Samuel Welch left Virginia at the age of 19 and traveled to Oregon via the old Oregon Trail in 1842. He travelled down the Columbia River and portaged around Celilo Falls. He settled first in Brush Prairie Washington but soon claimed land near Orient, east of the Gresham.
On February 20, 1865 Sam married Francis Culbertson and his son William “Billy” Welch was born on December 24, 1866. In 1882 Sam and his son Billy took donation land claims of 160 acres each and homesteaded in the Salmon River Valley near Mount Hood, eventually expanding their holdings to around 1,000 acres. Sam farmed his land and in 1893 he and Billy started the first resort in the area, which was a campground for travelers and vacationers. He was known as Uncle Sam to his friends.
Samuel died in 1898 and Billy continued the operation. Their land is where The Resort at The Mountain now lies.
Here’s a photo of the first Welches Oregon pioneer homesteaders. This is probably one of the earliest photos of the Welches area, certainly of the early residents and is an important piece of Welches Oregon history.
Front row from left – Billy Welch and Firmer Walkley. Standing from the left – August Hornecker, Sam Welch, John Copper and Ira Welch.
Photographed at the Walkley homestead near the junction of Welches Road and Bridge Street. The Walkley homestead was where Tawney’s Mountain Home was located. Tawney’s was built in 1909 and was a destination for many visitors to the area until 1949 when it was closed. The old hotel finally fell into the ground and was demolished sometime around 1955.
The Brightwood Museum and Novelty Shop. Many locals who remember this place in its heyday still call this the Snake Pit. In its lifetime it was several things, including a church and a home. The building was constructed by renowned Mount Hood cabin builder Henry Steiner as a roadside tourist souvenir shop along the way to Mount Hood. This was his last log structure project. At one point it was even a reptile garden.
Back before cars were developed into the high speed vehicles of today, and Highway 26 was blasted into straight line four lane route that allowed everyone to move at speeds in excess of 55 miles per hour, a trip to Mount Hood was more of an easier pace. Post World War II was a time when families took to the highways on days off and vacations to camp and to recreate. The tourist industry was a big deal, with roadhouses and unique roadside attractions. Many people called these places “tourist traps”.
In our area here on the south side of Mount Hood there were several businesses that provided both lodging and meals. A couple of the tourist traps that were here, included this business, the Brightwood Museum and Novelty Shop, the Swiss Gardens and the Mt Hood Indian Pageant. This old building is a cultural treasure to our area but sadly it’s falling into ruins. You can still see this old structure at the intersection of Bridge Street and Brightwood Loop Road in the parking lot of the Brightwood store.
100 Years of Rhododendron Oregon and Mount Hood Tourism
I produced a video to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the little Mount Hood village of Rhododendron Oregon. It’s a collection that consists of photos that I’ve collected through the years and have added to my collection. There are a couple that are in the video that are copies of photos from the Welch Family as well as the family of Dr Ivan Wooley.
And how it became a town and a tourist destination
In 1882, before Welches Oregon became a destination, it was a family homestead ranch. Samuel Welch, an emigrant from Virginia, homesteaded in the valley in 1882. His son William, as well as Edward Kopper, Billy’s first wife’s father, homesteaded in the valley in 1889.
Samuel “Uncle Sam” Welch and his son William “Billy” Welch homesteaded adjoining 160-acre sections of the Salmon River Valley on the southwestern foothills of Mount Hood. Samuel Welch’s deed was signed by Benjamin Harrison on April 19, 1889, and was recorded in the Clackamas County Courthouse on April 27, 1893. The deed to Billy Welch’s place was signed by President William McKinley, June 11, 1897, and was recorded August 23, 1898.
Samuel and Billy bought up other homesteads in the valley until they owned approximately 1000 acres covering the whole valley floor from Walkley’s homestead on the south to “Dutch Fred’s” Homestead to the north (Near present Fairway Av) and extending up the slopes of Hunchback Mountain to the east and Huckleberry Mountain to the west.
The ranch had pastures, corrals, and barns for livestock, including a herd of dairy cows, a few head of beef cattle, some sheep, and several pigs. It had an apple orchard and a large vegetable garden. Also available were an abundance of fish in the river and creeks and hills covered with deer and elk. There were stables and a blacksmith shop. As time passed it became a stop for stages and then motorized coaches that carried passengers along the old road to Mount Hood.
In 1889 Samuel died and deeded his property to Billy. Billy’s first wife, Mamie Kopper Welch, died in 1902. Tourists used to come to the valley in the summer to camp. In 1905 Clinton Kern and a Mr. Wren leased the property and opened it as a hotel resort, which they operated until 1909. The old dance hall was razed, and a large dining hall was erected behind the hotel near the banks of the Salmon River.
