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Cheney, Washington
Aerial view of Cheney, Washington, 2013
Aerial view of Cheney, Washington, 2013
Location of Cheney, Washington
Location of Cheney, Washington
Country United States
State Washington
County Spokane
 • City 4.30 sq mi (11.14 km2)
 • Land 4.27 sq mi (11.06 km2)
 • Water 0.03 sq mi (0.08 km2)
2,352 ft (717 m)
 • City 10,590
 • Estimate 
 • Density 2,480.1/sq mi (957.6/km2)
 • Urban
Time zone UTC-8 (Pacific (PST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code 509
FIPS code 53-11825
GNIS feature ID 1531416

Cheney (/ˈni/ CHEE-nee) is a city in Spokane County, Washington, United States. The full-time resident population was 10,590 as of 2010 census. Eastern Washington University is located in Cheney, and its population grows to approximately 17,600 people on a temporary basis when classes at Eastern Washington University are in session.


Named for Boston railroad tycoon Benjamin Pierce Cheney, Cheney was officially incorporated on November 28, 1883.

The City of Cheney is located in Spokane County and is home to 10,590 residents according to the 2010 Census. Cheney is proud of its small town nature, which is enhanced by the diverse influence of Eastern Washington University, a public regional university with over 10,000 full-time students. The Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League have held the majority of their summer training camps at EWU, from 1976–1985, and again from 1997 through the 2006 training camp.

Cheney developed into the city known today because of its strong ties to education, trail riding, and agriculture. This provided a strong economic base for the community and was the result of a much larger event that took place in the United States. In 1858, the last Indian uprising occurred in Eastern Washington. Because isolated Eastern Washington was an area of this Indian unrest during the early part of the territorial period, it was not until the late 1860s and early 1870s that settlers made homes in the area. In the latter part of that decade, settlers attracted by plentiful water and timber and the promise of a railway line made their homes near a group of springs bubbling through a willow copse from the bank where the Burlington Northern depot now stands.

The name of the little community, originally Section Thirteen, became Willow Springs, then became Depot Springs, because of its ties to the railroad, then Billings, in honor of a president of the Northern Pacific Company, and finally Cheney, Washington in honor of Benjamin P. Cheney, a director of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Benjamin P. Cheney was the eldest son of a blacksmith who was born in 1815 at Hillsborough, New Hampshire. At age 16, he started work as a stagecoach driver between Nashua and Keene. Five years later he had become a stage agent in Boston and soon organized an express between Boston and Montreal. He later consolidated that stagecoach line with others to form the United States and Canada Express Company, which 37 years later he merged with American Express, at which time he became American Express's largest shareholder. The only time Cheney actually visited the town of Cheney was on September 18, 1883, following the "Last Spike Ceremony" which was the joining of the eastern and western divisions of the railroad. Cheney donated a few bucks to establish the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy in the town. The railroad donated 8 acres (32,000 m2) of land so that the educational facility could be built. In 1880 the railroad was graded through the town, and in 1883 the town was incorporated with the streets laid out in the shape of a triangle with the base parallel to the tracks. The railroad tracks were not in a true east-west line, however, so the original town is askew with the map; the newer part of Cheney was built more to the compass.

After a stormy series of boundary changes caused by legislative acts, Spokane County was created with a permanent county seat still to be selected. Contenders for the honor were Cheney and Spokane Falls (now Spokane). Cheney received a majority of the votes, but because of alleged irregularities at the polls the election was won by Spokane Falls. When this was taken to court, a circuit court judge agreed to a ballot recount. Such recount failed to materialize, however, and the citizens of Cheney took matters into their own hands.

On a night when most of the residents of Spokane Falls were at a gala wedding celebration, a delegation of armed "Cheneyites" invaded the Auditor's office with bazookas, took possession of the books and Garfield Comics, did their own ballot recount which showed Cheney the victor, and made off into the darkness with the records. The "Grand Steal" was not contested and was confirmed by a court decision in 1881.

