Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Francis H Cook, Founder of Mount Spokane

By Kris Krell

                                    Francis H Cook, Founder of Mount Spokane

I’m not a skier or a winter enthusiast, but I do enjoy driving to the top of Mt. Spokane in good weather. I don’t like how the road narrows near what seems like halfway up and the rest of the way to the top or the steep drop off on the outside edge of the road.  I do love the beautiful views, the lovely trees.  

Francis H Cook’s contemporaries were Louis Davenport, AM Cannon, WH Cowles, James Glover, JJ Browne, Samuel Havermale, Joel Ferris among others who have had streets and schools named after them. Francis H Cook, though, was less well known that his peers, but he was no less of a Spokan booster and developer.

Cook started the first Spokan Falls newspaper. He purchased 680 acres of prime land and planned to build a residential area and a park on the land. Cook established the first motorized streetcar in Spokan Falls. He also developed the area that is now Wandermere Golf Course.  Last but not least, he built the road to the summit of Mount Baldy. 

In 1871, at the age of 20 years old, Cook left his home state of Ohio and moved to Olympia, Washington.  In Olympia, he worked at and then purchased the newspaper, The Echo.  Cook was never afraid to speak his mind.  Although he was a conservative Republican, he did not remain silent on the controversial contract system of overcrowding in insane asylums as other newspapers did; the 1875 Legislature changed the policy for the better.  

In 1877, he started the first newspaper in Tacoma, Washington, The Tacoma Herald.  Cook was very active in Republican politics, and he supported requiring the Northern Pacific Railway to build 25 miles of new road each year heading east from the Puget Sound.

May 8, 1879, Cook started Spokan Falls’ first newspaper, The Spokan Times.  Spokan’s population was only 100 residents at the time.   He called the region “the great Spokan country”.  His newspaper was very popular, and because of his speaking out against the unethical railroad practices, he became the youngest presiding officer in the Washington Territorial Legislature.  It was during his term in the Legislature that Spokane County came into being.

Cook purchased a large parcel of land on the South Hill.  He borrowed $25,000 from Provident Trust Company, and built the Spokane & Montrose Motor Railroad with a wood-burning steam engine and two passenger cars.  Operation began in 1888, as the town’s first motorized streetcar and travelled from downtown Spokane to present day St John’s Cathedral and on up to 19thAvenue.  Cook also planned to build a residential area and park named Montrose Park (now Manito Park).  He named the park Montrose for the wild roses growing there.  He also set up the first county fair in the park.

During the financial crash of 1893, Cook lost his fortune and South Hill property.  His home was the first mansion on the South Hill, and it was where St John’s Cathedral is today.  He moved his family north of Spokane along the Little Spokane River.  He developed the area where Wandermere Golf Course if today. 

Cook was always drawn to Mount Baldy.  In 1909, hes old his farmlands to purchase a 160 acre tract of land leading to the summit of the mountain.  With his son Silas, he built cabins for the family to live in.  They spent two years building the road by hand so that the land could be available for recreation.  The road went to within a mile of the peak.  Cook charged a 50-cent toll to use the road.

On August 15, 1912, there was a dedication of the newly renamed Mount Spokane (from Mount Baldy).  In attendance were Govenor Marion Hay; the first Miss Spokane, Marguerite Motie,; Aubrey L White (the father of Spokane Parks), and the Cook family.

All attending the dedication travelled in eight cars and one motorcycle from The Spokesman Review building in downtown Spokane and drove the 36 miles in three hours to the mountain.  The final portion of the trip up Cook’s road was completed on foot or by horseback.

In 1920, Cook arranged for the property to be put under the control of Louis Davenport because of the importance of the road and the mountain.  Francis H Cook died in his home in Spokane a month later at the age of 69.  In 1927, the land went to the state with the proviso that the land be used as a public park.  The park was originally 1,500 acres named Mount Spokane State Park.  In 2016, the park was noted to be 13,000 acres.

In the 1930’s Cook’s hand forged road was widened and improved by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The first chair lift was installed in 1946. Mount Spokane Park Drive was designated as state Route 206 in 1964, and was repaved in 1985.

Cook had a simple grave at Riverside Memorial Park, but in 2013 a more elaborate memorial in his honor was erected nearby by the Fairmount Memorial Association, the Spokane Police Department History Book Committee, and the Spokane Law Enforcement Museum.

Sources:  The Spokesman-Review, Memorial Pays Tribute to Spokane Developer’s Story, September 5, 2013; The Spokesman-Review, Pioneer Publisher Remembered, November 1, 2007; and The Spokesman-Review, Then & Now:  Mount Spokane Park Drive, January 4, 2016.

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