To compensate for the loss of the dance hall Billy enlarged his store, which he maintained control of, and added a room in back with a pool table and a second story that was used as a dance hall. It had an east facing balcony where perspiring dancers could get fresh air and, especially on a moonlit night, a view across the pasture toward Hunchback Mountain.
In April 1911 Billy Welch and Jennie Faubion were married. Jennie’s family homesteaded the little settlement of Faubion, just a couplie of miles east of Welches. Together they ran the resort, the store, post office and the dance hall above the store.
In 1905 the Welches post office was established. It was named Welches because the postal service didn’t allow apostrophes in a town name. Billy Welch served as the postmaster from 1905 until 1940. After Billy’s death in 1942 Jennie Welch carried on the responsibilities of postmaster until 1960 when she retired. After Jennie retired the Welches post office was closed and moved to Wemme where it served the community for 17 years when a new post office was built in Welches.
Back then community bonfires, taffy pulls and roasting marshmallows on long sticks were popular. The children were sent out to drag back wood for the fire, which the adults would pile, wigwam style, in piles over 10 feet tall. Campers would sit around the fire and sing songs. Sometimes the festivities were helped along with a little “fortified cider”. The children enjoyed singing “old standards” such as the folk song “Ninety-Nine Blue Bottles,” which was first published in 1910. (Similar to 99 Bottles of Beer). There were several good story tellers that would entrance the folks around the fire with fascinating stories. They would usually end the evening.
And then there were the dances. There were dances in the dance hall every Saturday night. Back then most everyone would come to the dances. Parents of small children would bring blankets and tuck the little ones in the corners of the hall. Billy Welch and one or more other local fiddlers would provide the music. Billy, with his eyes half closed, would pump out “old tunes with a lively beat” while dancers shook the building as they whirled and danced two-steps, schottisches, and the Paul Jones, interspersed with an occasion square dance and a waltz to allow the dancers to catch their breaths.
The valley was becoming a popular spot for summer vacations. In 1910 Tawney’s Hotel, about a mile south of the Welches Ranch at the end of the road, was entertaining guests. Other lodges were being built including the Arrah Wanna Lodge, about a mile down the Salmon River and the Rhododendron Inn in Rhododendron.
Billy slowly converted the ranch to an outdoor vacation resort with a hotel and facilities for campers, hikers, hunters, anglers, and their families. Tent cabins were added when there were no longer enough rooms to meet the demand for lodging. Campers were arranged throughout the area around the hotel and along the Salmon River.
Billy allowed people to camp along the Salmon River, with many of the people returning each year to the same camp spots. After a while Billy subdivided a portion of his property to allow those people to purchase their plot of land. Most of the people built small family cabins and the era of vacation cabins began.
The first vacation cabin south of the Welches Hotel was put there by the Kaderly family. Mr. Kaderly arranged with Billy to move Uncle Sam’s original homestead cabin to a location about 300 feet south of Billy’s home. Except for the hand-hewn foundation and stringers, the whole cabin was constructed of all hand split cedar. In time more cabins were constructed by other families to the south of the hotel facing the meadow along the road toward the Walkley place.
In about 1885 Sam sold 5 acres to Mr. and Mrs. John Roberts of Gresham. They built a cabin on the property. Their son Ed helped Billy in the Welches Store for several years. In 1903 Ed married Dora Owens and in 1910 they built their home on the original Roberts property. In 1913 Ed opened a small photo and candy shop that developed into Roberts Country Store. It was located not far south of the Welches Hotel. Ed died March 29, 1963, at the age of 84.
In 1928, Mr. Ralph Waale leased the Welch pasture with an option to buy. They constructed a nine-hole golf course and operated it until 1939, when they relinquished it to the Welch’s. Billy and Jennie continued operation until 1942, when Billy Welch died. It went through several owners before it was sold to Mr. Eugene Bowman.
CLICK HERE to read more about the development of the Mt Hood Golf Course, Rippling River and the Resort on The Mountain.
Here’s a series of photos from 1927, ten years after the opening of the Historic Highway, showing a young man and his Harley Davidson motorcycle. It must have been in the Winter as there seems to be snow and rock fall in the photos.
One of the photos clearly shows road signs with familiar destinations – Portland, Sandy, Bull Run, Gresham, Troutdale and the Columbia River Highway. The best part of the photo is the additional temporary sign that reads “Columbia River Highway Closed To Through Traffic” placed in on top of one of the road’s stone and concrete guard rails. The second one shows some stone rubble along a roadway which looks much like a winter day at unstable spots along the old road today.