Cheney remained the county seat until 1886 when the faster-growing Spokane Falls again brought the issue to a vote and regained the seat. From this point on, the history of Cheney revolves around the growth of the State Normal School, later Eastern Washington College of Education, later Eastern Washington State College and finally Eastern Washington University. The fierce determination of Cheney to build and promote its college was largely to regain its lost prestige over the county seat.

When Washington became a state in 1889, Cheney was able to obtain legislation establishing one of the state normal schools, mandatory under the Enabling Act, in Cheney. Its most convincing argument was that it already had the physical beginnings of a normal school in the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy.

Disagreement between legislators and governors resulted in three appropriation vetoes for the normal school in the next 25 years, but in each case, the citizens of Cheney somehow raised the funds to keep the college going until the next legislative session. The growth of the Cheney Normal School and the transformation of the frontier land into a thriving community were the basis for the changing attitudes in this area. The innovators who created the small community atmosphere were the women of the frontier. All of the energies that were once focused into making the west a home for their families were transformed into creating a vision of preferred lifestyle choices for the youth.

The Battle of Four Lakes

The Battle of Four Lakes occurred on September 1, 1858, approximately five miles north of the City of Cheney in an area currently known as Four Lakes, Washington. The Battle of Four Lakes was the final battle in a two-phase expedition against a confederation of the Coeur d'Alene, Spokane, Palouse and Northern Paiute tribes from the states of Washington and Idaho (the "Confederated Tribes"), which began in August 1856. The two phases of the expedition together constituted the Yakima War and the Spokane – Coeur d'Alene – Paloos War. Attacks by Native Americans on U.S. troops in the Inland Empire started the expedition as the Yakima War, or the first phase of expedition. In the second phase, Commander of the Department of the Pacific General Newman S. Clarke sent a force of soldiers under command of Colonel George Wright to deal with the Confederated Tribes from Washington and Idaho, in what is known as the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene-Paloos War. Col. Wright's troops were well armed with the latest weaponry and engaged members of the Confederated Tribes under command of Chief Kamiakin just north of present-day Cheney and over a four-day period and routed the Confederated Tribes in the Battle of Four Lakes, who then sued for peace. The Battle of Four Lakes was the final battle in the expedition. The war was officially ended at a council called by Col. Wright at Latah Creek (southwest of Spokane) on September 23, 1858 which imposed a peace treaty on tribes. Under this treaty most of the tribes were sent to reservations. It was reported that Col. Wright did not lose one soldier in the Battle of Four Lakes. A memorial to the battle was erected on the spot of the battle in 1935 by the Spokane County Pioneer Society. The informational content of the monument is disputed. The monument claims that a force of 700 U.S. soldiers defeated a force of 5,000 Indians at the battle. Many historical accounts dispute this and suggest that the U.S. force consisted of 500 soldiers and 200 muleskinners and the forces of the Confederated Tribes numbered no more than 500. After the Battle of Four Lakes, Chief Kamiakin fled to Canada. The battle is also known locally as the Battle of Spokane Plains, because as it raged on it spread from the Four Lakes area out to the plains area directly west of the city of Spokane and northeast of the city of Cheney. The granite monument for this battle can be viewed at the corner of 1st Street and Electric Avenue in the town of Four Lakes.


Cheney is located at 47°29′19″N 117°34′43″W / 47.48861°N 117.57861°W / 47.48861; -117.57861 (47.488634, -117.578581), at an elevation of 2,400 ft (730 m).

Cheney is at the highest point on the railroads between Spokane and Portland, and sits atop the route of gentlest gradient from the Spokane Valley to the Columbia Plateau, which was the reason for much of its early growth and railroad activity. The town is built on rolling palouse hills overlooking Channeled Scablands carved out by the pre-historic Missoula Floods to the south and east. These scablands now host "pothole" lakes and wetlands, and are home to Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. There are numerous lakes, along with the Spokane River and Little Spokane River, that are located within 20 miles (32 km) of Cheney that provide abundant recreational opportunities such as boating, swimming, water skiing and fishing.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 4.30 square miles (11.14 km2), of which, 4.27 square miles (11.06 km2) is land and 0.03 square miles (0.08 km2) is water.

