Landmarks: 108-year-old Heathdale barn a popular photo stop
Wed., Aug. 24, 2016
The foundation as photographed from inside the barn’s first level shows daylight through a hole in the crumbling rock foundation. (Stefanie Pettit / The Spokesman-Review)Buy a print of this photo
Just about every week someone sets up a tripod along East Belmont Road east of the town of Mica to take photos of the historic Heathdale barn, a tall gambrel-style barn built in 1908.
“We’ve had professional photographers and people who love barns stop by to take pictures, and we’ve even had high school students come to take their senior pictures here,” said Diane Latta, who owns the barn with her husband, Lance.
Even their daughter Heather, who graduated from Gonzaga Prep in June, did her senior pictures at the barn.
The barn is a tall, double-cupola structure with cedar shakes and strong, weathered pine plank siding that is easily seen from the road. Technically, the Lattas own only one-half of it. When Diane’s father, Donald Sheard, deeded 20 acres of his approximately 200-acre property to his daughter, the new property line bisected the barn. Diane isn’t quite sure how it worked out that way.
The original property at 14610 E. Belmont Road was a 360-acre Morgan horse ranch founded in 1880 by Sylvester Heath, a developer and entrepreneur in the region’s early days. A two-story residence was built in 1906 and the two-story hip-roof barn went up two years later. Other structures dotted the property, including a small, specialized barn for the Morgan horses.
Within easy sight of the ranch, about a one-half mile to the east, is the well-known California Ranch, which sat along the Kentuck Trail, a route pioneers traveled from Fort Walla Walla to Spokane and the Montana gold mines beyond, beginning in the 1860s. The Mullan Road certainly was the more celebrated of the pioneer pathways, but the lesser-known Kentuck Trail was a more direct path, shorter by 35 miles.
At the Heathdale Ranch, work horses and dairy cattle were housed on the first level of the large barn, which was outfitted with a manure carrier system on an overhead track equipped with a bucket that could be raised and lowered as needed before being rolled out for dumping.
A historic account provided by members of the Bloom family, who operated the property from 1922 to 1947, chronicles how the upper level of the barn was equipped with a track for hay storage.
“The wagon was pulled into the barn, then the slings were hooked into a cable system and a team of horses would hitch to the cable system and lift the slings of hay up, and then they could be directed to either end of the barn and the hay was dropped on the upper level. … The hay was put down through an opening in the floor to the center aisle in the lower level,” the account states.
William and Emily Sheard bought the property in 1949 and raised their 11 children there. One of them is Donald Sheard, Diane’s father. The Sheards grew wheat, oats, barley, peas, lentils and hay. After William died in 1974, three of his sons – Donald and his brothers Allan and John – continued working the land. Allan and John have died, and Donald lives in Spokane Valley with his wife, Elsie. Today most of the land is leased out.
Diane Sheard Latta, who was raised a few miles east of the farm, and Lance Latta, who grew up in Spokane, moved to the property in 2005 and renovated the farmhouse, which had been vacant for several years. They listed the barn on the Washington State Heritage Barn Register in 2010. Also living there are daughter Heather, two dogs and three barn cats. And out in a horse water tank for the past four years has lived a rescue goldfish named Fish.
The family considers the barn to be in fair shape, the most serious issue being the crumbling rock foundation.
“I’ve been working on it to keep the barn from tipping over,” Lance said.
They applied for and received a heritage matching grant for a new concrete foundation but at the last minute were told that they had to install a rock foundation instead.
“First of all, we couldn’t find someone to do that. But even if we could, it would have been way too expensive,” Diane said. “So we returned the grant.”
“Still, we’re not going to let it fall down,” Lance added, which is why he continues to brace the barn and shore it up. “It sure would have been nice, though, to make it solid for another 100 years.”
They have had requests to hold events such as dances and weddings at the barn, but it’s not ready yet for that, said the Lattas, who are both retired. They continue to work on the barn to ensure that it stays standing.
And this past week that job has been made harder. They’ve been watching closely and responding as embers from the Yale Road fire burning to the south of them have been falling onto the wheat fields just adjacent to the barn.
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