The Cheney Historic Preservation Commission recently passed a resolution that recommended that the Cheney City Council encourage the preservation of a portion of Cronk’s Hill and construct an interpretive sign that explains the significance of the hill.
Susan Beeman, secretary of the Cheney Historic Preservation Commission, explained the history and the importance of the hill.
In the early days of Cheney, the town was a collection of houses located around the railroad tracks.
Not too many years after the Whitman Massacre, in which Marcus and Narcissa’s party came to an unfortunate end, settlers began to get a little alarmed.
“The early residents of Cheney were nervous,” said Beeman. “They wanted to have a place where they could defend themselves.”
George W. Cronk donated land and the community built a small wooden fort on the top of the hill during the summer of 1878.
The fort was about 16 feet wide and 18 feet long, said Beeman; it had a stone fireplace on one end and two small windows.
The settlers worked together to dig a small trench around the building and construct breastwork around it.
The building was never used as a fort, but it did serve as the town’s first schoolhouse, where Mary Cook Spangle taught, and as a church meeting place.
The fort was poorly built and was blown down in a windstorm a year later.
Nothing is recognizable where the fort used to stand. It is farmland and has been for the last 100 years.
The site represents one of the earliest community efforts in the history of Cheney, coming together as a town to build the fort, and then creating a school and church in it.
This fort also represents some of the psychological problems that confronted early white settlers.
“The fort is significant because it was the first school in a town that was defined by school and education for the rest of its history,” said Beeman.
The educational trend of Cheney continued with the establishment of the Benjamin P. Cheney Academy in 1882, which became the Washington State Normal School at Cheney in 1890, and which continues today to play a fundamental role in the community as EWU.
Cronk’s Hill is located in an area zoned for single-family residential development within the city limits of Cheney.
The Cheney Historic Preservation Commission suggests that when the land is developed, a portion of Cronk’s Hill be set aside for a park with some sort of communication of the history of the hill.
“When a portion of land is developed, the developer is obligated to create some sort of recreational provision for the people in that area,” said Beeman. “We are not asking them to do anything more than they are already obligated to do.”
The CHPC would like to erect some sort of interpretational plaque that would explain the history and significance of the hill.
“Presumably it is going to be families that are new to the area that will be moving into those homes,” said Beeman. “We want them to be able to see and know the history of the area.”