The wood-framed Northern Pacific Railway depot opened in 1881 and served as the gateway to Cheney for passengers and freight through the first World War to 1929.
The track bed for
the Northern Pacific Railway Company line from Ainsworth on the Colombia River
to Spokane Falls was graded through Cheney July 1880. As track laying
operations advanced on Cheney in May 1881, Supervisor S.V. Stevens forcefully
requested that the town keep its saloons closed while the track laying gang
came through. Cheney’s Northwest Tribune newspaper reported on May 13, 1881,
Saloons will close while the track laying work progresses through Cheney in
obedience to the request of Mr. Stevens, supervisor of track laying, with the
support of General John W. Sprague.
Track laying reached
Cheney on Wednesday, May 25, 1881, with many of the townsfolk coming out to
watch. It was a skeleton track capable of supporting the construction trains.
At the same time
that spring, a wood framed depot was hastily constructed at the foot of E
Street [College Ave]. The first passenger train arrived in July 1881, the depot
was framed, but incomplete.
The route from
Spokane Falls down to the Columbia River was slowly shored up and improved. In
August 1881 it took 12 and a half hours to make the 149 mile journey; a year
later travel time had been cut to 8 and a half hours. The following year, the
358 mile trip from Cheney to Portland took slightly less than 24 hours.
The depot was the
gateway into town, greeting Normal school students, businessmen, politicians,
celebrities, and visitors. Students whose homes were in Spokane, might take the
train home on Friday and return Monday morning. Notable figures such as temperance
and suffrage advocate, Frances Willard and Elizabeth Cady Stanton came to
speak, and famous preacher, Billy Sunday stopped at Cheney on several
occasions. The annual May Day festival, started in 1910, brought growing crowds
from Spokane and beyond. Politicians, such as Teddy Roosevelt and
Woodrow Wilson made whistle-stops at Cheney. The depot also witnessed the
hundreds of Cheney area men leaving to serve in the war in Europe [World War I]. Clubwomen gave departing
soldiers packets of paper and pencils to encourage them to write home to their
The hastily erected
depot had detractors early on. There was no insulation in buildings in those
days, and the depot was reportedly drafty and cold in winter with creaky
floors, especially in the freight area that over time threatened to give way
under the weight of the items. The businessmen of Cheney first began agitating
with the Northern Pacific Railway in the teens for a new station. The railroad
put all plans on indefinite hold at the outbreak of the war.
In the mid-1920s,
the Commercial Club, under their president, A.H. Johnson formed a committee to
work toward obtaining a new depot. They efforts resulted in the demolition of
the old depot in April 1929. Its replacement still stands today.