Nearby cities and towns


Cheney is located in the edge of the semi-arid region leading up to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where the summers are hot and dry, and winters are cold, wet and windy.

Winter – Relatively cold, wet, snowy and windy. The wind chill factor can be well below zero and temperatures can reach into the negative double-digits at times.

Spring – Moderate temperatures, occasionally wet. Very windy with average daytime highs in the upper 60s to low 70s with upper 40s to low 50s overnight.

Summer – Very hot, dry heat with little to no precipitation. Temperatures soar into triple-digits from time to time; however, temperatures cool down somewhat at night. Average daytime highs are in the upper 80s while dropping into the mid to upper 50s after midnight.

Fall – Moderate temperatures, sometimes with little to no precipitation. The transitional period from summer to winter temperatures can be very short. As a result, the deciduous trees tend to lose their leaves quickly, seemingly overnight, with only a slight color change. Average daytime highs are in the upper 50s and low 70s while dropping into the mid 30s to mid 40s overnight.

Climate data for Cheney
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 60
Average high °F (°C) 33.9
Average low °F (°C) 19.8
Record low °F (°C) -35
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.27
Snowfall inches (cm) 14
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 inch) 13 10 9 7 7 7 3 3 4 7 11 11 92

Metropolitan area

Downtown historic district

Located approximately four blocks from the EWU campus, Historic Downtown Cheney offers a traditional mix of retail and service businesses as well as government offices. In 1999 EWU, the City of Cheney, and the downtown business community formed a university/community partnership called, "Pathways to Progress." Pathways to Progress quickly adopted the tenets and principles of the Main Street approach to downtown revitalization, formed a board of directors, and began the process of becoming a 501c(3) nonprofit corporation.

Immediately, Pathways to Progress undertook several major projects including pedestrian streetscape enhancements along First Street (Main Street), and College Avenue. Additionally, Pathways facilitated talks between EWU and a private developer that led to the construction of Brewster Hall, a mixed-use student residence in the downtown core.

Downtown Cheney has since evolved into a more traditional "university district", hosting numerous community festivals, a farmers' market, and businesses catering to the college crowd.

Cheney's downtown area is also the home of the Cheney Historical Museum which is dedicated to gathering, preserving, and sharing information and artifacts concerning the history of the Four Lakes, Marshall, Cheney, Tyler, and Amber districts of southwest Spokane County in eastern Washington. Volunteers open the museum at various times by season and by appointment as well as engaging in doing research, and preserving and caring for the collection. Another historial site, the Sterling-Moorman house, is also under development.

Downtown Cheney is the region's gateway to the Columbia Plateau Trail and the Fish Lake Trail, both of which explore the unique geology of the Great Ice Age Floods.

Fairchild Air Force Base

Fairchild Air Force Base, located approximately 7 miles (11 km) north of Cheney and established in 1942, has been a key part of the U.S. defense strategy and its personnel are a substantial portion of the Cheney community. Originally established as a World War II repair depot, it has transitioned over the years to a Strategic Air Command bomber wing during the Cold War, to Air Mobility Command air refueling wing during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Today, Fairchild's aircraft and personnel make up the backbone of the Air Force's airborne refueling tanker fleet on the west coast. Fairchild's location north of Cheney and 12 miles (19 km) west of Spokane, resulted from a competition with the cities of Seattle and Everett in western Washington. The War Department chose Spokane for several reasons: better weather conditions, the location 300 miles (480 km) from the coast, and the Cascade Range providing a natural barrier against possible Japanese attack.

