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Couple restores barn, farmhouse; seeks Spokane County recognition

A historic house and barn on Orchard Prairie are being restored by a Spokane-area couple whose family has occupied the property since the early 1900s.

If approved by Spokane County commissioners next week, the property will become the first local historic register listing in the unincorporated portion of the county in at least five years, said Kristen Griffin, Spokane’s historic preservation officer.

The barn, which has undergone significant restoration, was placed on the Washington Heritage Barn Register in 2012.

Rod and Karen Sprague spent more than $50,000 restoring the barn. They used a forklift to raise the structure by 5 feet, then incorporated steel beams to hold up the old central timbers that had rotted on the bottoms.

From left to right, the Sprague farmhouse in 1935 and today

Over the years, the barn had settled at least 2 feet into the rich Orchard Prairie soil. The barn was designed so a wagon could pull in one door to unload hay and exit through an opposite door. Over the years, the structure housed horses, milk cows and pigs.

New concrete footings, concrete floor, roofing and siding were included in the barn restoration. About 2 feet of prairie dirt had accumulated inside the barn and had to be removed.

The new wooden siding was specially cut by a mill in Springdale, and a preservative coating was developed by Sherwin-Williams to match the look of weathered barn wood.

“I didn’t want to see the barn go away,” Rod Sprague said. “There’s a good chance it’s going to last another 100 years.”

The couple are planning to invest more money in 2014 to restore the folk Victorian farmhouse to its original look. A 1960s addition will be removed, Rod Sprague said.

The couple are hoping to complete the house restoration in time for their 50th wedding anniversary next June. They are living in a motor home on the property.

The motivation for all of the work comes from family roots. “It’s been in the family since 1914,” Rod Sprague explained.

The original owner, Eben Palmer, homesteaded a quarter section of prairie starting in 1891 and built the two-story home for his bride, Cynthia, in 1895.

The barn was raised in 1905.

Rod and Karen Sprague want to list their Orchard Prairie farmhouse and barn on the local historic register in advance of more complete restoration work. The barn is already listed on the state’s barn heritage register. County commissioners will consider the nomination Oct. 8. (Photo: Colin Mulvany)

Fruit trees, lilacs and a gigantic poplar tree have survived over the years at the front of the farmhouse, located a short distance north of Bigelow Gulch Road at the corner of Orchard and Orchard Prairie roads.

John Abbeal and his wife, Rebecca Sprague Abbeal, were the subsequent owners and sold the farm and its remaining six acres to Rod Sprague’s father, John Henry Sprague, and uncle, George Sprague.

Rod Sprague, who acquired the property in 2009, said he remembers watching his father run the farm’s two horses in the 1940s.

Based on the conventions for naming of historic properties, the home is officially listed as the Palmer-Abbeal-Sprague Farmhouse.

In addition to the farmhouse and barn, Rod Sprague also rebuilt a “cabbage shed,” a two-story barnlike building with its original rock foundation and root cellar.

A sawmill in Colville matched the siding for the cabbage shed with the original siding on the house.

All of the work has not gone unnoticed.

“We’ve had 100 people stop by and congratulate us for the work we’ve done,” Karen Sprague said.

Jim Kolva, chairman of the Spokane City/County Landmarks Commission, said he hopes more barn owners will consider having their properties listed. Competitive grant funds are available for barn restoration.

“There are some great barns in the county. It would be nice if more of them make it to the register,” he said.

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