What Happened to Saltese Lake?

Most Spokane-area residents are familiar with Liberty Lake near the Idaho-Washington border, but few are aware that there once existed an even larger lake only a few miles west of Liberty Lake.

Saltese Lake (named after Coeur d' Alene Chief Andrew Seltice who once resided near the lake) was completely drained in the 1890s by Valley pioneer Peter Morrison who homesteaded the area that included Saltese Lake. Morrison and crews of his hired laborers spent years trenching several canals to drain the lake in order to expose the lake bed to grow what he felt would be the best Timothy Hay in the Northwest. Morrison's idea is representative of how American and European settlers transformed an agriculturally-inhospitable region into an economically profitable enterprise.

Starting in 1894, Morrison went to work draining Saltese Lake. He hired crews of laborers to perform the duty and they used horse teams that pulled the "fresno," which was a bucket-like scoop used to dig the canals. The process was long and arduous as several canals were trenched, totaling nearly 10-miles in length. By 1900, Morrison's workers were finished and in a matter of weeks there remained nothing of Saltese Lake except for a small amount of marshy lake bottom.

The main drainage canal, which still helps drain the lake to this very day, is known as Saltese Creek. It flows into a small body of water directly behind Central Valley High School known as Shelley Lake, which was formed as a result of the lake's initial drainage. Several other smaller canals still surround the west side of the former lake. Much of the east side of the lake is maintained as the Saltese Uplands Conservation area, and the marshy lake bottom that could not be drained is in the works of being turned into a protected wetlands area by Spokane County.

The Morrison family still live on their ancestor's original homestead property and Timothy Hay is still harvested on the farm that was once a lake. The hay grown on the Morrison farm is still considered to be some of the best of its kind in the region.


Images

Peter Morrison, circa 1890

Peter Morrison, circa 1890

Morrison homesteaded the area where Saltese Lake once existed and drained the lake in order to grow Timothy Hay. Not only did his plan work, but his ancestors continue to grow the region's finest hay to this very day. | Source: Image courtesy of Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, Morrison Family Collection, 2015. View File Details Page

"Mud Shoes," 1899

"Mud Shoes," 1899

These modified horseshoes were used to keep Morrison's horses from sinking into the mud while they trenched the drainage canals which drained Saltese Lake. These rather ingenious, hand-made mud shoes are currently on display at the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum and were donated by the Morrison family. | Source: Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, Morrison Family Collection. View File Details Page

Morrison Ranch, circa 1910

Morrison Ranch, circa 1910

This image shows Peter Morrison's hay operation around 1910. The bed of what was once Saltese Lake is visible in the background of this photo. | Source: Image courtesy of Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, Morrison Family Collection, 2015. View File Details Page

Morrison & Co. Receipt, circa 1900

Morrison & Co. Receipt, circa 1900

Peter Morrison's hay fields were the largest in Washington State and he grew some of the finest Timothy Hay in the region, making him relatively wealthy over a short span of time. | Source: Image courtesy of Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, Morrison Family Collection, 2015. View File Details Page

Spokane Chronicle, May 22, 1909

Spokane Chronicle, May 22, 1909

This article describes the attempts of Morrison's neighbors to dam up the drainage canals that ran through their property. A judge ordered that, even though the canals ran through farms of other residents, they could not legally dam them up because Morrison trenched the canals long before anyone else homesteaded the area and depended on the canals to continue to prosper financially. | Source: Image courtesy of author, Spokane Daily Chronicle, May 22, 1909 View File Details Page

Longhouse of Chief Andrew Seltice along Saltese Lake, 1898

Longhouse of Chief Andrew Seltice along Saltese Lake, 1898

Andrew Seltice was the Chief of the Coeur d' Alene tribe and he called Saltese Lake home. The name of Saltese Lake was derived from the name of Seltice, but has since been changed slightly. | Source: Image courtesy of Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, Morrison Family Collection, 2015. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Robert M. Lambeth, “What Happened to Saltese Lake?,” Spokane Historical, accessed April 29, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/559.
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