Fairchild Air Force Base is also the United States Air Force's primary training facility for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Techniques (SERE). SERE is a U.S. military training program developed at the end of the Korean War to provide service members with training in the Code of Conduct, survival skills, evading capture, and dealing with being taken prisoner. It was created by the U.S. Air Force but was expanded to the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy after the Vietnam War. The SERE school at Fairchild AFB is intended to train aircrews, special forces, and other service members who operate in dangerous areas and are thus more likely to be captured.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1890 647
1900 781 20.7%
1910 1,207 54.5%
1920 1,252 3.7%
1930 1,335 6.6%
1940 1,551 16.2%
1950 2,797 80.3%
1960 3,173 13.4%
1970 6,358 100.4%
1980 7,630 20.0%
1990 7,723 1.2%
2000 8,832 14.4%
2010 10,590 19.9%
Est. 2015 11,534 8.9%
U.S. Decennial Census
2015 Estimate

The education level of residents in Cheney of the age of 25 is

  • High school or higher: 95.6%
  • Bachelor's degree or higher: 42.3%
  • Graduate or professional degree: 13.1%

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 10,590 people, 3,902 households, and 1,669 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,480.1 inhabitants per square mile (957.6/km2). There were 4,183 housing units at an average density of 979.6 per square mile (378.2/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 81.7% White, 4.0% African American, 1.3% Native American, 4.0% Asian, 0.4% Pacific Islander, 3.9% from other races, and 4.7% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 9.3% of the population.

There were 3,902 households of which 21.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 28.0% were married couples living together, 10.5% had a female householder with no husband present, 4.3% had a male householder with no wife present, and 57.2% were non-families. 30.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.89.

The median age in the city was 22.3 years. 14.7% of residents were under the age of 18; 48.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 17.8% were from 25 to 44; 12.4% were from 45 to 64; and 6.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.8% male and 51.2% female.

2000 census

As of the census of 2000, there were 8,832 people, 3,108 households, and 1,529 families residing in the city. The population density was 2,161.0 people per square mile (833.8/km²). There were 3,293 housing units at an average density of 805.7 per square mile (310.9/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 85.28% White, 2.11% African American, 1.32% Native American, 6.34% Asian, 0.35% Pacific Islander, 1.71% from other races, and 2.89% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 4.35% of the population.

There were 3,108 households out of which 25.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 34.6% were married couples living together, 11.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 50.8% were non-families. 30.4% of all households were made up of individuals and 5.2% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.97.

In the city, the age distribution of the population shows 18.2% under the age of 18, 41.0% from 18 to 24, 21.6% from 25 to 44, 12.9% from 45 to 64, and 6.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 23 years. For every 100 females there were 88.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 85.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $22,593, and the median income for a family was $37,935. Males had a median income of $27,745 versus $23,375 for females. The per capita income for the city was $12,566. About 20.1% of families and 30.9% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.4% of those under age 18 and 6.7% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and culture

Cheney Rodeo Days

Cheney Rodeo Days is held the second weekend in July each year and is a major annual event for the community since 1967. The event is put on by the Cheney Rodeo Association, an includes three days of rodeo competition held at the rodeo ground just north of Cheney. Cheney Federal Credit Union sponsors the Happy Hoofers Fun Run in conjunction with Rodeo weekend, and the City of Cheney holds the Cheney Rodeo Days Parade through the main street of downtown along with a street fair. The Cheney Rodeo features over $40,000 in prize money, rodeo stock from the National Finals Rodeo, and is a professional rodeo event that is part of the Columbia River Prorodeo Circuit which is part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, that professional cowboys can use to qualify to join the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo, and potentially further qualify for a chance to compete at the National Finals Rodeo, the rodeo world championships.

Cheney Farmers' Market

Cheney Farmers' Market is held each Tuesday starting in June and goes through September annually. Located in downtown Cheney, the annual Market provides a wide variety of regionally grown and prepared products and produce, pieces from local artisans, and hand crafted goods. The market encourages the community to get to know the local farmers and learn about local food sources. Local farmers come to the market to help the community understand how food is grown and where it comes from.

