If this old barn and rock house look somehow familiar, you probably have seen them before – even if you’ve never stopped by their location on the Moran Prairie.
Every year students who are seeking interesting locales for their senior pictures stop by the home of Ann E. Yates off South Regal Road and ask if they can shoot their photos there. She always agrees, and so the old barn and stone structure – both built in 1879 – have appeared as the backdrop in dozens of area high school graduation portraits.
And the sites are hard to resist, not just for their authentic historic appearance but because of their many extras – like the ancient wagon wheel leaning up against the stone building. Who can resist that in a photo?
The barn was erected by original property owner Tom Newland. It is said he cut down pine trees on the property himself and hauled them by wagon to a mill by the Spokane River and had them cut into boards. At about the same time he also put up the rock building, thought to have housed chickens back in the early days and now home to gardening materials.
By the time Yates and her husband, Don, purchased the property in 1960, much of the oral history of the place was lost. However, Newland’s son Guy stopped by and told them a little about it. Most interesting to Yates was the fact that the stone house sits right on the old Mullan Road, the first wagon trail crossing the Rockies, linking Montana to Fort Walla Walla in what was Washington Territory in 1860.
She said Newland told them stories he had heard from his father of how people would camp by the spring near the stone house, water their horses and then move on to Cheney and places west and south. Indeed, there is still a pond at the site that Yates can replenish by closing the head gate on the still free-flowing stream. “It just takes about a day to fill,” she said.
The stone building is pretty sturdy, but the old barn needed some rehabilitation. Some years back she had a steel roof put on, repaired deteriorating boards and fixed the foundation. The Yateses once used the barn to house up to 23 ponies, which they raised and sold. Today it serves as storage for many of her family members’ possessions. Daughter Linda Finch lives nearby, and she and her children and grandchildren seem to find the barn a handy place to keep things.
“I think this spring, maybe we’ll clean it out,” Yates said. Two old cars, numerous bicycles, tires and more need to go somewhere else, she decided. But there are a few things inside that are quite wonderful, such as the antique buggy and old chuck wagon, a sleigh and some old pioneer farm implements.
An earlier, much earlier, improvement to the barn was the addition of an adjoining little shed to house a Model T Ford. Yates is considering seeking listing of the building on either the Spokane or National Register of Historic Places. “Wouldn’t that be something,” she said.
When she came to the property 50 years ago, it consisted of 8 acres, but she and her husband bought an additional 12 acres. There was half of an old Army barracks on site which had served as the previous owner’s home (the original home burned down). The Yates built their house behind the barracks, which have since been removed, and settled into a rural life with their daughter, horses and the various forms of wildlife that happened by.
It’s been a really good life here, said Yates, who grew up in Ritzville and recalls going to county school in a buggy (though not the one currently in her barn). Quite independent, she still rides her mower to cut grass in the summer, though her son-in-law now takes care of the snow plowing. She keeps house and handles all the details of her life.
Yates’ husband died in 2001 and is buried in the nearby Moran Prairie Cemetery.
“People ask me when I’m going to leave here, and I tell them it’ll be when they carry me out,” said Yates, who will celebrate her 93rd birthday this summer.
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