Edward Louis Powell

Edward Louis Powell

Durham, N. N. "Spokane and the Inland Empire; History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County Washington." Vol. 2. S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912. p. 489-490.


Edward Louis Powell is president and treasurer of the Powell-Sanders Company, wholesale grocers of Spokane, their house being located at the corner of Wall and Railway avenues. In the establishment and conduct of this enterprise he and his associates have built up one of the leading commercial interests of the city and its success exemplifies the force and effectiveness of progressive and honorable business methods.

Mr. Powell is a native of Portsmouth, Ohio, and a son of Perry P. and Mary J. (Haight) Powell. The mother died in 1854, leaving three children: Leslie Powell, now living at Boise, Idaho; Mary P., now deceased; and Edward Louis, who was then about three years of age, his birth having occurred August 12, 1851. The father married again and there were two children of the second union: Arthur P., a resident of Harrison, Idaho; and Luella, who is living in southern Oregon . Perry P. Powell was a contractor and builder of Ohio and in 1862 crossed the plains with his family, traveling by prairie schooner *from Illinois to the Willamette valley in Oregon, at which time his son Edward, was a youth of eleven years. For two years the family resided on a stock ranch near Salem,- Oregon, and subsequently removed to Jefferson, that state, where Edward L. Powell completed his more specifically literary education by study in the Jefferson Institute. He then entered upon a course of civil engineering at Portland and when he had qualified for work in that profession was employed on the construction of the railroad from Portland to San Francisco, which is now a part of the Southern Pacific system. On account of ill health, however, he was obliged to abandon his chosen profession and in 1871 settled in Walla Walla . For a short time he was engaged in school-teaching at Milton, then called "Rebel Canon." In the fall of 1871 he removed to Waitsburg, Washington, where for eighteen years he was engaged in merchandising. Here Mr. Powell built the first brick store building in 1881 and he and his family were here at the time of the Nez Perce war and they all were armed with Winchester rifles in anticipation of an attack. It was also due to Mr. Powell that the Waitsburg Times came into existence and this newspaper is still published by his successors. He was connected with the flouring mill business and many of the old-time residents of Spokane were his patrons. In May, 1889, he came to Spokane and subsequently established a retail grocery store in this city, continuing successfully in that line for about seven years, when, in 1896, he became one of the organizers of the Boothe-Powell Company, which was established for the purpose of conducting a wholesale grocery business. In 1900 this firm which had in the meantime taken in other partners, dissolved and was reorganized under the present name of the Powell-Sanders Company, of which Mr. Powell has since been president and treasurer. The undertaking has proved a profitable venture from the beginning and the long experience And keen sagacity of Mr. Powell have been valuable elements in its prosperity.

Mr. Powell has also been somewhat active and influential in political circles. Since age conferred upon him the right of franchise he has supported the republican party and while residing at Waitsburg was elected to represent his district in the last territorial legislature which, however, never convened, owing to the fact that Washington was admitted as a state. After coming to Spokane he was elected to the general assembly and served in the house in 1891-2. Following his retirement from that position he was called to the highest office within the gift by his fellow townsmen, serving as Spokane 's mayor during the years 1893-4, which was the most trying period in its history. The manner in which he handled Coxey's army and the way his administration checked all corruption in the city government was really the initial step in the establishment of good civic government in this city. It seems that nature qualified Mr. Powell for leadership, for he advances to a position of prominence in all of his various connections. While living at Waitsburg he served through the chairs of the grand lodge of Odd Fellows for the state of Washington during the first three sessions and was the third grand master of the state. At that time he was twenty-nine years of age and was the youngest man who had ever occupied this position up to that time. This is the only fraternal organization with which he has become affiliated and he still retains his membership therein. He is likewise a member of the Spokane Club, the Spokane Amateur Athletic Club and the Spokane Chamber of Commerce.

