My interest is mostly in the eastern section of the Seattle Lake Shore and Eastern. This bit of history does include the money-making western division, only because the people involved were focused there.
The Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern was incorporated in 1885 by Seattle interests. The main route was to be Seattle to Everett, to Wenatchee, to Waterville, to Coulee City, and on to Spokane. It also was to have a branch that everyone assumed cross the state over Snoqualmie Pass.
In early December of 1887, the Seattle and Eastern Construction Co. was incorporated to build the road for the Lake Shore. It was not until July 16th, 1888, that the first regular train ran the 24 miles from Seattle to Woodinville. They constructed no further than Sallal Prairie in the Cascades.
The eastern division started working west from Spokane in early 1888. Forty miles were planned to be ready for the fall harvest. Twenty miles of grade were in by July, but a lack of funds only saw 10 miles of track by November. The next few months were more productive and 45 miles of the line were open to Wheatdale in March, 1889. When money problems became acute, the town of Davenport offered to grade the five miles to reach their own town. This was accepted and completed so that in October, the eastern section consisted of the 50.05 miles from Spokane to Davenport, though some grading had been completed as far as a few miles beyond Coulee City.
The NP built a branch to compete with the eastern section of the Lake Shore; it was called the Central Washington Railroad. NP records indicate that between December 6th, 1887, and February 25th, 1888, surveys were made and a line located diverging from the main line at Cheney, and extending westward through portions of Spokane, Lincoln, and Douglas counties across the middle crossing of the Grand Coulee, a distance of 115 miles. To forestall the Lake Shore line, the NP put G.W. Hunt to work grading five miles through the Grand Coulee in early summer 1888. This action, along with the other Lake Shore problems, was sufficient to allow later Central Washington construction. During 1889, the road was completed the 46 miles to Almira. On May 30th, 1890, the grade and bridges were completed for the entire branch, and by July 1st the track was in.
The Northern Pacific acquired control of the Lake Shore in 1890 and ran it until the NP went bankrupt in 1893. The Lake Shore led a separate existence during the NP receivership. Its lease had been given up shortly before the receivership, and it had gone into bankruptcy too. There had been continuing litigation between the NP and the Lake Shore as to who was indebted to whom, and the NP was trying to prevent a foreclosure. However, on March 31st, 1896, a foreclosure sale was ordered for May 16th and the bondholders agreed to this on April 10th. The Lake Shore was thus sold to its reorganization committee on May 22nd for $1,000,000 and the sale was confirmed on June 9th. The road began anew with the western division as one railroad and the eastern division as another, although they both had the same officers. On July 11th, the old bondholders of the Lake Shore began a general creditor’s suit in Milwaukee to forestall the NP sale, claiming that the general creditors had been left out of the reorganization. The case was argued on July 21st and denied on the 22nd. Likewise the reorganization committee for the Lake Shore stated on July 24th that there was no NP lien, as it came after the first mortgage and the road had been sold under that mortgage; thus, they said, the NP lien was against a defunct road.
The NP had been behind the long delay between the sale of the Lake Shore in May, 1896, and its final court confirmation in February, 1897. This was because the NP owned $3,162,650 of stock and $1,258,691 of bonds in the company and the sale price was only $1,000,000. After the confirmation of the sale, the western section of the Lake Shore, which was the part of value, passed to a company called the Seattle and International on July 10th. This company had been formed earlier in the summer for just this purpose. During January, 1898, the NP bought $5,558,000 of the bonds of the S&I and displaced the reorganization management. On March 21st, 1901, the NP purchased the S&I.
The eastern section of the Lake Shore was also acquired on July 10th, 1896, by a new company called the Spokane and Seattle; its officers were the same as those of the S&I. The fifty-mile line from Spokane to Davenport was always operated by the NP. It closely paralleled the Washington Central, successor company to the Central Washington. This latter company had been sold at Spokane January 19th, 1898, and bid in by the bondholders for $100,000. The NP acquired all of the capital stock and leased it in March. In March a year later, the NP purchased the Medical Lake-Davenport section of the S&S, and in October, 1900, the Spokane-Medical Lake section. Along with the purchase went the abandonment of these 29 miles of track, which was the section paralleling the Washington Central.
The S&S had a small rebirth, in that the abandoned track between Medical Lake and Spokane was purchased by the Washington Water Power company for use as an interurban train. The WWP purchased the line from the NP on March 2, 1904. These passenger trains ran until March 12, 1922, as declining ridership caused the WWP to end the operation.
The section of track from Medical Lake to Davenport fared a lot better. A small section between Medical Lake and Eleanor was abandoned, but the remainder operated until 1983, when the successor to the NP, the Burlington Northern, pulled up the tracks.
The final remaining piece of track was operated by the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company. The Lake Shore had built a joint depot with the OR&N on the north side of the Spokane River in downtown Spokane. When the S&S was sold to the NP, the OR&N retained use of the depot, plus some surrounding track. This track survived to the early 1980s, when it was pulled up by the Union Pacific, owner of the OR&N.