The dozens of small towns that reside within an hour’s drive of Spokane and Coeur d’Alene can surprise visitors with their beauty and history. But sometimes people need an excuse to visit.
Today, Palouse, Wash., is offering a great excuse – a home and garden tour featuring four homes, one garden, a historic chapel, a restored opera house/hotel building and a modern apartment built above McLeod’s grocery store.
Each small town is unique, but they share some common themes, exemplified in Palouse, population 1,000.
• Townspeople celebrate their past
The garden and home tour raises funds for the maintenance of Holy Trinity Chapel, built in 1895. When only two families remained who attended Episcopal Church services there, the diocese decided to sell the chapel.
A group of citizens bought it to save it.
Pat Flansburg, an organizer of today’s event, said about 25 families pledged money over five years to pay for the chapel in 2003, which is officially owned by the Whitman County Historical Society. The chapel is now used for weddings, memorial services and meetings.
The chapel is one of several restored buildings in Palouse. All spark conversations.
“The younger people who move to town are very interested in the history, and they’ll ask questions of the people who have lived here for a long time,” she said.
• Townspeople support the present
Organizers of the home and garden tour hope visitors today also support their local businesses. They recommend finding lunch at Palouse eating establishments.
Small businesses in small towns operate on ultra-thin margins, but when small towns lose their restaurants, taverns and grocery stores, they lose important gathering spots – and income generated and used locally.
• Townspeople support the future
Palouse, the town, came to life in the 1880s to support the families who farmed in the region surrounding it known as the Palouse – rich in wheat and lentils. The number of farm families has declined over the past century, and newcomers keep the town vital.
“My husband said when he was in school most of the kids were farm kids,” Flansburg, 62, said. “Our son is farming with us now, he’s 33, and in his (high school) class of 40-some kids, there were just four kids that were from farm families.”
The town is now also a bedroom community; residents commute to jobs in Colfax, Pullman and Moscow, Idaho, 15-to-20-minute drives from home.
“Most of the people who live in Palouse now work at Schweitzer Engineering in Pullman,” Flansburg said. “They also work at WSU or U of I.”
Some of the newcomers will live in Palouse the rest of their lives. Others will move on when their jobs change. And some folks just visit for the day. Organizers are hoping for a lot of the visiting folks today.