Getting to know the history of your house can be a fun and fascinating process. Researching your house will give you a sense of appreciation for its history and lend insight into the customs and lifestyles of your predecessors. Unless your house is well-known or built by a prominent person, you are unlikely to find very detailed information about it, but with the resources below, you can put your house in its historical context. Many of these research methods can be applied to commercial buildings and other properties, as well.
The benefits to researching house history include:
Spokane Public Library staff in the Northwest Room are happy to assist you as you conduct your research. Many of the research materials you will need are available at the library.
You can find the legal description of your house by consulting your property tax records. The Assessor description is shown in the upper left hand corner, (Example: HEATH'S L5 B6, meaning Heath's Addition, Lot 5, Block 6). If your tax records aren't available, a computer printout of them can be obtained at the Assessor's Office, Spokane County Courthouse, 1116 W. Broadway.
Even easier, visit the Assessor’s Parcel Information Search online. After you agree to the disclaimer, enter your street name and house number (no direction or street type). Click on the parcel number to see detailed information, including photos, current owners, years built and remodeled, taxes, and sales. Record your parcel number since it is often a good way to search property maps and auditor notebooks.
City of Spokane
Building permits on microfiche are located in City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., in the third floor Planning Department, Permits. Ask to see the microfiche on your address. There are usually permits on file here that show water connections, sewer connections, permits for remodeling and, if the home was constructed after 1912, there will be a Building Permit. These permits often give names and dates, and this information is invaluable when doing further research. The fiche are arranged by street name in drawers, numbered streets at the end. Copies are available for purchase. Newer permits (after 1993) can be found online.
County residents can see their building permits dating back to 1930 at the County Building Department Public Works Building, 1026 W. Broadway Avenue. Ask to see the Assessor’s workbook that will show any additions or remodeling done to your home. Records earlier than 1970 may be incomplete or missing. Newer permits can be found online.
For other cities in the county, contact them directly to see what is available. Millwood has historical permits in paper; you will need an address. For Spokane Valley you must fill out Public Records Request, turn into the City Clerk, and make an appointment.
A Chain of Title provides you with a list of owners of your property and any transactions pertaining to your property. If you recently bought the house, ask your real estate agent to give you a copy of the Chain of Title. Otherwise, you may need to visit a Title Insurance Company. There are several Title companies in Spokane. They may charge a fee for this service, and you will need the legal description of your property to do this.
You can trace who lived in your house (but not necessarily who owned it) by looking in the Polk Directories. Starting in 1929, you can look up an address and see who occupied your house. Before 1929, you will need to have a name, since there is no address index.
Once you find your owners, you can get more information about them from:
If you are researching land holdings, especially in the county, Metsker’s maps and Ogle maps show who owned larger pieces of land at the time of printing. Homestead records can be found by searching the Bureau of Land Management’s database.
If your house is historically important, it may be included in a historic resources inventory, which gives neighborhood history and basic information about the more historically significant homes. This type of home may also be listed in a historic register listing, either for the home itself or included in a historic district.
The Northwest Room has newspaper clipping files on more well-known houses or houses in particular neighborhoods.
Try the Spokesman Review Index (1887-1920) for more possible newspaper articles; look under Building Operations and Real Estate. The real estate sections came out on Thursdays in the early Spokesman Reviews and on Sundays in the Spokane Daily Chronicle. You can also try searching for owner names or street names in Google News Archive; just type in Spokesman Review or Spokane Chronicle as the Source.
Sanborn fire insurance maps show the outlines of buildings and give some information about their construction and use, including building materials and number of stories. The Sanborn maps start in 1884 and were periodically updated to 1952 for Spokane.
Assessor’s Notebooks and Museum Archives
Trying to locate a photo of a house is a common request. The historical Assessor’s notebooks in the Washington State Archives, Eastern Regional Branch, will often have photos and basic property information, such as type of roofing, wood used for trim or floors, and any special features that would increase the value of the home. The archives is located at 960 Washington Street on the campus of Eastern Washington University in Cheney, (509)235-7508. You will need your parcel number so the researchers can locate the notebook for your home.
The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture Archives has an extensive collection of house and street photos. They also have blueprint collections, but only for a few of the most prominent architects in Spokane. Both the Northwest Room and the Museum have copies of local house plan books, such as from the Ballard Plannery.
Even if you can find little information on your home, you should be able find something about your neighborhood, which will give you the context in which your home was built. The library has books on a few neighborhoods, including historic resources inventories. There are also clipping files on particular neighborhoods in the Northwest Room.
The Historic Preservation Office includes historic register files for some historic districts in Spokane, which will give you background information on those neighborhoods.
Discovering the style of your home can give you a clue about appropriate colors or interior decoration. There are many books in Spokane Public Library on architectural styles, including American House Styles and Spokane, A City with Historical Style.
There are also websites that will give you an indication to your house style:
Interiors & Exteriors
Once you know the style of your house, there are many books and magazines that will show you appropriate interior design, fixtures, and landscaping for your type of home. Books include Bungalow Style, Victorian House Styles, and Green Restorations: Sustainable Building and Historic Homes.
There are current magazines on historic house style, such as Victorian Homes or Arts & Crafts Homes and the Revival. We also have historic magazines that show interior and exterior decoration from earlier times:
Also remember to check your house for clues. Look under trim, cabinets, or old fixtures for original colors. Look for rooms that have been modified, or check your attic or basement for signs of remodeling.
The Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation provides great ideas on how to maintain the historic character of buildings, while their Technical Preservation Service provides newsletters and other guidance. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is another good source for appropriate remodeling.
Historic Register Listings
Once you have done research on your house, and you think it might be historically significant, you can check out the Spokane City/County Historic Preservation Office for information on historic register listings.