Located in Spokane, Washington area, Hillyard was a separate town from 1892 to 1924, when it was incorporated as a neighborhood.
The Great Northern Railway was responsible for the establishment of the town, which was named for James J. Hill, the railroad’s president at the time. In the years 1904 to 1912, a large number of the town’s residences were constructed to house railroad workers who worked in the local yard. Hillyard was the location of the Great Northern’s renowned shops, which were responsible for the production, repair, and refurbishment of locomotives. At the time, the Hillyard shop was the largest in the entire United States of America.
When the city of Spokane annexed Hillyard in 1924, it was considered a success.
Because of its historical roots as a railroad town that housed railroad workers, Hillyard has a reputation for being a rough town that has lasted into the twentieth century. The Hillyard train yards were described as having “the sensation of warmed-over death” as recently as 1979 by Daniel Leen in his book The Freighthoppers Manual for North America.
During a series of mergers that resulted in the formation of the Burlington Northern Railroad and later the BNSF Railway, the Hillyard yard and shops were decommissioned in the early 1980s, with the majority of BN’s yard activities in Spokane being relocated to Yardley. Today, all that is left of the ancient shops are the deteriorating structures.
Hillyard is home to some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in Spokane, and it is the poorest neighborhood in the state of Washington in terms of per capita poverty. Residents of the neighborhood refer to the eastern border of the community, which is located east of the railroad tracks, as “Dog Town.”
Hillyard has maintained its status as a neighborhood in Spokane in which locals are proud of. Every year in August, the Hillyard Festival is celebrated, and the preservation of old buildings is a major issue in the community. Murals and a tiny train museum pay homage to the town’s rich historical legacy.
Several of the neighborhood’s residents are derived from the railroad workers who founded the town, but Hillyard has recently emerged as a favorite destination for newcomers of Russian, Ukrainian, Micronesian, and Southeast Asian origins. The Hillyard commercial district, which is located on Market Street in downtown Spokane, has been designated as the city’s first neighborhood to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Teresa Brum, Spokane’s Historic Preservation Officer in charge of the endeavor to have Hillyard listed on the National Register of Historic Places, says the following: “This is the only neighborhood in Spokane that has retained its original architectural integrity. The majority of it still appears to be the same as it did 90 years ago.” Hillyard is still a part of Spokane’s history, and it continues to be a haven for low-income residents.
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