Arrow-right Camera

Idaho Voices

Linking present, past

Sun., Aug. 23, 2009

Dennis Cunningham is the developer of Meadow Ranch, a “green” housing community in Coeur d’Alene  for people 55 and over. The 60-year-old barn is the centerpiece of the community. (KATHYPLONKA / The Spokesman-Review)
Dennis Cunningham is the developer of Meadow Ranch, a “green” housing community in Coeur d’Alene for people 55 and over. The 60-year-old barn is the centerpiece of the community. (KATHYPLONKA / The Spokesman-Review)

Barn anchors ‘green’ community

For more than 60 years the barn has stood on a ridge just east of Fred Meyer’s north Coeur d’Alene store. Over the years it remained as a sentinel, as the rural land around it changed from farms and fields to businesses and homes.

Now, with fresh, red paint and white trim, a new foundation and windows, the barn and an antique windmill have become the centerpiece of Meadow Ranch, a “green” housing community designed for people 55 and older.

A rustic fence and barnyard with plantings of ornamental and espaliered fruit trees plus rows of tomatoes and summer squash are almost like a scene in a Grandma Moses painting. Early in July, a market moved into the barnyard. The craft and food market was the suggestion of Abby Henning, who has become the market manager.

“Dennis Cunningham, the developer, really liked the idea,” she says, “but didn’t have time to do it himself.”

According to Henning, the market will be open from 2 to 7 p.m. every Friday until Sept. 4. A 10-by-10-foot space rents for $20 a day.

Booths display a variety of offerings, including baked goods such as bread, homemade pies and muffins, and hand-crafted soaps, jewelry, fresh fruit and vegetables, herbal seasonings and fresh seafood. Chalk Creek Construction, John Beresford proprietor, brings his wooden breadboards and wooden folding chairs.

Henning, who sells antiques and collectibles from her own booth, says the barnyard market has a real connection with the barn’s past. “Customers used to come here to buy milk and eggs.”

Gathering from its initial popularity, the barnyard has a potential to become a gathering place for both residents of the ranch and the wider community. Benches line the wall in the shade of the barn, giving visitors a place to sit and talk, listen to live music or just rest and contemplate the view.

The future for the old barn has not always been so bright. For many years the building sat weathering and unused; so when the “For Sale” sign went up on the property, people who had come to regard the barn as a local landmark worried that a buyer might tear down the frame structure.

Cunningham, who in 2001 moved to the area from California with his wife, Sharon, their daughter, Aubrey, and son, Dalton, also had concern that the fading building would be lost, but he had other plans. After purchasing the barn and its surrounding 12 acres he set out to make his vision for the future a reality. Stabilizing and preserving the structure were part of his total vision for the property. He says that he believes connecting with our past helps us know who we are.

While not as old as many area barns, the Schreiber barn, as it has been known locally, recalls a rural past. According to Dorothy Dahlgren and Simone Kincaid in their travel book “Roads Less Traveled,” homesteading on the site goes back to 1897 when the dairy covered 160 acres. According to the book, the property has been owned or leased by several people. In the 1970s, Paul Zayer and family sold glass jars of milk topped by cream for $1.

Sharon Cunningham says she understands the original name for the farm was The Sunset Ranch. Meadow Ranch is the name Dennis Cunningham gave to the planned community

A graduate of Purdue University, Cunningham’s professional experience has included urban use planning and landscape architecture; he is past president of the United States Building Council.

Because of his interest in the concept of “urban infill,” the barn and its surrounding 12 acres presented a unique opportunity to Cunningham to put his ideas about land development into practice. The site was a natural since the property was already within a developed community with a variety of businesses, shops, grocery stores, parks and recreational facilities, most within walking distance. Urban infill is a counter to the kind of urban sprawl that calls for more roads and cars, while gobbling up land.

To honor a sense of the property’s past, to build homes with sustainable design and construction while preserving the environment, all are goals incorporated into Meadow Ranch, a name Sharon Cunningham says came to her husband while walking the property.

Stabilizing the barn was an early part of the project. While the metal roof was in good shape and needed only minor repairs, the foundation – or lack of one – had to be addressed. Movers jacked up the old building and moved it to pour the concrete foundation on which it now rests.

Dennis Cunningham said the original underpinnings of the structure were crumbling concrete and decaying wood. He said nearly all the waste materials removed from the barn were recycled and once the barn was on its new foundation, usable materials were stored inside for future use.

Recycling building waste is just one feature of the Meadow Ranch development. Cunningham said 90 percent of all waste materials from home construction are recycled. “They don’t go to the Fighting Creek landfill.”

To finish the job the barn required paint, some new siding, and new windows. With the barn secured it seemed to Cunningham the old building needed a companion – and what would be more natural than an authentic windmill?

He located and purchased one on a farm near Ritzville and transported it to its new home. Erecting the windmill required a building permit because of its height.

Cunningham chuckles over the coincidence that the fan and tail of the windmill were made in his home state of Indiana. Rustic fences and lush landscaping surround the barn and property. Meadow Ranch is a family project. Sharon is director of sales and marketing, and Dennis’ parents have purchased the first home constructed. Daughter Aubrey has provided piano entertainment on Fridays.

There is a down-home atmosphere about Meadow Ranch that draws visitors. Maybe it’s because there is a feeling of stability from its interconnection with the past, present and future.


Click here to comment on this story »