Then and Now photos: Sunset Highway

Businessman’s ‘religion’ led to paved thoroughfare

1930s: This postcard shows traffic on Sunset Hill, the western entrance to Spokane proper. During this era, traffic from Seattle followed what is now Highway 2.

January 28, 2013 - Updated: 4:21 a.m.

In the 19th century, east-west travel across Washington was on unsurfaced, ungraded roads. Routes were mostly military wagon trails like the Mullan Road and the Naches Pass Road. But railroad executive and businessman Sam Hill, originally from Minneapolis, saw a future in surface transportation. His idea was that agriculture and business would flourish if farmers could get to town with their produce and participate in community life. He invited 100 business leaders to Spokane to form the Washington State Good Roads Association. Hill became the first president and declared, “Good roads are more than my hobby; they are my religion.” The WSGRA advocated a novel idea: Government should build the roads. In 1905, Washington formed a state highway department. As the automobile became more popular, the good roads movement gained steam. In 1907, the University of Washington established a highway engineering program, the first in the nation. The main route from Seattle to Spokane, which ran through Wenatchee, was called the Sunset Highway and, later, U.S. 10. That road, dubbed State Highway 2 in 1923, wound through Davenport and Reardan before coming down the hill into Spokane, then out Sprague Avenue and Appleway to the Idaho border. Improvements over the next 50 years, such as the bridge at Vantage, moved the route closer to today’s Interstate 90. Although the interstate system began in the 1950s, the stretch through Spokane wasn’t completed until 1968. Hill’s group, now the Washington State Good Roads and Transportation Association, continues to advocate for road projects at the state and local level. – Jesse Tinsley

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