Morgan Acres (Spokane County) -- Thumbnail History

  • By Stephen B. Emerson
  • Posted 7/07/2009
  • Essay 9035
Morgan Acres is a semi-rural neighborhood near Spokane, directly north of the Hillyard neighborhood. Unlike Hillyard, Morgan Acres was never annexed by the City of Spokane. It retains a unique character. The neighborhood dates back to real-estate schemes devised by local business entrepreneurs, including Daniel Morgan (1869-1962), for whom it is named. The biggest draw for the real estate was water pulled up from the Spokane Aquifer through wells built by the developers. For many years the Morgan Acres neighborhood has resisted urbanization. Although modern infill has crept into many of the former open fields, one can still spot a cow or a chicken here and there.

History of the Geography

For thousands of years an area north of Spokane, bounded roughly by State Highway 2 on the west, Market Street on the east, Francis Avenue on the south, and Farwell Road to the north, lay virtually untouched by humans, even avoided by American Indians, who once dwelt in winter villages along the nearby rivers and streams. Formed by sand that settled out of the backwaters of massive glacial floods around 16,000 years ago, this place was a forbidding environment of sparse grass and scattered, stunted pines.

In many places, what at first might appear as rolling hills are actually sand dunes, partially stabilized by the tenuous plant cover. The area is dry, not because of lack of rainfall, but because there are no permanent waterways flowing through the undulating, featureless landscape. Much of the rain that falls is quickly absorbed and carried away through the deep layers of porous sand. The land is not conducive to agriculture, or even to grazing. American Indians could find lush pasture for their horses only a few miles away. Even in the 1940s, more than 70 years after the City of Spokane was founded only four or five miles to the south, early local resident A. M. Denman described a desolate scene:

“Leaving the beautiful Little Spokane Valley we pass close to the present site of the State Fish Hatchery ... . On up southerly, we come out on a flat shallow valley of sand-dunes where grows the common bull pine from which I sometimes think about ninety per cent of our knotty lumber is made. Very little good grass for animals grows here and this looked so destitute that it was passed up by homesteaders for several years” (Denman 1947, p. 2).

A major reason for the uninviting nature of these lands was the lack of water. The irony of the situation is that only 200 feet below the surface, millions of gallons of the life-giving liquid was available, supplied by the Spokane Aquifer. The first man to figure this out, and to act upon it, was real-estate dealer and future U.S. Senator Daniel Morgan. His was the first encroachment on the desert north of Francis Avenue.

Daniel Morgan

Daniel Morgan was born in Benton County, Oregon, on February 28, 1869. His parents, Seth and Margaret, like many other Americans, had crossed the Great Plains in the 1840s to start a new life in the West. A restless boy, Daniel ran away from home at an early age and wandered about eastern Oregon and Washington. He married his wife, Jessie, in 1891, in Pendleton, Oregon, and soon afterwards the couple moved to Oakesdale, Washington, where the ambitious Daniel intended to become an attorney. He soon discovered, however, that there was money to be made in the real-estate business. He was immediately successful as a salesman of farm land in the Oakesdale vicinity and, looking for even more lucrative enterprises, moved to the booming town of Spokane in 1906.

Morgan soon found employment with wealthy real-estate broker Fred B. Grinnell (d. 1929), who had been doing business in Spokane since 1889, the year of the Great Fire. In 1902, Grinnell hired George M. Colborn (1875-?) as a bookkeeper. Colborn, every bit as ambitious as Daniel Morgan, would later become Morgan’s partner in the Morgan Acres endeavor. By 1906, Colborn was listed as a partner in Grinnell’s real-estate and insurance business. The next year, Daniel Morgan was brought on board as a salesman. Morgan's subsequent rise was meteoric, buoyed by the Morgan Acres enterprise as well as South Hill real-estate deals.

By 1908, after the Morgan Acres project had been initiated, George Colborn had created his own real-estate and investment business, while Daniel Morgan had been named vice president of the Fred B. Grinnell Company. Colborn and Morgan continued to share interest in the Morgan Acres development until 1914, when Morgan traded his South Hill mansion, located at 242 E. 21st Avenue, in exchange for Colborn’s remaining shares of what by then was referred to as Morgan’s Acre Tracts.