The Summit of Mt. Hood circa 1915 – This is a “Magic Lantern” slide from my collection. It shows a climber standing on the top of Mount Hood with the old Summit House fire lookout station built by the legendary mountain man Lige Coalman.
All of the lumber was carried up the mountain by hand, with Lige doing most of the carrying. Lige found it difficult to find men who would work as hard as him. Most of those whom he hired lasted only a day or two before quitting. Once the building was built Lige routinely carried barrels of heating oil and other supplies to the lookout.
This structure was built in the Summer of 1915. By 1941 it had deteriorated to bad that it was pushed over the edge.
A Day on Historic Columbia River Highway when it was new.
It was 1915 and a lot was going on just east of Troutdale Oregon in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge. Planning was taking place for the construction of the now Historic Columbia River Highway.
The Columbia River Gorge back then had only limited ways of accessing it. Traditionally excursions from Portland on steam powered sternwheeler paddle boats were the way that most transportation took place. In time the railroads were built, primarily for trade but in time passenger trains started taking people there on day trips. Tourist excursions to the waterfalls on the south side of the river were common. Locations such as Multnomah Falls were the main attractions.
Of course many people rode horses or travelled in horse drawn wagons back then but with the advent of automobiles the old primitive roads were improved and new roads were made but they were still dirt wagon roads. Not long after the idea to create one of the first paved scenic automobile roads in America was imagined by several prominent Portland businessmen. Thus was created the Scenic Columbia River Highway.
Although a cultural treasure today, not all who lived in the area back then supported this idea. Many people still used horses and automobiles were owned by the wealthy. Many people back then never thought that they would ever own a car let alone use one to tour the Columbia River Gorge. Public support for financing the highway was tenuous at best.
As we all know, the highway was built and within a couple of decades was being used heavily for transporting cars from central Oregon to the Willamette Valley. Heavy trucks had been developed to carry commodities and products and most everyone had a car in their garage. It didn’t take long to see how those who imagined the highway were visionaries. The highway was quickly becoming overused and plans for a riverside highway, which would become Highway 84, was in the works.
And so back in 1915 the Historic Columbia River Highway was in construction. It would be dedicated a couple years later in 1917, but that didn’t keep people from going out to explore the modern engineering marvel. Of course traffic was minimal back then. Today we can only imagine a peaceful horseback ride along it’s path to familiar waterfalls along the way, but that’s just what this couple did.
Harry and Alvida Calvert decided to take a trip out to survey the progress on the new highway via horseback. Harry Calvert was a photographer from Oregon City, Oregon.
These photos are some of his personal photos. Snapshots into his and his wife Alvida’s life. In these photos you can see familiar places along the Historic Columbia River Highway such as Crown Point, Latourell including the falls and the old arched footbridge that was removed due to obstruction of trucks that needed to pass as well as the recently constructed highway bridge. Other locations include Bishops Cap and the Sheppards Dell Bridge, as well as Multnomah Falls. Alvida and Harry take turns posing in the photos with their horse Pat, including one where one of them made their way to the Simon Benson bridge between the upper and lower tier of Multnomah Falls.
Needless to say a horse ride on the old Historic Columbia River Highway is totally impractical today, but there once was a time. I’m certainly glad that Harry and Alvida took the time to document their day in the Scenic Columbia River Gorge.
Steven Mitchell was legend on Mount Hood in his times, as well as his son Arlie, who was the last tollgate keeper at the Rhododendron Tollgate of the old Barlow Trail Road. Lige Coalman, who was raised by Steven, was also a legendary mountain man on Mount Hood in his own right.
Steven Mitchell – Portland Oregonian Sept 12 1920
“Steve Mitchell – Husband of the Hills
Man of the mountains
Whose Life Near Mount Hood Is a Story Book of Many Treasures
By Earl C. Brownlee
For 60 years Steve Mitchell, husband of the hills, has been fleeing, terrified, from civilization.
Yet the dreaded ogre as pacing at his heels again, debauching the icy waters of his streams of melted snow, defacing the majesty of his brilliant autumn hills, slaughtering the game that gave him his meat and heaping its insults upon injuries suffered at its hands.
The dusty road before his cabin door, an artery that helped to carve from the wilderness of woods, is leading multitudes of folk through the most wonderfully romantic section of the land of the last frontier.
