Monday, March 12, 2018

Where Exactly is the Inland Northwest?

Joseph, Oregon at the base of  Oregon's Wallowa Mountains
Is Joseph, Oregon, in the Inland Northwest?

After being told for years that eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and northwestern Montana, comprise the Inland Northwest, we were interested to discover that Baker City, Oregon, is also included within that distinctive region, according to a travel brochure from the area.

But people involved in a Wiki discussion about the Inland Northwest's borders are convinced it is limited to eastern Washington and northern Idaho. They are irritated by the proposition that parts of  Oregon and Montana are included. They are also wondering if "Inland Empire,"  and Inland Northwest are the same thing.

 What is the Inland Empire?

The Merriam-Webster Geographical Dictionary (published in 1949, 1972, and 2001) says the Inland Empire covers Eastern Washington, northern Idaho, northeastern Oregon, and far-western Montana.

A high railroad trestle in an Inland NW forest
A railroad trestle spans mountain tops in northern Idaho, an area through which people walked until trains between Chicago and Tacoma connected it with the outside world. 

"Inland Empire (Pacific Northwest). Here are entered works about the Northwestern United States between the Cascade Range and Rocky Mountains, comprising eastern Washington, northeastern Oregon, northern Idaho and extreme western Montana." 

Spokane: the Hub of an Empire, backed up by the State of Washington and the Washington State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation, says that the Inland Northwest and Inland Empire are the same place: "Spokane is the commercial hub of the interstate area known formerly as the “Inland Empire” and now as the Inland Northwest.”

Historical photo of Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad in downtown Spokane, Washington, USA in 1912, from the collection of The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, WA
In the old days, the word "empire" defined a promising region that rich people were investing in, where, opportunities were rampant, and one could get lucky if he or she ended up in the right place as the right time. Nowadays the idea of empire has fallen out of favor, being commonly associated with unbridled exploitation of land and people by an elite few. Nowadays, "Inland Northwest" is a more soothing term.

Spokane began to emerge as the center of the Inland Empire in the late 1880s, when the discovery of gold in north Idaho caused it to boom. Many fortune hunters from around the nation acquired their grub stakes in Spokane and used it as a jumping off point to the remote mountain mining areas.

The "Inland Empire" name memorializes the railroad tycoon Jim Hill, who was widely known as the "Empire Builder, for his role in developing rail access to the resource-rich Northwest.

Farms and mountains of the Inland Northwest attracted homesteaders and speculators who sought rich lands like this field near Sanders, Idaho, between Coeur d'Alene and Joseph, Oregon
Spokane grew as a commercial and financial hub where railroads converged, and from which eager entrepreneurs and settlers traded and fanned out to the surrounding mines, fields, and forests. Today, the city serves the commercial, manufacturing, transportation, medical, shopping, and entertainment needs of an 80,000 square mile region.

Former Secretary of the Spokane Chamber of Commerce, John R. Reavis, opined about the city's sphere of influence in his 1891 Annual Report:

"By reason of her geographical position and railroad connections Spokane is fitted as no other city is, or ever can be, to be the distributing center of all that country within a radius of 150 miles, and in some instances territory much farther away. (Pacific Northwest Collections, University of Washington Libraries. Spokane, Washington: W. D. Knight. pp. 6–7, 10–12.)

Spokane Washington's service area in 1891
Towns near the edge of Reavis's 150 mile radius are: Wenatchee and Winthrop to the west at the base of the Cascade Mountains; and Whitefish, Montana, at the base of the Rocky Mountains to the east. By Reavis' parameters, "The Empire" included Walla Walla, Washington, to the south, and Lewiston/Clarkston in Idaho, (only 87 miles south of Spokane) where the Snake and Clark Fork rivers converge, and which some argue is the southern terminus of the Inland Northwest. Note the 150 mile radius encompasses Joseph on the south and also extends into Canada.

 Enter Baker, "Queen City of the Inland Empire”

Did Reavis's "much farther away" comment include Baker City, Oregon? In 1900, Baker City, boasted a population larger than Spokane, which is 200 miles north as the crow flies.

Baker City, Oregon
Baker City prospered due to a profusion of gold strikes and it promoted itself as the “Queen City of the Inland Empire,” according to The Oregon Encyclopedia, a project of the Oregon Historical Society.

So, According to historical authorities, the Inland Empire and Inland Northwest are one and the same, and the area reaches from the Canadian border, south as far south as Baker City, Oregon. Apparently, the cities of Wallowa County, in Oregon's northeastern corner lie within the sphere of the Inland Northwest.