Morgan built a “$10,000 country home” on Market Street, the largest in the vicinity, but still quite modest in comparison to some of the ostentatious estates in the Rockwood/Manito district of the South Hill. He and his family lived there for about seven years before moving back to the south side. By this time, Morgan was a success in his own right, having left the Grinnell Company to start his own real-estate, insurance, and investment firm.

Morgan became interested in Republican politics and was elected to the state House of Representatives and then went on to serve two terms as a senator for Washington state between 1922 and 1928. In that capacity, Senator Morgan was instrumental in securing legislation forming the groundwork for the future Columbia Basin Project. After his political career, Morgan continued in his successful business endeavors, having amassed a great deal of wealth with which to invest. He died in 1962, survived by Jessie, his wife of 71 years, at their 342 E 16th Avenue South Hill home.

In 1955, Daniel Morgan was interviewed by his cousin Colonel George S. Clarke. In the interview Mr. Morgan reveals himself as an ambitious man secure in his own success, one who was well acquainted with the movers and shakers of his time. Among those whom he spoke of were A. M. Cannon, J. J. Browne, George Turner, Levi Hutton (1860-1928) and Levi’s wife, May Arkwright Hutton (1860-1915), whom Morgan described as “a very well-developed woman.” In the interview, Mr. Morgan speaks spontaneously and without pretentiousness, often interjecting a sharp wit. As a boy, while looking upon the figure of former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant, Daniel thought him to be an “ordinary-looking chap,” and mused to himself that “If a man like that could command the Union Army, there’s a chance for me.”

Morgan Acres

In 1907 Spokane was a teeming city, flush with the wealth of nearby natural resources industries such as mining, lumbering, and grain-growing. The real-estate business rode the crest of this success, as many of the city’s future historic neighborhoods were being built, none so elegant as the central South Hill, where Spokane’s most prominent citizens congregated. In 1907, the Fred B. Grinnell Company advertised 62 houses for sale in the Manito area:

In All Cities the best residence districts seek the highest ground. In Spokane the highest ground is at Manito -- that is one reason why Manito property is going to be so valuable.”

So who would want to move to the flat wasteland that lay north of the city limits? It turns out that, along with the big money and affluent families that were arriving in Spokane, there was a burgeoning population of middle- and lower-class persons who would form the basis of the manufacturing, retail, and service industries required of the rapidly expanding metropolitan area. A considerable number of these people were not attracted to the fast pace and crowding of urban life. Many had grown up on farms and likely retained a fondness for growing things and caring for livestock. It was this demographic that Daniel Morgan had in mind when he and his partner George Colborn, as employees of the Fred B. Grinnell Company, purchased land north of town and platted several neighborhoods that were intended to become additions to the City of Spokane.

Despite the early date of these plats, they have yet to be annexed by the City.

First Addition and Additions to Additions

The first of these additions appears to have been Morgan’s Acre Park, bounded by Lincoln Road on the north, Bruce Street on the south, Crestline Street (then called Martha Street) on the west, and Regal Street on the east. East-west streets within the neighborhood included Houghton and Weile avenues, and two north-south routes were called Dixwell Street (now Altamont) and Burdick Street (now Smith). Burdick Street, incidentally, was named after the secretary/treasurer of the Grinnell Company.

Later, the First Addition to Morgan’s Acre Park Addition encompassed an area to the southeast of the earlier addition. Another addition in this rectangle of land, Sylvan Home Park, was platted separately and annexed by the City of Spokane at an early date. Even larger than the first addition, the Colborn and Morgan’s Acre Park Addition stretched from Regal Street westward nearly to present-day Havana Street, and from Lincoln Road southward to the line of present-day Lyons Avenue. This addition was always divided by the tracks of the Great Northern Railroad and over the years, as those tracks and rail yards expanded into a wide swath, the eastern portion of Colborn and Morgan’s Acre Park Addition became detached from the rest and developed along similar but differing lines. As years passed, the original Morgan’s Acre Park additions, as well as the western portion of the Colborn and Morgan’s Acre Park Addition west of Market Street, came to be called Morgan Acres.

