Adolf Aschoff and Marmot Oregon’s History
Marmot Oregon is a place more than it is a town. It is located along the last stretch of the Oregon Trail, the old plank covered Barlow Road. Between 1883 and 1930 it was a destination for many people that came to experience the great outdoors and to launch their adventures on Mount Hood. Located in the forested foothills in the west side of Mount Hood about six miles east of the town of Sandy, Marmot is situated on a ridge with the Sandy River to the south and the Little Sandy River and Bull Run to the north. It was a wilderness when Marmot was established.
The story of Marmot is less about a town or a place than it is about a man. Marmot’s pioneer and developer of the town’s commercial ventures, such as its store, hotel, stables and museum were owned and operated by Johann Adolf (Adolph) Aschoff. There were no other businesses there. Aschoff was even Marmot’s postmaster when the post office was established in 1890, where he kept meticulous records in perfect penmanship. Adolf Aschoff was a German immigrant who has cemented his name into the fabric and history of Mount Hood and the south side towns between Sandy and Government Camp and indeed, the whole Mount Hood National Forest.
Adolf Aschoff was born in Celle, Hanover, Germany, May 21, 1849. He was the son of a shoe manufacturer who was said to have descended from Russian royalty. He was educated for the clergy but his love for the outdoors led his path in other directions. Adolf’s father wanted his children to be educated and cultured and not have to work in the factories like he had. Adolf’s education covered language, history, theology, art, music and physical sciences. He worked with the Royal Forester when he was 16, an experience that will serve him well in his life. Adolf became a very talented musician, artist and storyteller and one of Mount Hood’s earliest photographers.
In 1866 at the age of 17, while still in Germany, he organized a club of enthusiastic young men called “Maybugs”. Their activities varied from studying to fun making, and perhaps a little political activism. It seems that this group became involved in trouble with a group of Prussian officers. This was during the Austro-Prussian War and, although Hanover tried to maintain a neutral position, in June of 1866 Germany mobilized troops against Prussia which ended up dissolving Hanover and its subsequent annexation by Prussia. That Summer saw 17,000 Prussian soldiers cross over the Hanover boundary line. Adolf was involved in taunting the invading soldiers as well as plastering violent posters all over which made him very unpopular with the Prussians. One night the “Maybugs”, said to have been a bit tipsy, bumped into several Prussian officers. There was a tussle and three of the officers were knocked down. As a result of this he was forced to flee. He claimed to have escaped and ran to a lake where he stayed submerged, except for his face, for a day and into the night. He made his way to the home of a female benefactor, said to be Princess Fredericka, who provided help to facilitate his escape to Austria, then to France and eventually to England where a forged passport allowed him passage to America, entering as a political exile.
Adolf arrived in New York in November of 1869 on the steamer Nebraska. He made a living for some time as a wood carver and engraver but New York was too crowded for him. He went to New Jersey, then to Illinois and finally to Kansas in 1871 where he and his brother Ernest took up a homestead. In 1872 Adolf Aschoff married Dorotea “Dora” Gein in Rush County Kansas. Dora was born in Germany November 21st, 1853 and had immigrated to America with her parents when she was 14 years old. Adolf and Dora had a farm while in Kansas where their first four children were born. His time in Kansas provided much material for stories that he’d tell the rest of his life. He told tales of his adventuresome days as a pioneer and cowboy and how he had met the likes of “Calamity Jane” and was hired by “Buffalo Bill” Cody hunting buffalo to supply meat to the railroads.
While in Kansas Aschoff watched as wagons of people heading to Oregon passed by his farm and in 1882 he and Dora decided to do the same. They left their homestead and moved to Portland, Oregon where they lived near Mt Tabor. They raised and sold vegetables around town for a living. Adolf was described as looking like a nobleman with a trim little goatee, elegant manners, a strong German accent and, with his gift for storytelling as well as his artistic and musical talents, found it easy to gather influential friends while living in the city. These friends and connections proved to be invaluable in the following years as he developed his resort in Marmot.
Adolf and Dora moved from Portland to Marmot in the Spring of 1883 where they paid $900 for 240 acres of land located along the last section of the Oregon Trail known as The Barlow Road. It was located between the little town of Sandy and Mount Hood and was situated on a ridge the settlers used to call “The Devil’s Backbone”. The land was beautiful forestland with the Sandy River to the south side and the Little Sandy River and what would become the Bull Run watershed to the north. At that time it was the only road to Mount Hood from Portland and the travelers to and from the mountain passed by his land, and in 1883 it was the furthest east outpost between Portland and Mount Hood. Marmot became a regular stop along the way for travelers.