And from end to end of the timber bordered highway of delightful vistas there is nothing or no one so romantic as Steve himself; Steve Mitchell, as old as the mountains he loves so well-the last of a sterling generation of brave men who revered the quiet grandeur of the hills above all other things.
Far from the paths of man’s progress Steve Mitchell many years ago sought the realm of heart’s desire. To achieve his goal this man of the mountains first cut his way as a workman over what became, by dint of labors like his, Portland’s Hawthorne avenue. With the street completed, civilization advanced and Steve Mitchell fled to far places again, cutting roadways as he went, into dark forests the circled Mount Hood.
There he found his glorious freedom and there he has remained, while time has etched its wrinkles on his face and has woven a mantle of white for his brow.
Meanwhile, he has reared and sacrificed to man’s estate four splendid sons and two accomplished daughters, among whom are those who have forsaken the ways of their grizzled father and have found success in the hated city.
“Confounded thunder buses” roll by his forest-bound home in ceaseless numbers nowadays as Steve Mitchell peers peacefully into the future for a spot where the profits and pleasures of men cannot be encroached.
In the ‘60s Steve Mitchell looked into the west from his home in Iowa. He kept faith with the vision and from a point near Cleveland, Ohio, he started the pilgrimage.
“And I’ve been tinkering aling ever since,” he says, as he declares he has other distances to gain.
Briefly, his tinkering was centered in mines of gold in California, but in 1866 he came to Oregon. He helped build streets through the timber and then built roads to and through Sandy to the mountains.
About the man and his life many tales are told, but none more truthfully nor well then Steve can tell them. There’s the story of his gold claim to entrance the mountain novice.
It is said that far back on the Salmon River, concealed for nearly half a century against the prying eyes of friends and enemy, Mitchell has a gold mine.. There, the story has it, he chips great nuggets from a rocky wall whenever he’s in need of funds and brings them to the counting house. The claim is a priceless treasure, we are told, that would yield the cost of every comfort if its owner chose.
“Bah!” Steve Mitchell will exclaim if you inquire into the story. “There are more lies in these hills than there wever were cougars.
“Liars, thunder buses and a new kind of man-animal with a whooping sort of holler are the torments of civilization. There’s too much civilization in the world. “If you write articles tell about these man-animals who have come into the hills to pollute God’s creeks by washing their unworthy feet in them and tearing the quiet night with their whooping hollering. They’re ornery-worse than a cougar, and a couple of ‘em aint very far away.”
Folks don’t know the mountains, Steve Mitchell says, and can’t love their dim trails and rocky peaks as he does. Wedded to their wonders, Mitchell has learned their lore as the schoolboy learns from books; in them he has built his home and in them he will find his grave.
In the interim, though, there has been a lifetime of marvelous days, attended with thrills at times, yet always mandatory in their hold upon the heart of this fine fellow.
Steve was bent over a kitchen stove, when by inquisitiveness born of long acquaintance, he was interrupted, and his story elicited by many questions. Upon the stove a frying pan, containing a stewing portion of carrots, simmered as Steve jammed more firewood into the blaze that was heating his dinner.
He hauled forth a shaggy, yet sadly worn pipe for himself and from his seat on the end of a wood box, fanned romance by his talk.
Nineteen fording places in the river back of Steve Mitchell’s cabin mark the old Barlow trail, pathway of the pioneers who first crossed the Cascades around the base of Mount Hood. Mitchell can point out each ford and can tell of the days when he trod the still fresh trail of those empire builders who preceded him.
He will show from his front door the vast, timbered hill where, within his mountain lifetime, has grown a forest. When Mitchell selected his mountainous home there was no sign of woods save the blackened bulk of great trees destroyed by an ancient fire.
He has seen those hills yield heavy timber, where, within the scope of his own memory, there was but a charred reminder of a once deep forest. Over their denuded slopes he has watched by the hour while his dogs ran deer that he might have food, he lolled in their shade times unnumbered as he hauled from their roaring streams great trout to appease the mountaineer’s keen appetite. He has tracked the bear to favorite berry fields and his gun has brought the mountain lion hurtling from his tree.
He has held communion with the lords of nature’s great open spaces, and he has studies their secrets until they are his lexicon-his primer and his Bible.
From it all he has learned both hospitality and hate. He hates civilization; yet he is hospitable to a degree unlimited.
As he spread his Sunday dinner a demand to partake with him declined, he proferred (sic) a piece of his “bachelor pie” that would bring envy to the most dainty housewife. Its flaky crust enough to belittle a salaried chef, the pie he had manufactured, with filling of raisins, was a delicious morsel the he insisted must be followed by a generous slab of light loaf cake he had just drawn from the oven.
