Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Ghost Signs, Ghost Town

Last fall I did a quick exploration of Sprague, Washington. Like most of the towns of the wheat country of eastern Washington (and for that matter the rest of rural America), Sprague is a long demographic and economic decline. The wheat still grows on the rolling hills around the town, it just takes far fewer hands to harvest that wheat. This and a host of other reasons have driven the population of Sprague steadily downward for more than a century, from almost 1700 in 1890 to 446 as of 2010. Last summer one of the Main Street buildings just fell down.

There are faint signs of life in Sprague still--a post office, a motel that has seen better days, one grocery store, one tavern, and an antique shop with a note on the door asking you to call the owner if you would like her to open the store.

What really struck me about Sprague, though, were the amazing ghost signs. Regular readers of this blog know my obsession with spotting these faded painted signs on the signs of brick buildings. Sprague has a remarkable collection of surviving signs. Some have been repainted by preservation-minded citizens, others appear to be original. Forgive the quality of the following images, taken with the phone on my camera: 

This obviously repainted sign greets you as you come into town from the east.
The advertised wares point to an earlier time.
See this picture on Flickr
for how the sign appeared in 2012.
Not open on Sunday mornings!

The building owner told me this sign had been "touched up" some years ago.

I tried to frame this shot with the boom from the wheat elevator and
reflections in the puddles. Didn't quite work.

Really well-preserved original sign.

Hertrich and Moylan General Merchandise, plus a Bull Durham.
This undated photo from the WSU Library shows the
sign in better shape.

Most of the buildings are boarded up, waiting for the next boom.

Mostly too faint to read

I would love to know more about the history of Sprague and the efforts to preserve it. Who repainted some of the signs? Was there ever a historical society? Are there important historical papers in any of these buildings that should be rescued--maybe in the church or town hall or a former fraternal organization? If anyone knows more, give me a call.


Bill Youngs said...

Great photos -- powerful evocation of the present and past of Sprague, Washington.

Guy Gregory said...

The Lincoln County Historical Society published some things in the recent past, you of course know about link. I'll forward this blog page to my in-laws...maybe they can help.

Larry Cebula said...

Thanks, Guy.