Deer Lake Irrigated Orchard Company

A testament to the resolve of early Black Spokane

Around the turn of the last century numerous African Americans migrated from the deep South to Spokane in hopes of building a freer and more prosperous life. In which some of them achieved this with the creation of the Deer Lake Irrigated Orchard Company.

Founded by Peter B. Barrow in 1910, the Deer Lake Orchard Company consisted of 140 acres of farmland meant to provide an opportunity for Black workers trying in hope of to build their place in the Northwest. With the combined efforts of 45 investors from across the country, $18,000 dollars was raised, $15,600 of which was used to purchase the 140 acres that sat across the lake from Barrow’s homestead.

Born into slavery in 1840, Peter B. Barrow escaped to fight with the Union Army during the Civil War. After his military career, which saw him reach the rank of sergeant. Barrow went on to serve in both chambers of the Mississippi state legislature. The racial violence of the Jim Crow South eventually forced him and others to seek more opportunity in the Spokane area where he founded the first Black Baptist church in the city and later the Deer Lake Irrigated Orchard Company.

While Spokane was preferable to the south, it was still not welcoming to Black migrants. A 1910 Spokesman Review article about the opening of the orchard illustrates how Barrow and early Black Spokanites were received at the time. The article applauded the project but only in its ability “To give work to the idle negroes now about the city and to eventually rid the city of the riff raff population of the colored race.” Barrow was well aware of how public perception affected the opportunities of African Americans and took inspiration from Booker T. Washington who championed the use of skills and labor as tools to advance the Black community. The Deer Lake Irrigated Orchard accomplished this if only for a brief period of time.

The orchard successfully contributed to the growing apple industry that Washington State is known for today. It grew to employ approximately 100 African Americans and eventually reached a net worth of over $175,000, but that success did not last.

The company was only in operation for about 10 years. A combination of monetary and transportation issues challenged its viability, but other regional factors also influenced its fate. One of which was the Arcadia Orchards. The 7,000 acre mega project located near Deer Park briefly dominated the region as the largest apple orchard in the world before it also closed down in 1924.

The company's treasurer, Charles Parker Stewart cut his botanical teeth while working at the orchards and would go on to become a Professor of Botany at Howard University. With the plant samples he had collected still being used today. The legacy of Barrow himself lived on with his son Charles who co-founded the first Black newspaper in Spokane. While Charles' daughter Eleanor, who would marry the first Black mayor of Spokane James Chase. So while the Deer Park Irrigated Orchard Company was not a permanent institution, it had a lasting impact on the Black community in Spokane.