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Landmarks: Market-gardening pioneer built barn on Peone Prairie

Sometime between 1879, when William H. Stoneman began homesteading on Peone Prairie, and 1898, he built three barns on his property, one of which still stands today.

The red broken-gable barn, listed on the Washington State Heritage Barn Register, has a plaque on its west side giving its construction date as 1898.

“We have an old photo from that year which shows the barn in the background,” said Sandy Christensen, current owner of the property at 11210 N. Fairview Road. “It may have been built earlier, but we just don’t know for sure.”

One of the now-gone barns from the original homestead was a tall dairy barn built in the Gothic style, which was the first dairy barn on the prairie, according to Christensen. The lower portion of that barn was removed and the upper section lowered onto a poured concrete slab; it now serves as a tall Quonset hut for storing farm machinery.

The red barn was used originally for storing hay and milk products. The working farm of William Stoneman included orchards as well as market gardening. As described in the book, “An Illustrated History of Spokane County, State of Washington,” Stoneman put in three acres of celery, eight acres of cabbage, 20 of potatoes, two of onions, 16 of fruit trees, as well as some rows of parsnips and beets.

He is credited in the book as being the first to introduce the market gardening concept to the area.

The farm, now known as R.E.W. Christensen Farms, is largely leased out for wheat. In 1997, Christensen and her husband, Wayne, moved from their home in Spokane Valley to the property in order to be near his parents, Roy and Evelyn Christensen, who owned the land. They lived with the elder Christensens in a house elsewhere on the property while they remodeled the original farmhouse, which is located just south of the red barn. Unfortunately, Roy died that same year.

Today, the barn is home to Christensen’s two horses and is also used to store hay.

“I had always wanted horses, so when I was in my 60s, I learned to ride, and a friend from Montana gave me two horses,” Christensen said.

Her husband built fences around the barn as well as a 300-foot-by-200-foot riding pen. Her original horses have died, but the barn now houses Baby, an 11-year-old Blazer, and Snickers, a 20-year-old paint quarter horse. She rides Baby four or five times a week, but Snickers, who was a rescue horse, just enjoys a life of leisure because his bad leg prevents him from being ridden.

Christensen rides in the pen or on their property, but her husband does not join in her affection for horses or riding. “He’s never been on one and never wants to be on one; he just brings in the hay.”

The barn is kept in good shape, though they have replaced some windows and will need to replace the footings under the front side of the structure soon. The barn is painted every five years.

Christensen has held four large barn sales there, plus the barn has been the backdrop for many high school graduation photos. It was also used in a John Deere farm equipment advertisement and in a commercial for a Montana power company.

Christensen recalled that a young man from North Dakota stopped by one day and asked if he could take his girlfriend up into the wheat field behind the barn for a picnic, where he planned to propose to her. Permission was given and, apparently, the young people emerged from their picnic as an engaged couple. Weddings of friends have also been on the property, but not inside the barn, which remains a working barn.

There was one surprise the barn revealed, thanks to a child’s pet. The Christensens had built a small pen at the north end of the barn to keep rabbits for their grandchildren in 2002. One of the children reported to her grandmother that a bunny disappeared down a hole.

When they lifted flooring boards looking for the bunny, they discovered a cellar that was 7 feet wide and ran the length of the barn on the east side.

“It had some old milk cans in it, but we never knew it was there,” Christensen said.

The barn is most picturesque as it stands out on Peone Prairie, with a 1974 windmill on one side and Mount Spokane visible in the distance.

“We hope to keep it standing for a long time,” Christensen said.



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