Sub-urban Homes for the Farm-grown

Daniel Morgan’s sales formula for land in the Morgan’s Acre Tracts was highly attractive to the kind of people described above. The one-acre lots were farther away from Spokane than other sub-urban developments, but newspaper ads declared that they were only a “five cent fare and 15 minutes” from downtown Spokane on the interurban railway system. Buyers were promised a low down payment and monthly installments of just $10. Ads promised “A six inch water main in front of every one. All the water you need.”

Cheap transportation to jobs in town was a good selling factor, but an abundance of water was absolutely necessary to make the sandy soil arable. The first wells were dug in 1906 and were served by a wood water tank. These wells were dug by hand, 200 feet down to the Spokane Aquifer below. It was necessary to dig a much larger hole than needed to house the well, because the brick lining had to be constructed from the bottom up. Excavated space around the well shaft was then filled in.

The Colborn Morgan’s Acre Park Water Company was established in 1908. F. J. Marcott was superintendent in 1912. He was replaced by Edward D. Kingsland in 1915. As more people settled in the Morgan Acres vicinity, the need for additional water and storage became apparent. In 1923 a new well was dug and the current steel water tower and tank, with a maximum capacity of 50,000 gallons, was constructed. All of these early water system facilities were located near the intersection of Regal Street and current Wilding Avenue, where the headquarters of the North Spokane Irrigation District No. 8 is now located.

A Rural Landscape

The one-acre lots of Morgan Acres sold quickly and by 1914 only 100 acres out of a total of 640 remained unsold. These were what remained of George Colborn’s interest in the project, and this is what Daniel Morgan traded away his South Hill mansion for. Although lots sold rapidly, development did not keep pace. It was one thing to acquire cheap land for speculation, but another to build on and make improvements. So the area was built up slowly through the years, and for a long time large open spaces characterized the scene.

A soil identification map made in 1917 is the earliest depiction available of the development of the neighborhood. One can actually count the primary buildings on this map. Within the area defined above as Morgan Acres, only 72 structures are shown, one a church, the others probably houses (one of them Daniel Morgan’s). Of course there were barns and other outbuildings, but the rate of development for the first 10 years is remarkably slow, especially when compared to neighborhoods in Spokane. A photograph on display at the offices of the North Spokane Irrigation District No. 8 was taken from the walkway of the water tower soon after it was built in 1923. It shows a sparsely occupied rural landscape, with relatively few buildings and trees and lots of open land. Although development was slow, it was steady.

Aerial photographs taken in 1938 clearly show the rectangle of Morgan Acres as a salient of low-density development extending from and contrasting with the rows of houses in Spokane to the south. It was bordered on the west and north by a wasteland of sparse grass, scattered pine, and a network of dirt trails that stand out on the aerial photo like veins. To the east were the expansive yards and multiple tracks of the Great Northern Railroad. The photo indicates that many lots remained undeveloped. The occupation rate might be estimated at 50 percent. Most developments appear to consist of small farms with houses, barns, and outbuildings. The open spaces have the appearance of pasture, not plowed cropland.

Another set of aerial photographs, taken in 1950, illustrates the accelerated pace of development in Morgan Acres. In the empty spaces to the west and north, small inroads of development were being made, but most of that land remained vacant. Property that was worthless for agriculture and grazing was open for construction of large facilities that depended on neither of those activities. The photos, and a 1957 Metsker’s map, show three of these: the Calkins Air Terminal, north of Francis Avenue and east of Division Street; a magnesium plant, north of Morgan Acres; and the Kaiser Aluminum reduction plant, farther north. The 1950 aerial photos not only show increasing density of occupation in Morgan Acres, but a new pattern of growth that had been occurring for a number of years.

Instead of only small farms neatly formed into one-acre plots, subdividing was on the rise. It began on the east-west streets. Since the original one-acre lots were rectangles with an east-west longitudinal axis, the houses faced toward the north-south streets, with open spaces in the areas central to the large blocks created by the platting system. Therefore, subdividing was most likely to happen on the east-west streets where the open spaces were served by existing roads. These new houses were generally smaller, with a more transient population. Another cause of subdivision included the construction of more houses for use by relatives of owners. So the density of structures increased along the roads, while the open interiors remained isolated.