“And now,” he jocularly said, “you can stay overnight if it rains real hard.”
“Folks from the towns are taking all the fish from the creeks are we’d have a mess for breakfast too. No, ‘planted’ fish do not restock the streams. Does a hen lay all her eggs in one day, once she gets started? Neither do fish, if they’re left to their natural means, and scientific methods can’t change nature’s way.
“The same civilization that has ‘fished out’ the streams has frightened the few remaining animals back into the mountains, where these confounded thunder buses can’t chug and sputter and roar their dusty way through night and day.
“Between thunder buses and these man-animals down the road one can’t even sleep anymore.
“Civilization is coming too close and I’m about to move back with the deer and the bear and the fish. There are no neighbors there to let their people starve on their doorstep. There is no whopping holler at midnight, but the call of the mountain winds and the cougar’s cry.”
Steve Mitchell’s comfortable little cabin sits beside the road 10 miles west of Government camp, and for many miles around there is hardly a foot of ground that this main of the mountains has not trod and whose charms he has not sought.
He is known to the folk who live in the hills, but to those who come from “civilized” places his is but one of the modest homes that may be found in the wilderness.
His, though, is a home in every sense, for he lives in it in summer and winter, through snow and sunshine. Only upon “occasions” does he venture from his mountain haven and such occasions are all to frequent if they occur more than once in a decade. The sturdy sons who remain in the family drop in now and then to visit with their father or to spend an idle day under his roof. But his wife who saw his early happiness in the hills has been called to “civilization.” She lives at Sandy, where, Steve declares, he has no business. Two splendid daughters hold worthy positions in centers of “civilization”.
Three sons remain of the four reared in the Mitchell family. Lige Coalman, famous Mount Hood guide and forest ranger, whose knowledge of the timbered wilds founded on training at Steve Mitchell’s hands, was reared as a son by this mountaineer and his wife. But Coalman, too, has quit the mountains for the profits of a farm.
When the world war opened the four stalwart Mitchell boys, each loyally attentive to their father and each a convert to the nature-loving, out-of-doors creed of their forebear, were prepared with strong bodies, capable hands and a will for the fray. Mountaineers, each of them, the four enlisted for service. Two were members of the marine corp, one chose navy and the fourth wore an army uniform. The first three were overseas fighting men. Arlie, a strapping young chap wonderfully versed in mountain lore, made 11 round trips over the Atlantic as a member of the nation’s naval forces and did eight months of shore duty overseas, where he visited almost every important city on the continent and in the British Isles.
“I hadn’t been out of the mountains much before,” he says, “and I never want to be again.
The sons who were marines, members of the mow historic fifth regiment, were also initiated to the ultra-modern delights of the world’s capitals, but they gleefully returned to the mountains of their childhood and resumed to their work in the forests.
One of these, a boy respected by every mountaineer who met him, fought through all the hot campaigns in which the American marines mouled war history in France, before he returned to the wooded, romantic land of his choice.
Again in the mountains, held fast by their appeal, this youth, just a year ago, gave his life to the protection of his playground when fire swept through the forest almost within sight of his father’s cabin.
With the same strength and courage that he fought his battle overseas, Steve’s son fought the blaze that would denude his homeland. Nor did he care a whit for the danger that surrounded him when a great fir, rocked upon its fire gnawed base, crashed down upon him.
That was an “occasion,” a day of sorrow for Steve Mitchell. He was drawn to the city-hated Portland-to hear the funeral dirge. And he vows he will never return.
The lonesome trails of the mysterious mountains have felt the footfall of Steve Mitchell. He will not profane the joys the hills have given him by the belated association with the world beyond his forest bound home. “
Mrs Pierce of Welches Killed a Bear With a Hoe – I have spent a lot of time talking with old timers and family members of those who have lived up here in the Mountain Community for quite a few years now. In one or two conversations I’ve heard tell of a woman who gained local notoriety for killing a bear that invaded her space with a garden hoe. That’s right a woman killed a bear with a hoe.
This afternoon while perusing newspaper archives I happened across this newspaper clipping. Well what do you know? It’s a true story.
The Oregon Daily Journal (Portland Oregon) 20 March 1915
“Gresham Outlook: When Mrs. Pierce of Welches killed a bear with a hoe last Saturday she set an example for all the people of the mountain country. The usual plan of warfare on bears is a good dog and a trusty rifle, but it has been proved that they are no longer needed. The sport should become popular now, because everyone can afford a hoe, and bears are plentiful.”