Shady Slope

Tina Wynecoop

Rousing alarm emails were posted to our  community’s social website Nextdoor because  the road called “Shady Slope” lost its two  vertical namesake wooden signs. The iconic  signs went missing sometime last fall. They  had been attached to both sides of the old, and  very large Douglas-fir tree which still grows by  the “big curve.” A lot of travelers noticed their  disappearance and lamented. I did too. 

Nextdoor member Stan Myrzgood recalled  that “the tree and its sign had been there  since Canadian explorer and mapmaker David  Thompson came into the region in 1811.” Our  resident humorist was just pointing out that  these twin signs had been there “forever.” Does  anyone else know the true history of these  signs? 

In a 1951 newspaper article honoring Mr.  and Mrs. L. L. Hildenbrandt’s golden wedding  anniversary, the couple described having  lived on their farm or ranch as they called it,  Tawacentha, since 1907. It was located at the  base of Colbert Road/Little Spokane River. The  river flowed through it. The couple’s first trip to  the area was made in a buggy pulled by their  famous champion road horse, Almota. They  recalled, “North Division did not exist then as  we know it today (1951). There was a wagon  trail that meandered over the hill and northeast  toward Peone/Deadman Creek. It used to take  us an hour and 45 minutes to go from town to  ranch by way of the Shady Slope Road along  the southwest side of Peone/Deadman Creek.  At the mouth of the creek was a favorite camping  spot [in fact, it was a permanent village of the  Spokane/Snexwmene band of Indians.] There  was no road along the Little Spokane River in  those days.” (Spokane Chronicle, June 20,  1951, p 5). 

Always curious about this road, I had  interviewed a local resident for an earlier  history piece I wrote for our Friends of the Little  Spokane River Valley ( newsletter.  Here’s an excerpt: “Six [now seven] decades  ago, longtime local resident Wilna B. Jones (nee  McLaren) moved from Hillyard to the valley to  start her married life at her new address at the  base of Shady Slope Road. “In those days,”  she remembers, “the road wasn’t called Shady  Slope, in fact it wasn’t even a road – just a cow  path.”  

More than a cow path it was the main trail to  and from the Spokane Indian’s encampment  called tcilciymul̓̓́l’lax, “where a creek skirts the  foot of a cliff” in their Interior Salish dialect.  

Mrs. Jones remembers when the road was  just two ruts in the meadow without a formal  

in 1937 and called it Perry Road; it was renamed  Shady Slope sometime in the 1950’s.

When I began my digital research on the history  of the signage, I found many citations which were  mostly about real estate listings and car accidents  on Shady Slope. As for the car accidents, most of  us have learned that winter travel on it is hazardous.  It was made more difficult by the natural spring  that eased itself across the road near another sign,  named invitingly, “Rider’s Rest” – which probably  was a place to cool an overheated vehicle’s  radiator caused by the steep climb up the slope  toward the top of the hill. Perhaps Rider’s Rest  was a place for travelers on horseback to give their  horses a well-earned drink.  

Shady Slope

Both the fir tree signs, and the welcoming rest  spot sign were still intact when I moved to the area  in 1976. And they remained that way for many  years afterward. 

One of my colleagues, Judy, working at the  downtown branch of Spokane Public Library  grew up in a lovely home on the west side of  Shady Slope Road. I interviewed her recently  for this article: She said, “How much I loved living  there. How good it always smelled.” She had just  completed eighth grade when her family moved to  Shady Slope Road where she lived in that home  with her siblings and parents until she was 23. She  recalled, “The road was not super busy then and  the signs were on the fir tree. One winter the road  was so icy that at least a dozen cars couldn’t reach  the top of the hill. We formed a warning team to  keep more cars from coming up the slope which at  the time was impassable.” 

More than once drivers who would slide downhill  off the road in winter came to her door to ask to  use the phone to call for help. This was before cell  phones. She recalled that once a car had slid off  the road and into the trees down the steep slide  slope and the occupant was lying beneath the car.  Noting the dangerous winter driving conditions  just described I will share a personal experience at this point before closing the story of the missing  sign: 

In the late 1990’s I was a substitute teacher  in our local schools. One February day I was  called to work at Northwood Middle School. I  arrived early in the day, and it was very cold.  When finished with the assignment I got into my  car to leave for home when I heard, very clearly,  “Take Shady Slope home.” 

“Ha!, No Way!” I replied to the voice inside  me, “I’m not taking that route in winter, ever.  Once was enough!” I backed my car out of the  parking lot and started to head west to Highway  395 which was much more traveled and  sensible. 395 would be plowed and probably  free of slippery ice. Then, I heard again, “Take  Shady Slope.” This time I obeyed although it  didn’t make sense. I did not slide off the road  like I feared.  

I live on North Hatch Road and had arrived  safely home – without incident. As I was putting  my key in the back door’s lock, I heard police  sirens. I wondered if I had avoided an accident.  I had. The next morning, on the front page of  the newspaper was a photograph of a tragic  automobile accident on the Wandermere Bridge.  Had I not listened to the message, “Take Shady  Slope,” it might have been me. The bridge  surface had been coated in invisible black ice.  For several years afterward I wondered why I  had been protected while the other driver and  her child had not survived. I was no more special  or deserving. It occurred to me that maybe that  driver had not listened to a similar interior,  incongruous message of safety. Maybe. I’ll  never know. I never take Shady Slope Road (in  winter). 

I remember asking Mrs. Wilna Jones what it  was like bumping down Shady Slope in her old  Chevrolet truck in winter on a road which would  someday become a very busy, winding, and  winter-hazardous connector between Highway  2 ([formerly called the Pend Oreille Highway)  and Little Spokane Drive. “Did her truck ever  slide down icy Shady Slope in winter?” She  replied, “My husband’s truck did, but not mine.  He rode it out.” 

As for those Shady Slope signs, alarm bells  started going off when Heather posted: “Does  anybody know where the signs went that were  mounted to the tree on the big curve? I saw  somebody removing them some time ago and  was just wondering if they’re being restored.  We’ve seen them there all our lives, and are  wondering if they’ll be back?” What followed that  post were thirty-one comments regarding her  question: A response from David, “I delivered  UPS out here in the 70’s and they were here  then.” 

Karen responded that she “was wondering  the same thing! I saw a couple of guys removing them and wanted to stop and ask. I miss seeing  them.” Lisa replied, “I miss the sign, too. Funny  how something so simple can have such an  emotional impact!” Then, another neighbor,  Garith, posted, “These signs are now back and  refurbished to remind travelers what road they  are on. For the moment, who is responsible for  the generous good deed, remains a mystery.”  A helpful clue was posted by Rachel: “Hello  everyone, I’m a neighbor to the owners of  the tree where the sign was posted. We got  permission from the owners to take the signs  down for restoration. My husband’s former  student volunteered to restore it and she did a  great job. Taking it down was difficult, putting  it back will require a lift: the sign is huge. Does  anyone have a connection with that type of  equipment?” 

Well, now we can all view the sign with a sense  of relief and gratitude – and give a tip of the ol’  hard hat to the Avista crew for ably reinstalling  this local, historical treasure!

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