THE HISTORY OF LINCOLN COUNTY, WASHINGTON

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                                          Washington became a territory on March 2, 1853 and a state on November 11, 1889.

Lincoln County was formed on November 24, 1883 from a portion of Spokane County, but just four days later, it lost a large amount of territory when Douglas County was created.

The county was named for President Lincoln and Davenport was designated the temporary county seat, though Sprague was the largest town in the county. In the next election the towns of Davenport, Sprague and Harrington vied for the county seat. The number of votes cast in both Davenport and Sprague exceeded their populations. However, Sprague was designated the winner and a brand new brick courthouse was built in 1886. In 1890, another vote was cast and Sprague won again. On August 3, 1895 a fire destroyed Sprague and the main employer, the Northern Pacific Railroad Company moved its sixth divisional headquarters to Spokane. Sprague’s population fell to a few hundred people.  In a third and final contest in 1896 Davenport was the victor, and it is the county seat today. Davenport’s courthouse was built in 1897.

Settlement of Lincoln County began in the late 1860s. Most settlers started raising cattle on the abundant bunchgrass that grew in the bottomlands.  The number of cattle increased until the severe winter of 1880-81 wiped out almost 90% of the herds.  The ranchers rebuilt but yet another killing winter came in 1889-90.  The wheat crops also suffered during the cold winters. The farmers soon realized that more feed was needed to keep cattle alive during the winter months and many landowners because raising wheat, which became the principal industry. Barley, oats and rye were also being farmed. Dry land farming became the most common type of farming because of the semi-arid climate.

The railroads arrived in the 1880s bringing more settlers and the transportation to ship their wheat and cattle to the East. The Northern Pacific R.R. Company crossed the county in 1889-90, and the Great Northern came through Lincoln County in 1892-93.

Some glacial fields extended into the county, but most of them stayed North of the Spokane River. The floods caused by Lake Missoula eroded much of the original topsoil of this area and it is now mostly channeled scablands on what is known as the Big Bend Plateau.  The Western part of the northern county boundary is the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt.  As the river flows south it makes a big bend to the west, hence the name.  The Spokane River is the eastern portion of the northern boundary.  There are 1,478,400 acres of land in Lincoln County, with a population of about 10,000 with about 1,1780 living in Davenport.

With the presence of Grand Coulee Dam built in 1942, the backwaters are now called “Lake Roosevelt” which now provides many types of water-related recreation for residents and tourists.  The dam itself is near the very northwest corner of the county.  The Keller ferry crosses the lake north of the town of Wilbur.

The basic attributes of Lincoln County remain the soil, sun, wheat and only four people per square mile.  

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Thank you to the Davenport Museum for contributing some of the above information.

History of Lincoln County, Washington submitted to the

WAGenWeb by Rella Gleaton September, 2003..

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