Immediately after acquiring the land Adolph started work on a log cabin for him and Dora, but it soon became clear that many of the friends that he made in Portland were interested in coming to the Aschoff’s to stay or launch adventures to Mount Hood. Adolph was quoted as saying, “I never really intended to run a resort, but my friends importuned until I had to, and I have had as many as 200 guests at one time.” Many climbing parties started from Marmot with Adolf acting as a guide. He built guest cabins and started entertaining borders and guests at 50 cents per day or $3/ week. Business was so good that he built a hotel and by 1902 had expanded to 23 rooms. The hotel was named “Aschoff’s Mountain Home”. It was a large two story building with balconies surrounding both levels with ornate trim that reflected its owner’s artistic abilities. The main level contained a large dining room which could seat 100 people, a kitchen with a huge wood burning stove and a zinc covered sink board as well as a sitting room and a bedroom. Upstairs held seven bedrooms.
In 1890 Adolf built a post office and became the postmaster for “Marmot Oregon”. It’s an interesting story about how he chose the name Marmot for his town. When he arrived there he noticed burrows which some locals had told him were made by marmots but he later discovered them to be mountain beavers. When the post office was established Aschoff and two of his friends decided to name it “Marmot” in spite of this error.
Adolf built a store where he sold essentials to guests and travelers. He also built a museum on the site where he displayed relics of the past, his artwork, photographs as well as mounted displays of animals that he had hunted. The animals were featured in a display at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in 1907 in Portland, Oregon.
On May 19, 1897, he was appointed the first Forest Ranger for the Cascade Range Forest Reserve, which became the Mount Hood National Forest and was soon appointed as Supervisor in charge of many Rangers. Adolf is credited with blazing the Skyline Trail between Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson. His service lasted until 1906 when he left due to disagreements with supervisors and the bureaucracy of the job. He resigned from the Forest Service.
Adolf and Dora had nine children. The first four were born while he and Dora still lived in Kansas. Operating a hotel, a post office, being a guide as well as his position as the Mount Hood National Forest supervisor was a lot of work and so having a large family helped.
- Mary Sophia Aschoff (1873–1914) 25 Sep 1873 • Pioneer Township, Rush, KS
- Ernest John Aschoff (1876–1954) 21 May 1876 • Pioneer Township, Rush, KS
- Amelia O Aschoff (1878–1939) 29 Oct 1878 • Pioneer Township, Rush, KS
- Otto Ernest Aschoff (1880–1958) 13 Aug 1880 • Pioneer Township, Rush, KS
- Henry Aschoff (1882–1961) 4 Nov 1882 • Marmot, Clackamas, Oregon
- Emma Margaret Aschoff (1885–1973) 29 Apr 1885 • Marmot, Clackamas, OR
- Margarette Aschoff (1887–) Mar 1887 • Marmot, Clackamas, OR
- Karl Aschoff (1889–1931) Apr 1889 • Marmot, Clackamas, OR
- Gustav Adolph Aschoff (1895–1914) 08 Jan 1895 • Marmot, Clackamas, OR
A part of running his hotel entailed stabling and feeding relief horses for freight wagons that operated on the old Barlow Road. Adolf was often involved in driving wagon loads of vacationers to Government Camp where they would enjoy the sights and activities found there including hiking and climbing Mount Hood. This allowed Adolf to become acquainted with Will Steel, best known for his campaign to create Crater Lake National Park and for the creation of the Mazama climbing club, and O. C. Yocum, famed Mount Hood pioneer guide, and was soon climbing and guiding tourists on Mount Hood himself. This led to his participation in the organizational climb of July 19, 1894 when the Mazama climbing club was created, where he became a prominent and active charter member.
Through his association with the Mazamas he hosted many events at Aschoff’s Mountain Home where he would have up to 200 people come out at once. They would come up from Portland to Troutdale where they would board the train that would take them to the Bull Run powerhouse where a freight and passenger depot was located. From there they would hike to Marmot. It’s told that it was a common sight to see Adolf walking down the road to meet his guests and accompany them back to Marmot.
Life at Marmot was good. With the activities centered on his involvement with the tourist trade, including accommodating and entertaining guests, those must have been some wonderful times. They weren’t easy times but business was good and the Aschoff family did well in the venture. Guests were well taken care of and at meal time the table was filled with good things to eat and was a large family affair. After supper the tables in the room were pushed aside to make room for games, dancing and singing. Adolf enjoyed entertaining his guests. After supper he would entertain his guests by telling tall tales or playing his piano. He told his stories in his thick German accent and in such expressive ways that sometimes it was hard to tell truth from fiction. To the delight of his guests he would bring out his tiny Sheffield scissors and cut silhouettes of birds and animals from paper, some as small as postage stamps.
