians within their own homes. Frederick B. Teter (1876-1922), an osteopathic physician who had lost his sight in a mining explosion, operated a sanatorium until his own death from tuberculosis in 1922. Another osteopath, Dr. John F. Poynter (1885-1958), operated the Teter Sanatorium thereafter. 

Davenport residents who saw the benefit of making professional hospital care available locally established Lincoln Hospital District No. 3 in 1961. The hospital added an acute care wing in 1963 and long-term (nursing care) services in 1970.  In 2001, Lincoln Hospital opened medical clinics in Davenport and nearby Wilbur. By 2004, Lincoln Hospital had become a leading advocate of rural health quality assurance in Washington. In addition to providing Davenport residents with easily accessible medical care, Lincoln Hospital employs nearly 300 members of the community.

The Three R's

Davenport High School graduated its first class in 1902, and moved into a newly built nine-room structure the following year. Davenport citizens voted funds to construct a larger high school building in 1915, repurposing the 1903 school for elementary classes. The new structure, dedicated on January 30, 1916, included a gymnasium and an auditorium, and served as an important community gathering place.  The building served Davenport scholars until 1956, when it was razed to make way for another high school building. The current (2010) elementary school was built in 1948 and later renovated, and a new junior high school building is currently under construction. Davenport's current high school building dates from 2003.  The team mascot is the gorilla.

During the late 1920s and early 1930s, many of the smaller communities near Davenport chose to consolidate their schools with those in Davenport.  By 1939, 10  school buses traveled 314 miles each day to collect students from rural homes across the region.  Enrollment declined throughout the late twentieth century.  As of 2010, Davenport has one high school, serving grades 7-12) and one elementary school. In 2010, Davenport High School graduated 46 students.


The first religious services in Davenport were held by Methodists in 1882. The congregation erected a church building in 1892, and moved to another in 1892. This building, enlarged and improved over the years, and a new church facility was constructed in 1968.

Davenport First Presbyterian Church held its first services in autumn1884. The congregation's first building, erected in 1889, burned down in 1923. Its replacement, built in 1928, continues to serve the community in 2010.

Davenport's Christ Lutheran Church was founded in 1891. By 2010, other churches serving Davenport include Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Davenport Baptist, Harvest Celebration, Seventh Day Adventist, Old Apostolic, Zion Lutheran, Trinity Bible Fellowship, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Davenport Today

Davenport's relative proximity to Spokane (36 miles to the east) allows it to serve as a bedroom community for that town, and its proximity to the Lake Roosevelt Recreation area bolsters tourism. Wheatland Bank, founded in Davenport in 1979 to serve Lincoln County's business and agricultural communities, has since expanded to serve customers throughout the Big Bend region.

The Stock Land Livestock Exchange market, held every Monday at the company's Davenport stockyard, offers ranchers an opportunity to sell their stock at competitive prices. Stock sold at this market is inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture's Davenport team, and certified for shipment to Canada and throughout the United States. 

Odessa Union Warehouse Cooperative's tall grain elevator and Davenport offices provide storage and marketing services for farmers growing many varieties of wheat on the productive acreage surrounding Davenport. Family farms, some of which are still controlled by the descendents of early settlers, are well into their second century of yielding proven varieties of wheat. 


An Illustrated History of the Big Bend Country Embracing Lincoln, Douglas, Adams, and Franklin Counties State of Washington (Spokane: Western Historical Publishers, 1904); Lincoln County: A Lasting Legacy ed. by Donald E. Walter (Davenport: Lincoln County Centennial Committee, 1988); Ruth Kirk and Carmela Alexander, Exploring Washington's Past: A Road Guide to History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990), 86; Paul Dorpat and Genevieve McCoy, Building Washington (Seattle: Tartu Publications, 1998), 344; HistoryLink.Org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Lincoln County -- Thumbnail History" (by Paula Becker), and "Washington Territorial Legislature creates Lincoln County on November 1, 1883" (by Paula Becker) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed August 8, 2010); City of Davenport Chamber of Commerce website accessed August 9, 2010 (http://www.davenportwa.org/cityofdavenport.html); Davenport School District website accessed August 9, 2010 (http://www.davenport.wednet.edu/dsd/site/default.asp); "Fiftieth Anniversary Edition," Davenport Times-Tribune, August 17, 1933, viewed as clippings in Dubar Scrapbook No. 102, University of Washington Special Collections, Seattle; Washington Standard, July 28, 1882, p. 2, col. 6; Russ Hill, "Seven Thousand Busy Books," Inland Empire Magazine, Spokane Spokesman-Review, March 3, 1957, p. 5; "In the matter of incorporation of the town of Davenport...," and "Town of Davenport to be advanced from a Town of the Fourth Class...," folder "Davenport," Box 5, Municipal Archives of Incorporation, Records of the Secretary of State, Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; "History," Lincoln Hospital website accessed August 12, 2010 (http://www.lincolnhospital.org/index.php/about-lincoln-hospital/history) ; Saddlebags To Scanners: The First 100 Years of Medicine in Washington State ed. by Nancy Rockafellar and James W. Haviland (Seattle: Washington State Medical Association, 1989), p. 262; Visit Lincoln County Washington website accessed August 18, 2010 (http://www.visitlincolncountywashington.com/index.html); "Co-Op History," Inland Power & Light website accessed August 19, 2010 (http://www.inlandpower.com/); Stock Land Livestock Exchange website accessed August 19, 2010 (http://www.stocklandlivestock.com/); "Davenport," Ag-Venture NW, LLC website accessed August 19, 2010 (http://www.odessaunion.com/); "History, Vision and Mission," Wheatland Bank website accessed August 19, 2010 (http://www.wheatlandbank.com/); John Craig, "Lincoln County Courthouse to Reopen Year After Arson Fire," The Spokesman-Review, December 19, 1996. p. 10; Rodney Aho, email to HistoryLink.org, September 25, 2011, in possession of HistoryLink.org. See also David L. Chapman, “Lincoln County Courthouse: Fire and Fury over the County Seat,” Columbia: The Magazine of Northwest History Vol. 18, No. 1 (Spring 2004), 36-40.
Note:  This essay was corrected on October 23, 2011 to identify Inland Power & Light Company as a not-for-profit, member-owned cooperative and a preference customer of BPA.

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