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Then and Now photos: Otis Orchards

Farms stopped growing, community didn’t

Settlers William and Johanna Pringle homesteaded in eastern Spokane County in 1883, near a railroad stop called Otis. In 1903, Mark Mendenhall and Laughlin MacLean contracted to use a drainage ditch to bring water from Newman Lake to Otis. They promoted their efforts in Chicago, a major hub for apple auctions, with pamphlets titled “Irrigation is King.” The name of the railroad stop was changed to Otis Orchards. John and Annie Halloran built the Otis Mercantile in 1906 to provide the growing area with food and dry goods. A 1945 essay in the Valley Herald notes that the early 1920s saw the peak of apple prices, and farms diversified with truck gardens growing vegetables, berries and cantaloupe. Dairying was also popular. Leaf roller caterpillars and some hard winter freezes ended most of the orcharding, but small-scale farming and ranching continues. The store burned down in 1921 in a blaze blamed on a wood stove in which Halloran was burning refuse. It was rebuilt at the crossroads of Harvard and Wellesley and run by the Grant family and, later, by the family of Walter and Elvira Rulffes until the 1980s. – Jesse Tinsley

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