On the 5th of December, 1874, at Waitsburg, Washington, Mr. Powell was united in marriage to Miss Dora E. Bruce, a daughter of Perry and Caroline (O' Neal) Bruce, of that city. They have five children in the family, as follows: Percy P., general manager of the Powell-Sanders Company; Edward B., an attorney of Spokane; Gerda, the only daughter, who is the wife of James W. Rigsby, of Seattle; Wayne T., who is engaged in general merchandising at Mesa, Washington; and Glen B., who is the youngest in the family. Mr. Powell and his wife reside, at No. 1728 First Avenue . He is numbered among the builders of Spokane, having been an active factor in business circles here since the time of the great fire. And his labors, intelligently directed, have constituted a factor in Spokane 's commercial activity. His memory compasses the period of pioneer development in the northwest and he is a zealous and enthusiastic advocate of this section of the country which he has helped to upbuild and which has rewarded his interests and devotion by substantial success.

Submitted to the Washington Biographies Project in July 2014 by . Diane has additional information on the Powell family, including the following:

The Edward & Dora Powell House, located at 1728 W. 1st Ave, Spokane WA, in historic Browne's Addition, was built in 1899. It was listed on the Spokane Register November 10, 2003, and on the National Register July 30, 1976. The E. L. Powell House, was built in 1899, for Edward Louis Powell, Spokane's mayor from 1893-94, and his wife Dora. The Powell House remained in the family after E. L. Powell's death, whereby his daughter Gerda moved in to the home with her husband James Rigsby. Dora remained in the house also until her death in 1920. In 1954 the house was converted to apartments and is currently a single-family residence. The home represents master architect Loren L. Rand's interpretation of the restrained Queen Anne style of architecture. For the Powell's, Rand elaborated on a common Queen Anne form by mixing decorative elements from different subtypes in an elegantly subtle way.

Newspaper article from the Spokesman Review, April 2, 1916 (the photo above was from the same article):


Being mayor in the hard times, helping support Coxey's army, scratching around to raise money to take care of the city's cash lost in defunct banks, catching crooked councilmen selling city contracts, solving serious water problems and quelling riots of starving, striking workmen - these are some of the troubles that E.L. Powell went through in the critical year of 1893-94. It might have turned the ordinary man's hair white, but E.L.'s is still black, tinged slightly about the temples with iron-gray threads.

Today, as he sits in the desk nearest the door of his big five-story wholesale grocery building at Railroad avenue and Wall street (he can not keep out of the thick of the business even now, in spite of his 66 years) he can see the grim humor of the trials of those days of hysteria and panic and pessimism. Then, it was dread tragedy, the collapse of fortunes, the death of institutions, and it was no laughing matter.

For instance, there was no laugh then in the mention of Coxey's army, but it was a standard vaudeville joke for many years thereafter, and, even now excites the risibilities. How to provide grub for several hundred hungry hobos who threatened the city with all sorts of calamities if grub was not forthcoming, was no easy problem, especially when many of the yeoman citizens nursed a similar want. That was only one of the minor problems of Mr. Powell's stormy administration.


He had come up to Spokane from Waitsburg only a few years before and landed right into politics with a bump, although not at his own solicitation. From Waitsburg he had been elected to a seat in the last territorial legislature which never convened, since when Washington was admitted to statehood, a new organization was required. He closed his business later in the year of 1889 and came to Spokane.

What did Spokane 's citizens do but insist that Mr. Powell accept a place on the republican legislative ticket when he had been a citizen only a few months! It was an unusual procedure but could be explained by the fact that many years before several of Spokane 's most prominent citizens had been customers of Mr. Powell's general supply house in Waitsburg. Those were the days of the supply store in the western wilderness where one teamed miles to have flour ground and lay in a stock to last for months. The Cannons, The Brownes, The Drumhellers - all knew Mr. Powell and his Waitsburg business record.


After two terms in the legislature the mayoralty was the next gift of the voters of Spokane and it came with a majority of 700, over 1800 votes to 1100 for Fred Baldwin, the democratic candidate. Mr. Powell carried every ward in the city and every precinct by one.

Troubles began almost at the outset of Mr. Powell's administration. In July Mr. Cannon's bank failed. Others followed. The bank at Palouse went under and so did the banks of the surrounding country. The city had over $70,000 tied up in the failure of one of the banks and was a long time getting this back. The newspapers advertised sheriff's sale after sheriff''s sale of city lots, sold for taxes. You could hardly give away an unimproved city lot in those days.

