- Jim Kershner, “Cheney–Thumbnail History”
- A Guide to the Central Cheney Historic District
- Jim Kershner, “Eastern Washington University”
- EWU 125th Anniversary Timeline
- A Guide to the Eastern Washington University Historic District
The History of a Small Town: Cheney, Washington
The story of Cheney as a town is not all that dissimilar to the stories of other small towns throughout the American West.The impetus for its creation was due to the fact that the Northern Pacific railroad decided to locate a depot to service its line at the small springs they found during their initial survey. The process of building and servicing the great rail lines that connected the American East to its West during the late 19th century transferred large populations of people and instantly created settlements throughout the western half of the North American continent. For the town that was to be called Cheney it meant that locating a rail depot at its springs brought a newly created community and real estate speculators buying up the surrounding lands, betting that Cheney would in the future become a bustling city. The initial explosion of settlers and speculators would only two years after its founding would be enough to forcibly take the county seat away from Spokane, then called Spokane Falls for a brief period of time. Locals from Cheney in the dead of night stole the election ballots, declared Cheney the winner of the referendum on where to locate the county seat and also stole the county records for transfer to Cheney. Cheney’s ascendancy over Spokane would be very brief and by 1886 Spokane would grow enough to take back the county seat.
Cheney would settle on its name on September 1880, taking the namesake of Benjamin P. Cheney a prominent director of the Northern Pacific railroad and he would in turn provide $10,000 for the creation of an Academy also named after him which would eventually develop into Eastern Washington University. After the contest with Spokane resulted in Cheney languishing as Spokane was becoming the regional metropolis, its fortune’s became tied with the University. The Benjamin P. Cheney Academy would close its doors by 1890 but the new Washington State Legislature decided to locate one of its three “normal” schools, schools for the purpose of training school teachers for the state, in Cheney. This basically secured Cheney’s future and its growth is directly tied to the fortunes of the University. Up until the Second World War the school was primarily a teachers college and the majority of the student body were women. The post war boom after the Second World War in which returning veterans used their G.I. bills to get a college education has marked a period of constant growth for the institution. Over the course of the twentieth century it became Eastern Washington College of Education in 1937, Eastern Washington State College in 1961 and Eastern Washington University in 1977. Cheney’s current population is around 10,000 permanent residents, and the University has a current enrollment of similar size.