Adolf told a lot of stories but few were recorded or saved but a couple of examples have survived. One was when he was discussing the hazardous local roads one day when he told of how he and his wife were coming home from Gresham in a high box wagon when a grouse flew up from the side of the road spooking the horses causing the wagon to hit the ditch. They both were able to duck and were spared from harm but were trapped under the wagon. “Belief it or no, he stated, “I had to walk a quarter of a mile before I found a fence rail so I could pry up the wagon and get Mama out” One of the listeners reminded him that he too was trapped under the wagon. “Ach,” Snorted Adolf, with a twinkle in his eye, “I forgot all about dot.”
Another was when some Marmot friends were complaining about a sudden change in the weather. Adolf said, “Gentlemen, let me tell you about Kansas. I was driving along in a light one horse wagon on a lovely Spring day. The sky suddenly turned black as night, the rain fell so hard that I could not breath, water filled the wagon box and ran over the top of my shoes. Then the cold wind started to blow. In two minutes my hands were so numb I dropped the reins and had to call to the horse to take me home. When the horse stopped at the barn door I yelled for my wife to bring the axe and chop my feet loose from the ice in the wagon box. Just then the sun came out and melted the ice before my wife could find the axe. Marmot weather is not so bad”.
A man of medium height but quite stout in stature, he had amazing strength. Witnesses tell about seeing him hold a 100 pound flour sack at arm’s length with either hand. One time Adolf was demonstrating his strength when he lifted a 200 pound man with his neck. He put his head between the mans legs and lifted him right off the ground but when he was finished Adolf’s head drooped onto his chest and he was only able to raise it by using his hands. He was taken to St Vincent’s hospital in Portland where they found a broken vertebra and a torn tendon. His head was put into a brace and he was inactive for three months until his neck healed. He was eventually able to get full use of his neck back.
Sadly in June of 1914 Adolf and Dora’s youngest son Gustav went missing. It is said that he had a quarrel with one of his brothers and Gustav threatened to take his own life and he left. A search took place and his body was eventually found in the Sandy River about a mile from home. The coroner returned a verdict from his inquest that Gustav had died of suicide. This event hurt the Aschoff family deeply.
On July 13th of the same year Adolf and Dora’s oldest child Mary died after a year long illness at 40 years old. Mary had married into one of Sandy Oregon’s pioneer families. She was married to Paul R. Meinig, Sandy’s second mayor, and first official mayor under the new charter of incorporation in 1913.
Four years later Adolf’s wife Dora died. Dora was the glue that kept Aschoff’s Mountain Home working. Adolf was the attraction and the entertainment and did the heavy lifting, but Dora and the children did a lot of the work behind the scenes. The table filled with food each night. The tidy rooms, all with their own clean linens and handmade quilts folded neatly on each bed. The garden and orchard that grew the fruit and vegetables that were used throughout the year. The feeding and stabling of the horses. There was a lot to operating a resort out in the countryside.
With Dora gone and the children getting older and starting families of their own, coupled with the new Mount Hood Loop Highway bypassing Marmot completely, the place started to deteriorate. Adolf was left alone except for visits from friends on a Sunday where he would, once again, become the happy entertainer that he’d enjoyed so much most of his life in his days that he spent at Marmot.
Adolf resided at his beloved home until 1929 when he sold everything to Percy Shelley. At the time he was quoted as saying, “I cannot tell you how I feel giving up my place. My nine children grew up here and I have gone through all kinds of hardships, but only God and I know how much I have loved it here.” On May 16, 1930 Adolf Aschoff died in Portland. An era had passed and those that were still around to remember the glory days at Aschoff’s Mountain Home mourned his passing.
Then on July 4th 1931 the old hotel burned. The Shelley family lost all of their belongings. The buildings on the south side of the road were spared but fell into disrepair quickly. Today there’s not much left of Marmot but if you use your imagination as you pass through you can still picture what it must have been like at the peak of popularity, and why Adolf Aschoff loved it so deeply.
Photos from the Gary Randall collection
Information Bill White, Brightwood, Oregon
Sandy Pioneers, Early Settlers and Barlow Road Days – Sandy Historical Society
Jack Grauer – The Illustrated History of Mount Hood
Various newspaper articles from the period