Cheney Historical Museum main logo SVG.

Cheney’s County Courthouse

Named for a Native American word, Spokane, which means “Child of the Sun,” the original Spokane County was merged into Stevens County in 1864. Cheney’s Daniel Percival and Spokan Falls’ John Glover didn’t realize the drama they were setting in motion when they championed a bill in the territorial legislature that recreated Spokane County in October of 1879.

Spokan Falls was designated the temporary county seat until there could be a vote of the people in November 1880. A committee of men representing the precincts of the new county met to discuss options. Cheney was seen as a good choice as it was easy to access by trails and the coming railroad line. Cheney also had the backing of Northern Pacific Railway supervisors, who offered land for government offices should Cheney be chosen.

A colorful war of words erupted between the Spokan Times and Northwest Tribune newspapers that lasted through the election. The ballots were counted in Spokan Falls under questionable conditions that included a candidate for county auditor. A significant number of ballots were disqualified, mainly those favoring Cheney (and against the auditor candidate.)

The war of words continued in the newspapers, as a new battle started in the courts. The courts ruled in favor of Cheney, but Spokan Falls still held the books. In what Spokane refers to as “the big steal,” a group of Cheney men rode into the Falls on the evening of March 23, 1881 to retrieve the ballots and county record books. A recount of the ballots proved Cheney had won the election, and the men returned to town to set up the county government in a two-story wooden courthouse at the corner of 4th and D streets.

County Courthouse
Spokane County Courthouse and offices at 4th & D streets, 1884.

One of the significant events during the period was that in 1883 women won the right to vote in Washington Territory. Lucy Switzer, a prominent suffragette and temperance advocate lived in Cheney. She took full advantage of her newly acquired right by serving on a number of juries, often acting as foreman or secretary. She also voted in every election until the territorial legislature rescinded women’s voting rights in 1888.

Spokan Falls forced a new election in 1886. By this time their city’s population had grown significantly and Spokane County’s borders had shrunk, so that they easily won the vote. Cheney did not fight the election results. The courthouse building was repurposed into a public school in 1887. It was moved from the site in 1893 when a new brick public school was constructed.

Image of Gerald the Museum Mouse

One Response

  1. Hi. Thank you so much for all your hard work compiling and making this possible for the public.
    I m researching a Mr and Mrs Winters who lived at 1090 Betz Rd, Cheney, WA. clear back when the house was built in 1910.
    When I was in 1st grade, in 1977, my parents, little sister, and I bought this place and moved in. Right away there were lite things we would hear about this couple. And some of their belongings remained.
    I always have been curious about them and their life as well as the history of the hkuse.
    If you have any info at all please let me know mlm
    Thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Recent Articles


Cheney Historical Museum main logo in green.

We are operated completely by volunteers and through your donations. We receive no government funding for our operations. All of your donations go to funding our efforts to research and preserve our history, and most importantly, share the stories with you both at the museum and beyond its walls.