It is branded as Riverfront Spokane and is a public urban park located in Downtown Spokane, WA. It is owned and administered by the Spokane Parks & Recreation Department, which also owns and operates Riverfront Park. With a total land area of one hundred acres (forty hectares), the park incorporates the Upper Spokane Falls, which is the second greatest urban waterfall in the United States and, when coupled with the Lower Spokane Falls, forms the largest urban waterfall in the country.
It is believed that the park’s location and the adjacent falls were a Native American gathering spot, with a number of fishing camps located close to the base of the falls. A claim was established and a sawmill was built near the falls in 1871. The mill was later purchased by James N. Glover, who was aware of the water power potential of the falls as well as the fact that a government charter had been granted to the Northern Pacific Railroad Company for the construction of a main line through the area.
By the late nineteenth century, much of the land along the Spokane Falls had been industrialized, with sawmills and flour mills taking advantage of the abundant energy provided by the swift-moving Spokane River and Spokane Falls. It was necessary to use flumes and waterwheels to mechanically drive sawmills and flour mills that were constructed along the river’s banks.
In order to meet the growing demand for energy and modernize the city, the Washington Water Power Company built a timber dam on the river at the Lower Falls in 1890 (which was decommissioned in 1974) and another dam on the Upper Falls in 1922 (which was decommissioned in 1974). There are several points of interest in Riverfront Park, including these operational hydroelectric facilities on the falls that date back to the park’s industrial past.
The park’s potential as a showcase for the Spokane Falls was seen as early as 1908, but it would be another 64 years before those aspirations could be realized. The park is located on the site of a former railyard. Downtown Spokane, which included what is now Riverfront Park, was once a major hub for passenger and freight train transportation, and it remained so for several decades after the Great Depression.
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