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Pioneering Pasco family is selling their historic farm. They say it’s time to let go

The farm was bigger and their family smaller when Lura and Fred Harris moved across Pasco to a bucolic stretch of Columbia River waterfront during World War II.

The government had given the Harrises 30 days to vacate their dairy, citing war-time military needs.

A supply depot would replace their Diversity Farm Dairy. Its warehouses now form the heart of the Big Pasco Industrial Park.

The Harris family moved instead to Pasco’s western edge — to the former Wexler Ranch, a 118-acre spread in unincorporated Franklin County.

The former sheep ranch overlooked the river. Crossing the Columbia meant taking a boat or circling miles back to the green bridge in the heart of downtown.

Despite the uprooting, they didn’t leave behind their home. Historic photos show the farm house being hauled along Court Street.

Family lore says breakfast was still on the table when moving trucks arrived. And the meal was still there — unspilled — when the house arrived at its destination.

The old house still stands, one of several buildings on the 45 acres that remain today of the Harris family farm.

On Nov. 14, Musser Bros. Auctions will sell the remaining acres to the highest bidder in four parcels.

It’s expected to sell to home and condo developers eager to capitalize on the picturesque location and its 450 or so feet of shoreline.

Lura Harris died in the 1971. Her husband lived until 1989. Then the farm passed to son Wallace, one of their six children, and his wife, Lucille.

Lucille and Wallace Harris established the Harris Family Trust to benefit their eight kids and, as time passed, also their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Time to sell

The heirs are selling, they say, because the farm is too small, because the land is too valuable and because it’s time to simplify the family finances.

“It’s time to settle the trust,” said Lurene Harris Fleshman, the youngest of Wallace and Lucille’s children — seven daughters and a son.

Fleshman grew up on the family farm and in turn raised her own six children there. Her only brother, David Harris, lives across the street.

Fleshman runs the family farm stand with help from her daughter. She keeps pigs, chickens and gardens with unusual produce such as the gypsy peppers favored by Russian immigrants.

Her young grandson is the eighth generation of the family to call Pasco home.

Fleshman said she’s giving up her homestead, but not her livelihood.

She and her husband put in an offer on a five-acre place north of Pasco. She will keep raising the unusual plants and run her produce stand at the new location.

David Harris is staying put after multiple moves to pursue his own interests, including an orchard in Kennewick.

“I’m not moving,” he said.

The Harris siblings say a deal to sell that fell through about a year ago highlighted the value of the family farm. Without divulging the price, they said it was “substantial.”

Pressure for Pasco homes

The Harris Farm is an island of unincorporated Franklin County property, surrounded on three sides by incorporated Pasco and on the fourth by the river.

It’s included in Pasco’s masterplan for the Broadmoor area, the 1,600 mostly undeveloped acres between Road 100 and the river.

Pasco is adding residents by the thousands. Broadmoor will play a big role in providing housing, shopping, recreation and office space..

At a maximum density of 15 houses, town homes, apartments and condos an acre, the Harris property could theoretically handle more than 600 homes.

And Pasco is under pressure to add housing.

The city has about 75,000 residents, according to the state Office of Fiscal Management. Its population will exceed 116,000 by 2040, according to the Benton-Franklin Council of Governments, a regional planning agency.

To spur development in Broadmoor, Pasco spent $3.8 million to extend sewer services to Broadmoor.

The project’s name? The Harris Road Sewer Extension.

Interstate 182 bridges

Lura and Fred Harris would have had no inkling of what the future held when they moved their family and farm across town in 1942. The green bridge was the only way to drive across the massive Columbia River and it was miles to the east.

The blue bridge wouldn’t open until 1954. The cable bridge opened in 1978.

Both made it easier to cross between Kennewick and Pasco.

But western Pasco’s future would have to wait until 1984, when Interstate 182 linked it to Richland. A twin bridges crossed the river and clipped the Harris farm on the Franklin side.

The freeway transformed isolated farmland into prime real estate for shopping, offices and residential subdivisions catering to the area’s growing middle class.

The Glenn C. Lee and Sam Volpentest bridges made it possible for Pasco residents to commute to jobs in Richland and vice versa.

Fred Harris was well into his 90s when the bridges were built. He was delighted by the project and lived to see it completed, his grandchildren said.

Fred haunted the construction zone, earning the nickname “sidewalk superintendent” from construction workers. Crews once lowered him to the river for a close-up look at the bridge piers as they were being built.

He saw the bridges open and died shortly after his 100th birthday in 1987.

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Historic photos from the Harris family farm. Photo courtesy Harris family

The Harris family

Fred Harris is the acknowledged patriarch of the sprawling family. But he was a toddler when he arrived with his mother, grandfather and a slew of aunts and uncles first arrived in 1889, the year of Washington statehood.

His grandfather, Alex Gordon, brought his sprawling family west after enduring a few Iowa tornado seasons. The party included Gordon’s daughter, Gertrude Harris, and young Fred, then 2.

Gordon was making tracks for Yakima when a chance conversation with Capt. W.P. Gray prompted him to change course.

In an interview with the Tri-City Herald prior to his death, Fred Harris said the famed riverboat captain extolled Pasco on a train in Minnesota.

Gordon, a blacksmith and farmer, was sold.

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Historic photos from the Harris family farm. Photo courtesy Harris family

The family established Diversity Dairy Farm on what would become Big Pasco. They ran the dairy, grew corn and vegetables and raised pigs, selling meat to hospitals, the jail and neighbors.

Fred and Lura met, the family jokes, because his family ran the dairy, and her family ran the ferry.

While David is hopeful whoever buys the farm won’t alter it too much, Fleshman shares her grandfather’s progressive vision. She hopes developers do something special on the waterfront that the public can enjoy.

“Pasco needs some real nice restaurants,” she said.

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Wendy Culverwell writes about local government and politics, focusing on how those decisions affect your life. She also covers key business and economic development changes that shape our community. Her restaurant column and health inspection reports are reader favorites. She’s been a news reporter in Washington and Oregon for 25 years.
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