By Luella Dow

Turnbull Wildlife Refuge and memories of those who worked there

In our opinion


Turnbull Wildlife Refuge

This 100-year-old barn was moved from the “Finney Place” where the Charlie Proctor family lived on Turnbull Wildlife Refuge.

In the 1880s settlers began to move into this area. About 35 families established homes in what would become Turnbull Wildlife Refuge. President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937 declared 16,000 acres of marshes, wetlands and lakes as the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

The farmers who already lived on the property spent a lot of time draining the swampland. They planted and sold hay, hunted and hauled freight.

In 1941 Charlie Proctor became Turnbull’s first manager. Charlie, his wife Ellen, and their two little daughters, Jeannette and Jeanne, lived on what was known as the Finney Place. The three-story barn, humming with music from fiddles, banjoes, and maybe a tambourine or two, provided many a happy evening of entertainment for the surrounding population. That barn, well cared for at the age of 100 years, now sits on the property of Mark Bell two miles south of the Refuge. It is placed near the road on the left side.

We now turn our attention to the 1950s when Gary Dahl was about 9 years old. At that time milking barns, chicken coops, and the animals and farmhouses, began to be removed from the refuge. The owners found new places to live. Quite a few found homes in the Cheney area. As the buildings were put up for sale Gary’s dad, Albert Dahl, bid on three houses, a barn, and a big chicken house. Gary Dahl’s grandparents, Spokane residents Walt and Frieda Hubbel, wanted to relocate to Cheney. Albert Dahl knew just the place for them. He had three lots in Cheney. He hired a moving company to give those houses a good home.

The work began. It was to be finished in one year. Gary Dahl as a young boy, pitched in to help. He carried tools for the men, swept and picked up things that were in the way. He said, “It was during haying season and when we got tired of working on the buildings we went back to haying.”

The houses had to be jacked up to get them onto trucks. The power company had to raise the electric lines. The houses were wider than the road. Anybody driving another vehicle on the road had to stop so the load could get by. The whole parade made its slow way up the Badger Lake Road. Some of the work was dangerous, some was exhausting, and sometimes that hayfield looked pretty good.

The barn that Albert Dahl bought was put together with wooden pegs. The building had no nails. Gary Dahl said, “When we took down the rafters we had to bore out the pegs. All of the framework was put together with pegs. Dad made the custom built houses at one per year and farmed besides. He built houses for some other people too.” There are a few homes still situated in Cheney that once sat on Refuge soil.

Gary Dahl said, “The Turnbull Wildlife Refuge traded ground with the farmers. It never condemned the land. There was a waiting list to rent pasture for a cow-calf unit at $3.50 per month. Congress gave the parameters for how many acres of land the Turnbull Refuge could buy. It could never exceed the true market value.”

Scattered on refuge land are hard to find remnants of buildings once cared for by early farmers. Researchers have found rock shelters that probably belonged to native tribes that lived in the area over 8000 years ago.

These days, tourists come from far away and local people stroll the pathways. They admire the quiet beauty; take pictures of the wildlife and some may wonder, “Do you suppose long ago somebody lived in a little cabin right where I’m standing?”

Luella Dow is a Cheney-area author. She can be reached at


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