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.