1882 Benjamin P Cheney Academy
Here stood the ghost of the beginning of our education legacy. Northern Pacific Railway director and our town's namesake, Benjamin P Cheney provided money and land for the building of a school at Cheney, the new Spokane County seat. The Benjamin P. Cheney Academy opened in 1882.
Backstory and Context
As our town burst
into being in 1880 ahead of the construction of the cross-continental Northern
Pacific Railway line, the residents recognized the need for a proper school. A
committee of men gathered at the Northwest Tribune newspaper office, electing Daniel
F. Percival as chairman and newspaper editor, Lucien Kellogg as secretary. Alex
Abernathy, of the Northern Pacific Railroad land department, knew NPRR
director, Benjamin P. Cheney, and suggested that they write to Mr. Cheney for
aid in building a school. General John Sprague, the railroad superintendent,
offered his opinion that "Mr. Cheney might be agreeable to providing funds
to build a school as a monument to his memory." Through the committee's
correspondence, Mr. Cheney agreed to not only provide $10,000 to build a
school, he persuaded the railroad to donate 8 acres of land, and sent two
teachers, as well as crates of books.
With money in hand,
workers erected a two-story wooden building that was 36 by 66 feet. Each floor
was divided into two classrooms with a hallway running the length of the
building between them. The Benjamin P. Cheney Academy opened April 3, 1882.
The BP Academy
served as our public school until 1887, when the Cheney School District
established its own school. The academy continued as a subscription school
It was in danger of
closing due to lack of students when politics stepped in to change its fate and
the character of Cheney. As a requirement of statehood, Washington needed to
establish a school for the training of teachers. Cheney offered the academy and
land to the state. Our local representatives used persuasion and political
maneuvering to make the school at Cheney Washington State's first Normal School
on March 22, 1891.
What is a normal school? The term comes from the French who created schools to formally train teachers to a standard or "norm." The State Normal School at Cheney set up a curriculum to train teachers for schools across the state.
Disaster struck during the summer. In the early morning of August 27, 1891, the building was destroyed by fire as new classrooms and a gymnasium were being constructed. Undeterred, classes were conducted in other buildings in town, and the first class of three teachers graduated from the Cheney Normal School on June 17, 1892.
The Norwest Tribune
The Cheney Sentinel
The Southwest Spokane County Historical Society photograph collection