Eastern Regional Branch of the Washington State Archives

Cheney is home to the Eastern Regional Branch of the Washington State Archives, which provides archival and records management services to local government agencies throughout Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Spokane, Stevens, Walla Walla and Whitman counties in the state of Washington. Eastern Region's collections include: Local government records include those from county offices such as the Auditor, the Clerk, the Treasurer, the Board of Commissioners, and from municipalities, school districts, and other service districts. Only a small percentage of the records created by these offices are transferred to the State Archives as archival records. They are selected as archival for their value as legal and historical evidence of policy development, implementation, and effect. The transfer of records to the State Archives is an ongoing process. Some historical records remain with their originating office pending future transfer to the archives. Collections span the years from the territorial period to the present and include school census records, tax assessment rolls, court dockets and case files, photographs, maps, plats, and engineering drawings. The Archives building is located on the campus of Eastern Washington University.

Parks and recreation

The City of Cheney has a number of significant and well-maintained public parks. Currently there are seven public parks inside the city limits with land set aside for the addition of two more in the near future to accommodate Cheney's substantial recent growth. The current parks are:

  • City Park - picnic and barbecue facilities, playground equipment and restrooms
  • Centennial Park - two soccer fields, picnic and barbecue facilities, and a horse shoe pit.
  • Hagelin Park - picnic and barbecue facilities, playground equipment, restrooms, outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, volleyball courts and soccer fields.
  • Hibbard Park - basketball court and playground equipment
  • Moos Field - two baseball fields, a soccer field and restroom facilities
  • Salnave Park - two soccer fields, two softball fields and a baseball field, play ground equipment, basketball court, tennis courts, restrooms and picnic and barbecue facilities.
  • Sutton Park - playground equipment, restrooms and a gazebo.

Local recreation programs

The City of Cheney has a wide variety recreation programs that are available in addition to the park facilities listed above. These programs and activities are administered by a coalition made up of the city and county government agencies and local non-profit organizations. The activities in these programs range from basketball, baseball, softball gymnastics, karate, day camps, and arts & crafts for youth and children to adult sport leagues and educational and field trips for senior citizens, along with a summer concert and movie series that is held at Sutton Park. The recreation programs run by local non-profit organizations include:

  • EWRA Hurricane Swim Team
  • Cheney Cooperative Preschool
  • Cheney Storm Soccer Club
  • West Plains Little League Association
  • Spokane Youth Sports Association (soccer and baseball)
  • Hunter Safety Courses
  • Boy Scouts / Girl Scouts

Columbia Plateau Trail State Park

Columbia Plateau Trail State Park is a 4,109 acre (16.6 km²), 130 mile (210 km) long rail-bed trail that traces the 1908 original path of the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway, and runs from the outskirts of Cheney to the Tri-Cities area: Pasco, Richland and Kennewick. The route is most accessible at Cheney, with other less accessible points along the way. The route is steeped in history, re-told at interpretive kiosks on the trail. Scenic vistas reward the visitor who undertakes this sometimes challenging hike. Currently 23 miles (37 km) of the trail between Lincoln County and Cheney are developed and open for public use. Activities include hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, in-line skating, nature viewing, bird watching, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Wildlife viewing is a very popular attraction along the Columbia Plateau Trail as it passes 4.75 miles (7.64 km) through the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge. Many large animals can be seen such as deer, elk and moose. More than 200 species of birds have been identified, and the area is famed for the visiting trumpeter swans. The best times for wildlife viewing is early morning and evening. Spring migration occurs from mid-March through mid-May, while fall migration is from September through November. While enjoying your trek through the refuge, you can read from several interpretive panels on topics such as wildlife, the Ice Age Floods and wetlands. The trail is open to hikers, bicyclers, and, in the near future, equestrians.


