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Boom! Burn! Boom!

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Population

Standing on Hospital Hill and looking north you might be forgiven for an inability to visualize Spokan Falls as a small town of 350 residents.  It would have been even more difficult to contemplate the growth in 1910, when the city became the state’s second largest city — a title it has never relinquished despite Tacoma’s efforts.  In the 27 short years before 1910, Spokane went from a small settlement on the banks of a river to a thriving city of more than 100,000 people. It’s taken an entire century to double that number.

A mining trifecta caused the first population explosion in 1883, when gold, silver, and lead were discovered in nearby northern Idaho.  Prospectors rushed to Spokane as the outfitter of choice.  Then a devastating fire burned out the center of town during the summer of 1889, turning the city into a large campground of tents.  But rising from the ashes, the city traded in destruction for an enormous building boom that lasted two decades.  The railroads arrived almost immediately, further enhancing Spokane’s phenomenal growth and making it a commercial and agricultural hub and the undisputed capital of the Inland Empire.

Using the decennial US Census, today we list the numbers (and a few “little people” graphics) to chronicle the growth of Washington’s “second city” over the years.


Census Pop.   = 20,000 people % change
1880 350
1890 19,922 5,6%
1900 36,848 85.0%
1910 104,402 183.3%
1920 104,437 0%
1930 115,514 10.6%
1940 122,001 5.6%
1950 161,721 32.6%
1960 181,608 12.3%
1970 170,516 −6.1%
1980 171,300 0.5%
1990 177,196 3.4%
2000 195,629 10.4%
2010 208,916 6.8%

SOURCE: US Census, 1880-2010

IMAGE: Downtown Spokane as depicted on a postcard, circa 1920.


One Response to “Boom! Burn! Boom!”

  1. Joan Says:

    Those red brick buildings look very much like ones that are still standing in Spokane.