40 for 40: Lincoln County
Downtown Sprague

By Holly Chamberlainprevious story | next story | all stories

Divided out of Spokane County in 1883, Lincoln is currently the state’s eighth largest county, and its northern border is part of the Columbia River’s course known as the “Big Bend.”  Ice Age floods left the area with fascinating and dramatic geological features, including the famed channeled scablands. Native peoples known today as the Lower Spokane Tribe who inhabited the area until ceding lands to the U.S. in 1887 had established an important trail across what is now the county. Early fur trappers traversed the area after 1810, followed by an assortment of miners and missionary/explorers in the 1830s and later, such as Blanchet, DeMers, Parker, Eells (Cushing and Myra), and Walker (Elkanah and Mary). Permanent settlement began around 1869.
The city of Sprague, which began as a sheep camp in the 1870s, is situated in the southeastern corner of the county amidst wheat fields and cattle ranches and extensive opportunities for hunting, birding, fishing, and camping. When incorporated in 1883, the town abandoned its previous name of Hoodooville and adopted the name of Sprague after a Civil War Union general who became an executive with the Northern Pacific Railroad.
An 1895 fire decimated the early town buildings and stimulated new construction in masonry. Unfortunately, maintenance proved difficult over the decades of up and down economic times, and downtown Sprague experienced the collapse of a major building in 2013 which also affected nearby structures. The city was able to get the street re-opened eventually, but not before a lasting decline in business.
Via the Most Endangered list, the Washington Trust was invited to assist. The 2014 Most Endangered listing raised awareness and spurred assistance in the form of a consultant donating time to assess the viability of rehabilitating an historic hotel building. The amount of money needed to bring the building back was, however, staggering. Local recognition that rehabilitation of the remaining buildings offered significant economic opportunity remained high. However, no large investment was secured and the hotel was unfortunately demolished, leaving just a few remaining historic buildings downtown.
Exacerbating the already significant challenges revitalization efforts face in rural areas, downtown Sprague happens to sit within the floodplain. Investors interested in downtown redevelopment face the added hurdle of securing building permits and insurance in an area prone to flooding. These factors, coupled with a decreasing population base and diminishing market opportunities in town, are all elements city officials grapple with as they envision Sprague’s future. 

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. This story highlights many of our programs and shows just how much need there is for strong preservation connections across the state. If you would like to support our work and spur more positive outcomes for Washington's historic resources, please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust to support the advocacy work we do. Continuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

The Washington Trust it current accepting submissions for its 2017 Most Endangered Historic Properties List. Please contact Jennifer Mortensen at jmortensen@preservewa.org with any questions!

Here's to 40 more years of saving places that matter across Washington! Please sign up for our special weekly e-newsletter to recieve stories like this in your inbox all year long.

previous story | next story | all stories