A water project was put up for action of the voters that Mr. Powell opposed as did some of the leading newspapers of the city, but the organization for it was far superior and it carried by a vote of over four to one.

Much trouble was experienced with a large and unwieldy council. Unwieldy is hardly the exact word. There was a councilmanic clique that really wielded things. It held power, lots of it, more than the mayor could wield by the stroke of his pen, anyhow. Only by dint of long, arduous wire-pulling could the mayor ever outwit the hostile majority in the realm of the salons.

Rumors of crookedness in the awarding of city contracts were rampant, and there was an open hint of the purchasability of several of the city deals. A veteran Spokane contractor, Tommy Olson, was advised to come through with some money if he wanted to get any of the contracts.


Olson laid a trap and two councilmen unwittingly fell into it. Olson had holes bored by an auger in the partition of his office and invited these councilmen in for a consultation. He hinted that he wanted some city contracts, and in the end was advised that $125 would be the price for their vote. The whole thing was thus exposed, and the business of grafting at the expense of city contractors in the council chambers was made unfashionable.

But the incident caused much bitterness and made many enemies for the administration. However, by this time Mr. Powell had gotten so used to difficulties that he was hardened.

The waterworks riots also provoked much feeling, but with the loyal assistance of the police Mr. Powell handled the situation readily.


Near the end of his administration Mr. Powell started a "buying-at-home" campaign that proved to be very popular. It struck exactly at the keynote of the problem of making the most of the cramped resources of the city.

A convention of fruit growers was called together by Mr. Powell about the same time, and this eventually grew into the old fruit fair, with which Herbert Bolster, now dead, was so actively identified so many years. The interstate fair was the greater outgrowth of the fruit fair.

With the close of his two years in the mayor's chair Mr. Powell packed his political aspirations away in mothballs and he has never lifted the lid of the trunk in which he laid them away. On several occasions since friends have suggested - sometimes friends actually suggest political candidacies how nice it would be if he might be the party's standard bearer in this or that campaign and in this or that capacity, but his answer has always been the same, "Ex-CUSE me" Shortly after coming to Spokane in 1889 Mr. Powell, who then had all five children at home, none married, built a beautiful mansion in Ross park, overlooking the Spokane River, just across from the old Judge Nash estate. The home itself cost about $15,000 and other expenses made it practically a $20,000 property. In its day it was considered one of the city's finest residences, and it is still a remarkable bit of architecture.


His first place of business was a three-story brick building at 914 Riverside avenue, near where the Dodd block now stands. This he sold for $47,500 in 1896, when the Booth-Powell Wholesale Company was organized. And later Ed Sanders took over Mr. Boothe's interest in the firm. For years Powell-Sanders did a wholesale business at Railroad avenue and Wall Street, their old building being consumed by fire in 1914. The ashes had hardly ceased smoking when contractors had blue prints out for the modern plant that now stands on the old site. Mr. Powell was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, August 12, 1851, and will be 65 this summer. He crossed the plains in 1862 in a prairie schooner from Illinois to the valley of the Willamette in Oregon . He studied civil engineering in the old Jefferson institute in Oregon and had some small part in construction work on the Southern Pacific railway from San Francisco to Portland in 1870.

In the fall of 1871 he came to Waitsburg and went into the general supply business at the trading point. His first stock of goods he kept covered under a tarpaulin until he could get additional roofing built. He built the first brick store in central Waitsburg in '81 and was here during the Nez Perce war, when, armed with Winchesters, he guarded his home and family and business. He established about this time the Waitsburg Times, on of the first newspapers of this country. Many Spokane traders were customers of his flouring mill.


In the late 70s and early 80s Mr. Powell established the first baseball team of the Inland Empire and one of the most successful that ever traversed its sand lots. For three years he never lost a game. He was the pitcher, captain and star batter. Up until he was 56 years of age Mr. Powell's right arm retained much of its craft and he frequently pitched on teams with his grownup sons, and holding down infield positions.

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