The Story that Spokane’s Riverfront Park Clock Tower Tells

Clock Tower at Night

Clocktower at Night by

There are many historic buildings in Spokane, but few tell as much of a story about the history of the city as the Clocktower on Havermale Island in Riverfront Park. The changes in the city during the Clocktower’s existence, and the role that the tower itself played in those changes, weave a narrative thread about the development of Spokane over the years.

Great Northern Railroad Depot and ClocktowerWhen the Clocktower was originally constructed in 1902, it started as a part of the Great Northern Railroad depot. Following the Great Fire of 1889, Spokane experienced a building boom that created much of the downtown landscape that exists today. Railroads were one of the driving forces of commerce in Spokane, causing the city to become a transportation hub for the Inland Northwest, as well as an important shipping center.

At the time of its initial construction, the Clocktower’s South wall was a part of the exterior wall of the depot, with the North, East, and West walls in the inside of the building. A reminder of the tower’s history can even be seen on the East and West walls, as there are visible sloping lines on the exterior where the roof of the depot was originally located.

Over the following decades, the railroad became a decreasingly important part of the transportation landscape in the United States, and Spokane was no exception. In the years leading up to Expo ’74, the Great Northern Railroad Depot was torn down, but thankfully the Clocktower was left intact, and continues to stand as a reminder of Spokane’s railroad past. In fact, a brass plaque on its side reads that the Clocktower “stands as a monument to the railroad industry and its role in the development of Spokane and the Pacific Northwest.” With the tower’s involvement in Expo ’74, the 155 foot structure has been a fixture in Spokane’s transition from the rail age to what you find today.

The Clocktower has to be wound every week by hand. In 2011, the Spokesman Review posted a set of photos that show the inside of the tower, and the process of winding the clock, a job that requires turning the crank 99 turns to keep the timepiece going from week to week.

The thing that makes the various classic features of the Spokane skyline so interesting are the stories that they tell about our city’s history. The Clocktower is an important part of that story, and remains one of Spokane’s most important landmarks.