Cheney Free Press -

Managing Editor 

A route through history

U.S. 10 helped to create Eastern Washington towns


Last updated 9/5/2019 at 9:04am

John McCallum

An element that helped create Cheney and much of Eastern Washington received some more official recognition earlier this summer.

Historic route U.S. 10 signs went up on either end of Cheney along modern-day State Route 904, helping to mark a road that once ran over 2,000 miles from Seattle to Detroit - and included one of only two car ferries on a national highway. While not as well-known in popular culture as one of its counterparts, U.S. Route 66, U.S. 10 nonetheless was home to many of the same types of businesses that served a nation becoming more and more mobile and adventurous as its love for the automobile grew.

Like many former U.S. routes, U.S. 10 was edged out of national service as the interstate highway system came into being. It was created in 1926 - one year before U.S. 66 - out of a need to meld a disparate system of state highways into one continuous and easily navigable motor route, facilitated with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1921. Many of those early highways weren't even numbered, instead carrying names such as the "Inland Empire Highway," the "Sunset Highway" and the "Lincoln Highway."

Wisconsin was the first state to employ a numbering system for its roads, passing legislation in 1917. Washington followed suit with its Primary State Highway - PSH - and Secondary State Highway - SSH - system in 1923.

Washington State Department of Transportation research cartographer Mark Bozanich said much of what eventually became U.S. 10 began life as a patchwork of PSH routes, such as PSH 2 which ran from Seattle to Cle Elum, PSH 3 from Cle Elum to Ellensburg and PSH 7 from Ellensburg to a bridge over the Columbia River located about a mile and a half north of the current Interstate 90 bridge at Vantage.

"Part of the route to the Gorge Amphitheater is part of historic U.S. 10," Bozanich said.

From Vantage, the route ran as PSH 18 until it hooked up with PSH 11 - coming north out of Pasco - at Ritzville. PSH 11 ran from Ritzville northeast to Spokane, traveling through the downtowns of places such as Sprague and Cheney before merging again with PSH 2 through Spokane Valley and on. A remaining vestige of this route can be seen traveling north along SR 904 as just before Four Lakes, a road marked "Old PSH 11" briefly leaves the route to the right before rejoining again about a quarter mile later.

All that changed in 1926 with the creation of U.S. 10, which spanned most of Washington, crossed the Idaho Panhandle, traveled through Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin before terminating at Lake Michigan near Detroit. According to a story on the website Spokane Historical, the route of U.S. 10 through Spokane ran along much of modern-day Sprague Avenue, traversing Spokane Valley, Dishman, Opportunity, Verdale and Greenacres.

"Motels and restaurants popped up all along the highway, inviting people to stop and stay awhile," author Jessica Bell wrote.

One of those businesses is still visible today as the Park Lane Motel, formerly Bert Nims Auto Court, at 4412 East Sprague near the Spokane County Interstate Fairgrounds.

The same story was true in Cheney after PSH 11 was first designated as U.S. 395 in 1935 and then joined U.S. 10 in 1940. According to listings from the 1958 phone book and provided by the Cheney Historical Museum, U.S. 10 - First Street in Cheney - was the location of 10 service stations, seven restaurants/cafes, three motels, two car dealers and one drive-in.

Signs for Prentice Shell Service Station & Café, Hacienda Motel, Beehive Restaurant, Weigel's Bakery & Café, Brown & Holter auto dealer, Al's Service Station, Pinehurst Motel and the M-N-M Drive In littered the highway. One thing the highway didn't have, museum co-director Joan Mamanakis said, was a stoplight - let alone the three now regulating the traffic flow on SR 904.

"Debate rages on when the one at F Street went in, but general agreement is after the freeway bypassed us," Mamanakis said in an email.

The coming of that first traffic light was heralded by the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956, which signaled the beginning of the end for routes such as U.S. 10 through authorization of the construction of the interstate freeway system. The U.S. 10 designation was replaced with Interstate 90, and the first five-mile stretch of highway built to interstate standards opened later that year between Pines and Havanna in Spokane.

Washington received $59.5 million in federal appropriations in 1957 to construct more interstate sections, including freeway bypasses of cities along U.S. 10 such as Cheney. Bozanich at WSDOT said the decision to bypass Cheney came down to a simple case of math – I-90 between exits 257 (Tyler) and 270 (Four Lakes) is 13 miles, while the same stretch of SR 904 is 16.96 miles.

"It was a savings of four miles," Bozanich said. "Other places presented even more savings of miles and money by going over hills versus following rivers and the like, so the situation in Cheney was not unique."

I-90 west of Cheney opened to traffic in 1966. By this point, national routes such as U.S. 10 had become cluttered with signage. At one point, signs through Cheney indicated U.S. 10, U.S. 395 and I-90 while another sign closer to Spokane held markings for U.S. routes 2, 10, 195, 395 and 90.

Additionally, duplication of route numbers within the system and between different systems led the Washington Legislature to passage of a bill in 1963 to develop new route numbers eliminating these issues. These new numbers went into effect in January 1964, keeping the older PSH and SSH numbers as the official numbers but now referred to as Sign Route numbers.

"The thought at the time was that it would be cost prohibitive to convert pre-existing records to the new numbering system," Bozanich said.

In 1970, the state had a change of heart, and passed legislation changing the Sign Route numbers to the current State Route numbers of today. The PSH and SSH designations were retired.

U.S. 10 was officially retired by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in 1969. But while no longer visible, the ability to travel what used to be U.S. 10 is not gone.

Besides a number of side roads and lesser highways, much of U.S. 10 has been overlaid by I-90. Bozanich said much of the interstate's eastbound lanes through Grant County to exit 180, and then again from Ritzville north to Tyler follows the old bed of U.S. 10 - and is designated as such with the brown, historical route markers.

"They are here and there along the route," he added.

Part of the reason for that signage has a local tie. Ritzville business owners Linda Kubik and John Rankin has seen the success that came with the designation of U.S. 66 through the Southwest, and promoted something similar with U.S. 10, which used to travel through the heart of the Adams County seat.

In May 2017, they found an ally for their efforts in Ritzville Sen. Mark Schoesler, whose 9th District used to include Cheney. Schoesler was successful in securing $50,000 in that year's state transportation budget for signage of U.S. 10 from the Columbia River to the Idaho border.

City of Cheney senior planner Brett Lucas noticed the signage during a trip on I-90. Cheney had been looking into getting a business loop designation for SR 904, but Bozanich said those are expensive to achieve and many were being replaced with signs along the interstates denoting which businesses were available at specific exits.

John McCallum

One last remaining portion of the original Primary State Highway 11 can be seen just off State Route 904 coming into Four Lakes on the way to Spokane.

Lucas also read about the historic U.S. 10 funding in an article in the Ritzville-Adams County Journal, and contacted WSDOT's Eastern Region office about the possibilities for Cheney and SR 904. In 2018, the department approved the city's request, and paid for through the state funding, put up the historic U.S. 10 signs in May 2019.

"It's important for our history here, but it doesn't have the same mystique," Lucas said, referring to Route 66.

Whether that designation leads to something for U.S. 10 as has happened along U.S. 66 is open for discussion. Lucas said such efforts would take money, and Bozanich said there is a "perceived advantage in getting tourists off the interstates to patronize local businesses."

"I'm not sure it will draw (travelers) off I-90 for Cheney or Ritzville," he added. "But it certainly wouldn't hurt."

John McCallum can be reached at


Reader Comments


Our Family of Publications Includes:

Powered by ROAR Online Publication Software from Lions Light Corporation
© Copyright 2019