Bridge Builders and Ferry Men in the Spokane Valley

Sep 12, 2018 | Stories

In the early 1800s the first white men came into the Spokane Valley.  These were mainly fur trappers and military personnel. The options for crossing the Spokane River were few. At this time these men crossed at a few different fords used by the Indians, places shallow enough to ride their horses across when the river was low.

In the 1850s, as traffic increased and supplies were needed by the new settlers, crossing the river by ferry or bridge became a necessity. The first ferry was built around 1856 at a site near one of the Indian fords by Antoine Plante.  Plante, with brother in-law Camille Langtu who lived on the south side of the river, operated the ferry.  Plante was French Canadian and Flathead Indian who spoke both English and French. The ferry was around 40 ft. in length secured at both sides by a cable. In 1861 the Mullan Road used Plante’s ferry as a river crossing. Territorial Governor Issac Stevens crossed the river on Plante’s ferry on his way to Colville.

In 1862 the first bridge across the Spokane River was built by Tim Lee, Joe Herring and Ned Jordan near the Idaho State Line.  Over the years this bridge site would be called by many names, Pioneer Bridge, Lee’s Bridge, Kendall’s Bridge and Cowley’s Bridge.   The Spokane River had been named by the Spokane Tribe and so eventually the bridge became known as Spokane Bridge.

In 1864, A.C. Kendall built a store at the bridge. The Mullan Road ran along the north side of the river and this now became the main crossing point.  In the early 1860s with news of gold in the Kootenai area thousands made the trek using Spokane Bridge as a crossing.  By 1867 there were three stores a blacksmith shop and a post office. When the first bridge was built it put an end to Plante’s Ferry because it cost less to cross by the bridge than to pay the $4 per wagon fee he charged.  In 1864 Plante leased his ferry to James Silcott of Walla Walla but this ran only around a year.  In 1866 Silcott had moved his business to the Snake River. In 1865 the first Spokane Bridge was washed out but was quickly rebuilt.  In 1867 a story in the Walla Walla newspaper mentions that “over the winter considerable work had been done on the bridge and that practically everyone crosses here”.

About 1869 Kendall bought the bridge and along with his store had a hotel as well.  By 1872 Kendall was in ill health and sold his properties to Michael M. Cowley and Thomas Ford.  It appears around this time the bridge again had been destroyed.  High water from spring run-off or logs floated down the river were the main causes.

As early as 1866, another less known bridge was built just north of where the Spokane Valley Mall is near where the railroad bridge now stands. Thomas Newlon, an early pioneer builder who was already in the bridge and ferry business along the Snake and Palouse Rivers built a bridge there.  It would have been competition to the owners of Spokane Bridge.  They decided to buy the bridge and then destroyed it to keep their monopoly intact.  Newlon again comes onto the scene in 1872 and builds a ferry across the river near Harvard Road.  This may have been operated with Cowley because in Newlon’s obituary it is said he built a ferryboat for M.M. Cowley.  In 1872 Cowley’s bridge had “fallen in”.  Or perhaps Cowley bought this ferryboat from Newlon and brought it up to his old bridge site.  By 1873 Cowley had rebuilt his bridge and when James Glover arrives there May 10th, 1873, he writes about crossing it. Glover had heard that Kendall was selling his properties but was unaware that Cowley and Ford had already purchased it. Glover settles by the falls in what is now Spokane.  In 1898, Cowley’s bridge is destroyed by logs being floated from Post Falls to The Phoenix Sawmill in downtown Spokane.  A fourth and final wooden bridge was built to replace it.

Another bridge was constructed near the site of the former Newlon bridge that had been destroyed probably by dynamite in 1866. David J. Schneblys bridge was built in 1867 and was operated until 1875. Anton Blessing, who came to Trent in 1884, said the bridge was in ruins when he arrived and he used the old timbers for building his home.

In 1911 a steel bridge was constructed over the Cowley Bridge site. This steel bridge had a wood deck and became part of Highway 10.  The bridge was used until 1940 when the Appleway Bridge was built. The steel from the old bridge was torn down in 1951 and was used for a bridge on Sullivan road.  The concrete piers from the 1911 bridge still stand in the river north of the visitor center/dog park near the state line.

There was also a story of another bridge built by Isaac Kellogg that appears on the stone monument at Plante’s Ferry Park. There is no proof or primary source document that indicates Kellogg ever built a bridge over the Spokane River.  He was in the ferry business on the Snake River previously and moved here in the fall of 1865 with intention of building a bridge at the old Plante’s Ferry site.  He did put up some buildings.  In April 1866, after an argument between Kellogg and Joe Herring (one of the builders of the first bridge) Kellogg was killed in a gun battle. It was recorded as Spokane County’s first homicide.  Herring then moved from the area and Kellogg’s bridge was never built.

Today, the Appleway Bridge has been replaced with a new one which opened last spring.  There are no remnants of any of the previous river crossings, whether bridge or ferry, with the exception of the abutments of the 1911 bridge.  The River is the only witness to history of the many early attempts to cross it.

Article by Jayne Singleton
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