Raising Foxes and Milking Cows

Although the introduction of plentiful water brought greenery, lawns, and deciduous trees to Morgan Acres, the soil still wasn’t adequate for commercial agriculture or orchard growing. But it did produce good pasture land. Thus, livestock raising became the primary economic activity in Morgan Acres, mainly in the form of dairying. Polk City Directories for the City of Spokane name a number of dairies that operated in the area over the years, mostly listed by the name of the owner/operator. The earliest to appear was the John F. Wilson dairy, in 1917. He was followed by John F. Harvey, Louis A. Jones, Karl F. Cole, Fred Hewit, Clarence R. Harris, Joseph W. Davis, C. W. Kruder, and E. A. Sweet. Most of these dairies were only listed for a few years, and were probably small family-worked endeavors.

The number of dairy listings drops off abruptly in 1929, indicating that the onset of the Great Depression had a great effect on the dairy industry. These small farms probably operated at a subsistence level for a while. Hard times spawned ingenuity in an effort to survive, and two unusual livestock enterprises operated during these years. The Morgan Acre Fox Farm, at 7314 N Altamont, was owned by Augustine J. Faneuf and his wife, Margaret. It was in business from 1932 until 1937. During the same time period, Arthur Hefling ran the Morgan Acre Rabbitry. Mr. Hefling went on to become a successful businessman, operating Hefling Farm Supply on north Market Street for many years.

In 1935, the Fernwood Dairy was listed, and the next year Sweets Dairy appears. Frank D. McSloy, at 7820 N Altamont, is the last dairy to appear in the Polk Directories, in 1937.

Changing Times

World War II intervened, and following that conflict it appears that most livestock-raising in the Morgan Acres neighborhood had reverted to so-called hobby-farming. People kept horses for breeding and personal recreation. Some raised a few beef or dairy cattle for their own consumption.

Such activity continues to the present time, though it is becoming less common. Today most of the open fields behind the houses are vacant, and many barns and outbuildings are either collapsed or rotting away. Weeds and discarded junk are as likely to occupy former pasture as is the occasional cow or horse.

Sources: A. M. Denman, "Memoir: Township 26 -- R. 43," 1947,  Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library, Downtown Branch, Spokane, Washington; Norman C. Donaldson and Laurence D. Giese, Soil Survey of Spokane County, Washington, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service, in cooperation with the Washington Agricultural Experiment Station (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1968); N. W. Durham, History of the City of Spokane and Spokane Country, Washington (Spokane, Chicago, Philadelphia: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1912); Jerry Lowe, personal communication with Gary Lowe, Manager, 2004, North Spokane Irrigation District No. 8; Charles F. Metsker, Metsker’s Map of Spokane County, Washington (Portland: Metsker Map Company, 1957); Daniel Morgan, oral interview, questions asked by Colonel George S. Clarke, transcribed by John C. Ellingson, Voices of the Pioneers, Tape No. 1, Interview No. 1, 1955, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library, Downtown Branch, Spokane; Charles A Ogle, Standard Atlas of Spokane County, Washington (George Ogle and Company, 1912); R. L. Polk, Polk’s City Directory for the City of Spokane (R.L. Polk Company, various years); Spokane County, aerial photos of Spokane, Washington, 1938, Spokane County Department of Public Works; Spokane County, aerial photos of Spokane, Washington, 1950, Spokane County Department of Public Works;  newspaper ad for Fred B. Grinnell Company, Spokesman-Review, July 21, 1907, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library, Downtown Branch, Spokane; newspaper ad for Morgan’s Acre Park, Spokesman-Review, 1909, Northwest Room, Spokane Public Library, Downtown Branch, Spokane; "Morgan Trades Home in Manito for Irrigated Tracts Near Hillyard, Spokesman-Review, June 23, 1914; "Ex-State Senator Dies in Spokane," Spokesman-Review, April 19, 1962; Cornelius Van Duyne, Soil Survey of Spokane County, Washington (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1921).

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