Friday, August 27, 2010

Brownfields and Open Spaces

There's a term used to describe abandoned industrial sites:  brownfields.  Across the expanse of the United States these places exist as reminders of hustle, industrial might, and a growing country flexing its industrial muscles.  In Pittsburgh the old steel mill sites dot the river banks that make the city famous.  In Birmingham, it's old iron works and furnace sites.  The remains of old industry are scattered out across the Midwest rust belt with empty fields or rusted and mangled machinery dotting old sections of small and large cities alike.  The West has its share of brownfields too.  The city of Spokane has extensive stretches of land once occupied by a bustling railroad yard that stretch from near downtown west to the canyon that marks the city's western edge.  

A massive trestle spanned the Spokane River here, carrying trains from the shared UP/Milwaukee Road trackage across the chasm and into the heart of the city.  The leftovers today consist of a few embedded foundations in the river valley below, and the concrete form that anchored the trestle's eastern edge.  This was the route of the Milwaukee's transcontinental passenger trains, and the shared UP trackage was the company's access to the Inland Northwest's capital city.

The World Fair of 1974 changed all of that for the UP, the Milwaukee, and the other railroads and industry that made up much of downtown Spokane.  The downtown was thoroughly reconstructed and cleaned for the exposition.  The UP/Milwaukee depot was removed as was the GN depot, save for the clock tower that still stands in Riverfront Park.  The leftovers of this massive reconstruction have existed ever since:  giant brownfields and a few concrete remnants of the old industrial downtown.  The anchoring pier of Hangman's trestle rests at the edge of the Spokane River in the picture above, glowing in the setting sun of a cool spring day.  It ends abruptly, leading only to the open spaces above the river far below.  Here, as everywhere else, time changes things.  Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.

Today, change continues in this part of Spokane.  A brownfield reclamation project is underway and redevelopment is in the cards.  Given time, even these remnants will be forgotten but for a few old photos.  Such is the story of so many of America's industrial places.  The Milwaukee Road can certainly count itself among them.

2 comments:

Oil-Electric said...

Elder years bring on occasional panic about certain things that may happen – like developing Alzheimer’s disease. I already go through episodes of getting “excited,” but cannot remember why!

Therefore, when I read, “The anchoring pier of Hangman’s trestle rests at the edge of the Spokane River in the picture above” I began to worry. Was Leland to be the messenger from “above” informing me “I’ve got it - my mind is beginning to fail!”

To elucidate. There are at least two bodies of water flowing in the Spokane area. The Spokane River, with its magnificent waterfall centerpiece for the World’s Fair, and Hangman Creek, which flows almost parallel to the Spokane River just before it terminates into the Spokane west of the downtown area.

Between the confluence and West Third Avenue was the Hangman Bridge. The Oregon Railroad & Navigation (later UP) and “The Road” shared a structure, crossing Hangman Creek. Three ancient bridge piers are clearly seen in Bing Bird’s Eye:

http://www.bing.com/maps/#JndoZXJlMT1IYW5nbWFuK0NyZWVrJmJiPTQ3LjY4ODg2MDM4Mjk5MjYlN2UtMTE3LjQwMDM5MTQ1ODIyMSU3ZTQ3LjYzMDkxOTYxNzAwNzQlN2UtMTE3LjUxNTAyODU0MTc3OQ==

According to the US Geological Survey, the naming of Hangman Creek recognizes yet another righteous piece of America’s Western history. On this site, Colonel George Wright's troops hung Yakima Chief Qualchan, and approximately 800 of their horses were killed, to punish the Native Americans for their victory over Colonel Steptoe, namesake of Steptoe Butte.

Wright conducted the meeting with the Chiefs plus the additional Braves he had invited at 9:00 a.m. and at 9:15 a.m. they were hanged. It was at that moment the name Latah Creek changed to Hangman Creek and remains as such to this day.

Therefore, Leland, the condition of my mind is in your hands! Is this pier on Hangman Creek or the Spokane River?

And of the piers I located, who did they belong to?

As a postscript to this story:

A proposal to reverse the name Hangman Creek to Latah Creek was submitted in 1997. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names rejected the request in 1999 because local use was not strong enough and there was no new evidence to overturn a 1959 USBGN review.

While "Latah" is a Native American word meaning "jumping fish,” dating back to 1804 and the Lewis and Clark expedition, it also the name of a disorder similar to Tourette’s syndrome, typically found among women. Women suffering from this syndrome, upon being surprised, may suddenly burst into screaming, cursing, dancing, and hysterical laughter that might last a half hour or more.

So perhaps we should leave well enough alone!

Oil-Electric said...

The Bing Link does not work. So go to Bing, Hangman Creek, Spokane. There are TWO choices. Pick the top entry - the other is miles out of town. From the Spokane River, back track up the creek and you will spot three bridge piers, near W3rd Ave.