The Spokane Medical Lake Electric Railroad

trolly car

With the advent of the 20th century, our nation saw unprecedented industrial growth through the electrification of our many factories, towns, and businesses. Spokane found itself in a unique position to capitalize heavily on the city's many water resources with year-round water flows for power production. The question at the turn of the 20th century was not "if we electrify our cities, farms, and factories?", but "How soon can we have commercial power available to us?"

In 1905 when the Washington Water Power Company (now known as Avista Utilities) started installing electric power lines throughout the many Spokane city streets and the subsequent electrification of our rural farms and towns.

Thus the story of Medical Lake unfolds and morph's from a wild west town in the late 1870's that survived the last two Indian skirmishes fought on U.S. soil against the U.S. Calvary, to a thriving 1900's modern town that had recently been selected as permanent home for Eastern State Mental Hospital.

passenger depot

The coming of the railroads through the neighboring city of Cheney, newly selected home of Cheney Normal School (now called Eastern Washington University), and the town of Medical Lake promised prosperity for those having the drive and fortitude to succeed in this new world of electrification.

The Spokane Inter-Urban Electric Railroad came to Medical Lake in 1905 and along its 15-mile stretch from Spokane, the tracks lead to many fruit tree and wheat farms and also construction related businesses such as granite quarrying, clay and brick production, lumber mills, and the two largest dairy farm complexes in the United States.

The railroad provided the daily freight trips needed to haul thousands of gallons of raw milk to the milk processing plants near downtown Spokane while also hauling thousands of passengers and commuters back & fourth between Medical Lake and Spokane.

Crossing Hangman Creek

railroad trestle

There were several different national and regional railroad companies servicing Spokane at the turn of the century, and there were often very competitive skirmishes over the location, ownership, and routing of train tracks, often preventing one train company e.g. – the Northern Pacific; Great Northern; Union Pacific; or the Spokane, Seattle, & Portland from allowing the crossover of a competitor's tracks over their own.

The regional railroads such as Washington Water Power's Spokane Inter-Urban Railroad didn't have the clout or money to pay for the needed crossing over Hangman Creek or for crossing over the Northern Pacific Railroad's or Great Northern's tracks.

A wooden trestle was built across Hangman Creek in 1905 and was shared by all of the railroads, but increased train traffic, heavier train loads, and constant heavy freight traffic caused the premature failure of the wood structure, and after only 8 years of use, a new arched concrete bridge was built and opened in 1913 over Hangman Creek. It was eventually transformed into today's Sunset Hill automotive bridge which is still in use.

This bridge enabled W.W.P. access to the Thorpe Road right-of-way by building two concrete tunnels to gain access to the steep climb out of the Hangman Valley up some 700 feet to the West Spokane Plains.

The two Thorpe Road tunnels are still in use today with the "1917" construction date emblazoned on their entrances (add photo). The two tunnels were converted for automobile use after the closing of and removal of the Inter-Urban's tracks in 1935.

Jamieson Sub-Station

Jamieson substation in 2016

The Jamieson Sub-Station was a large 3-story brick building with large transformers and huge cooling fans to keep the transformers cool. The transformers would reduce the high voltage electricity to low voltage electricity being delivered by overhead power lines that the electric trolley trains would attach to special connectors on top of the trolley engines. They would then draw power for running the trolley's electric motors.

The Jamieson sub-station was located precisely half way between Spokane and Medical Lake on Electric Avenue adjacent to Spokane International Airport.The sub-station was built in 1905 and was used by W.W.P. until the Inter-Urban's demise in 1923, so it only functioned as an electrical sub-station for 18 years.

Jamieson substation in 1965

Many locals will remember it as a haunted house known as Hagel's House of Horrors. Thousands of people would visit the haunted house every Halloween until 1990 when it was closed down by the district fire marshal. All the proceeds from Hagel's House of Horrors went to local charities. The building was finally demolished by Spokane International Airport on April 1, 2016.

About 3 miles west of the Jamieson Sub-Station was the Hayford passenger station, and another mile westward was the Cheney – Medical Lake directional track switch. The only other physical proof of the railroad's prior existence is the brick electric sub-station in Cheney and the passenger terminal (now a home) on Brooks Road in Medical Lake (show pictures).

The Railroad's Demise

The automobile and better country roads between the outlying towns and communities directly lead to the demise of the railroads. The expensive to operate railroads couldn't compete with the quick and reasonable service provided by delivery trucks and passenger cars. Many of the train companies merged with each other but eventually went out of business. The farmers and businesses along the train routes succumbed to the financial problems of the depression years and went out of business by the scores.

Written by:

Medical Lake 1911