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 (FLSRV.com) 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.
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!