Hillyard was a separate town from 1892 to 1924, when it was incorporated as a neighborhood in the Spokane, Washington region.
The town was founded by the Great Northern Railway, and it was named for James J. Hill, who was the railroad’s president at the time. A considerable proportion of the town’s houses were built between 1904 and 1912 to house railroad workers who worked in the local yard. Hillyard was home to the Great Northern’s famed shops, which were in charge of locomotive production, repair, and refurbishing. The Hillyard store was the largest in the United States of America at the time.
Hillyard was annexed by Spokane in 1924, and it was deemed a success.
Hillyard has a reputation for being a harsh town that has endured into the twentieth century due to its historical beginnings as a railroad town that housed railroad workers. Daniel Leen’s book The Freighthoppers Manual for North America, published in 1979, describes the Hillyard train yards as having “the impression of warmed-over death.”
The Hillyard yard and shops were decommissioned in the early 1980s as part of a sequence of mergers that led in the formation of the Burlington Northern Railroad and then the BNSF Railway, with the majority of BN’s yard activities in Spokane being relocated to Yardley. The crumbling structures are all that is left of the old shops today.
Hillyard is home to some of Spokane’s poorest areas, and it is also the poorest neighborhood in Washington in terms of per capita poverty. The eastern edge of the village, which is located east of the train tracks, is referred to as “Dog Town” by residents.
Hillyard has retained its reputation as a Spokane area that residents are proud of. The Hillyard Festival is held in August, and the preservation of old structures is an important concern in the community. Murals and a small railroad museum pay tribute to the town’s long history.
Although many of the residents of Hillyard are descendants of the railroad workers who created the town, it has recently become a popular destination for newcomers from Russia, Ukraine, Micronesia, and Southeast Asia. The Hillyard business district, which is located on Market Street in downtown Spokane, has been named the city’s first National Register of Historic Places neighborhood.
“This is the only area in Spokane that has preserved its original architectural integrity,” says Teresa Brum, Spokane’s Historic Preservation Officer in charge of the effort to have Hillyard listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The majority of it appears to be unchanged from 90 years ago.” Hillyard is still a part of Spokane’s history, and it remains a safe haven for low-income people.
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