The Family Antiquity: White Spring Ranch near Genesee shares its massive archival collection with public

click to enlarge - PHOTO, KYLE MILLS
Photo, Kyle Mills

GENESEE — In 100 years, three families raised 23 children at the White Spring Ranch north of Genesee, but what’s unusual about the homestead is that over three generations the family rarely threw anything away and documented nearly every day of their lives.

The rooms of the farmhouse are stuffed with treasures from the past — defunct regional newspapers announcing peace in Europe more than half a century ago, wooden toys, a spinning wheel, pulp fiction novels and antique clothing. At every turn there is something unexpected.

“They were just a historical family,” says Diane Conroy, whose great-grandparents, John and Mary Lorang, bought the property from a man named White in 1884.

For the past decade, Conroy has dedicated herself to preserving the property and its contents as a nonprofit National Historical and Century Ranch site. Saturday is its annual ice cream social from 1-4 p.m. There will be tours of the property and old-fashioned games like a gunny sack race, paper airplane contest, and a chicken egg haystack hunt.

“There used to be gatherings here,” Conroy says. “We can introduce ourselves to the public that way.”

At first, preserving a century’s worth of daily life on the Palouse seemed overwhelming, Conroy says. She faced stacks of boxes with notes on top explaining why they were being saved. So far they have documented 2,000 letters and journals starting in 1897. John’s son Henry wrote 300 letters home from World War I alone. The family subscribed to several area newspapers and seem to have kept them all.

Janet Lorang was the last person to live in the farmhouse. She married Henry’s son Dan who died in 1998 at the age of 68. She cooked on the kitchen’s wood stove during the summer and avoided the full closets.

“They just kind of put stuff away and I lived around it,” Lorang says.

Following her husband’s death Lorang and Conroy decided the massive collection should be shared with the public.

“After a generation of not knowing what to do finally we have permission to do this,” Conroy says.

With grants and donations, artifacts and documents are slowly being archived and made accessible on site and in an online library. A grant from the Idaho State Historical Society is paying for a University of Idaho student to document items this summer.

“It’s interesting,” says UI anthropology student Susan Klebba. “There’s a little bit of something for everybody.”

Sitting at a card table, Klebba cleaned and documented items Conroy handed her from a curio case in the living room. Among them was a crucifix made from bullets.

“Trench art,” says Conroy, something Henry brought home from World War I.

The main farmhouse is actually two houses moved to the property and remodeled to provide room for John and Mary’s family of 10 children. Behind the farmhouse John created a curio museum in an 1880s log cabin. Here he showcased his taxidermy, antlers, nests and hand-carved canes. Another cabin on the property dates to 1876. Hoofed legs of small animals are mounted on the ceiling beams as hooks for lanterns. A buffalo head lies on the floor.

“That’s the fun of it, exploring,” says Conroy about the ongoing discoveries at White Spring Ranch.

if you go WHAT: White Spring Ranch Ice Cream Social WHEN: 1-4 p.m. Saturday ADMISSION: $5 donation or $4 with can of food for the Genesee Food Bank. WHERE: U.S. Highway 95 and Borgen Road north of Genesee. OF NOTE: The site is open 1-5 p.m. Sundays year-round or by appointment by calling (208) 416-1006. Online: www.whitespringranch.com

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