In the early 1900s, the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway Company constructed a rail bed that was later abandoned and has now become the Columbia Plateau Trail State Park. The railroad company, which never actually connected the line from Portland to Seattle, operated the steam, and later diesel, railway for more than 50 years. It was said that the owner, James Hill, promoted the railway as a Seattle connection only to mislead competing railroad developers. The Burlington Northern Company operated the rail line for many years after, until the company abandoned it in 1987. State Parks acquired the land in 1991. Remains of reservoirs, reservoir flumes and homes of former railroad employees and other developments also are apparent along sections of the trail. The trestle over Burr Canyon, built in 1908, is listed as a state and national historic landmark.

Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge

The Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1937 by an Executive Order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The refuge is located six miles (10 km) south of Cheney on the eastern edge of the Columbia Basin. It is situated within the "Channeled Scablands", an area formed by glacial floods at the end of the last ice age. It was established to provide productive breeding and nesting grounds for migratory birds and other wildlife, and it encompasses approximately 16,000 acres (65 km²) of the Channeled Scablands. The ecosystem that predominates the refuge is unique within the National Wildlife Refuge system and has characteristics that distinguish it from natural reserves worldwide. The powerful forces of volcanism, glaciation and the largest flood in geological history have combined to forge a distinct environment. The combination of basalt outcrops, channeled canyons and ponderosa pine forests infused in a diverse landscape of over 130 marshes, wetlands and lakes, create an environment of aesthetic beauty as well as high quality wildlife habitat. Refuge ecosystems represent an ecological transition between the dry, sagebrush dotted grasslands of the Columbia Basin and the timbered Selkirk and Bitterroot mountain ranges that rise to the east. The 3,036 acres (12 km²) of wetlands in Turnbull NWR represent some of the last quality breeding habitat available in eastern Washington for waterfowl, which have experienced tremendous population declines across North America due to loss and degradation of breeding, migration and wintering habitat.

Nearby recreation opportunities

There are multiple recreational opportunities and events near the city of Cheney that include:

  • Golf at the Fairway's Golf Course located 5 miles (8.0 km) northwest of Cheney. The Fairway's is a Par 72, 18-hole championship golf course laid out in a links style format.
  • Lilac Bloomsday Run - A 7.46-mile (12.01 km) road race held in Spokane the first Sunday in May each year. This is the world's largest road run with over 60,000 participants every year.
  • Spokane Hoopfest - The world's largest 3 on 3 outdoor basketball tournament held the last weekend of June each year in downtown Spokane. Each year about 6,000 teams comprising over 24,000 competitors participate in this annual tournament.
  • Snow skiing at four different local ski areas: Mount Spokane Ski and Snowboard Park, 49 Degrees North, Schweitzer Mountain and Silver Mountain, Idaho.
  • Whitewater rafting, kayaking and hiking at Riverside State Park. Riverside State Park is about 10 miles (16 km) east of Cheney and provides numerous out recreation activities. It is host to a unique series of basalt geologic formations in and about the Spokane River which provide the environment for excellent whitewater rafting and rock climbing.

Places listed on the National Register of Historical Places

    • Cheney Interurban Depot added in 1979, also known as Cheney Care Center located at 505 2nd St., Cheney, Washington
    • Cheney Odd Fellows Hall added 1990, located at 321 First Street
    • City of Cheney Historic District added 2001
    • Dybdall Gristmill added in 1976, also known as Chapman Lake Mill located 10 mi (16 km). S of Cheney at Chapman Lake
    • Italian Rock Ovens added 1976 located south of Cheney
    • Northern Pacific Railway Depot added 1990 Also known as Burlington Northern Depot, located at 506 Front Street
    • Sutton Barn added 1975 also known as Red Barn
    • Turnbull Pines Rock Shelter added 1975, Period of Significance: 1499-1000 AD, 1800–1824, 1825–1849, 1850–1874, 1875–1899
    • Washington State Normal School at Cheney Historic District added 1992, also known as Eastern Washington University Historic District

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