I suspect only those most familiar with this special stretch of the Willamette River can readily identify this structure. The morning fog in this photo adds an eerie, surreal aura enticing our imaginations to wonder: what’s the back story of this structure from our past? If I didn’t know better I might imagine it to have once been a fortress, its view providing safe lookout from invaders. Better yet? An isolated hideaway gifting an artist space to create. Perhaps someone much younger than I with a less tarnished imagination might envisage a prince or princess dwelling there long ago, gazing out at a river conveying fairies and dragons.
It was shortly after Oregon forest fire smoke vacated our breathing zones that I climbed into my kayak for an almost end-of-season voyage. The fog was heavier down at the river than at my home, making me wonder, as I arrived at the Cedaroak Boat Landing, if I should wait to paddle until later when the fog lifted. Yet, I’d already loaded my boat, driven the few minutes to the water’s edge and was eager to savor early morning’s tranquility. As I began paddling I wondered momentarily if I would find my way back to the landing? But, of course! I needed to give myself a bit more credit in my familiarity with the river bank’s bends, trees and outcrops.
This structure was not a fortress or hideaway, but a log hoist. It operated as a log loading station for Crown Willamette Paper Mill, something I’m sure my dad could give me all sorts of details about if he was still alive. Instead I simply need to imagine his spirit out there somewhere muttering, “Now Deeder, if you’d been listening better all those years before….” Alas, Dad – it is sad but true: so many things we only later wish we’d asked about or paid attention to. Although there was a brief attempt to convert it into a residential structure in the late 1970s, adding a one story and band of windows across its facade to its top, its historical significance is from its origin as a log hoist.
Thankfully, I can turn to the City of Lake Oswego to educate me on how this Crown Willamette Log Loading Station located on River Road was an important link to the Crown Willamette Paper Company. If you’re a Willamette newbie, you might need to be reminded that Crown Paper was originally a mill next to West Linn’s Willamette Pulp and Paper Company – our town’s 1889 mill known for roundwood pulp. Just a month after operations began at Willamette Pulp and Paper, Crown Paper Company opened next door, and the two plants both added machines and capacity. Early on Willamette Pulp and Paper installed the fastest paper machine at that time and was also among the first to be operated by electricity. The two mills joined forces in 1914 to become the Crown-Willamette Pulp and Paper Company. (Learn more about the mill’s early history.)
At this station logs were hoisted out of the river to avoid the difficult passage through the Willamette Falls Locks (see: Willamette Falls Locks Reimagined), and instead loaded onto rail cars here in Oswego to be transported above the falls. Operations continued until 1933 when the Southern Pacific Railroad abandoned the operation. The Crown Willamette Paper Company House was built around the same time up on the hill above for Reuben and Pearl Confer with Reuben working as the hoist’s manager for most of its operation.
It is well worth the time to view the images in this document, Crown-Willamette Log Loading Station: A Forgotten Relic of Oswego’s Industrial Heritage, authored by Marylou Colver. My favorite image, credited to Colver, illustrates logs being unloaded from rail cars for the paper mills, with a steamer in the background carrying a cargo of paper enroute to eastern market shipments. Other images in this presentation include Ruben Confer’s Log Hoist Foreman home, log rafts, and Oswego Landing in 1916. While I’m old enough to remember log rafts moving along the Willamette, I love to imagine the old days when steamboats were among the best ways to travel parts of Oregon.
Today, if you aren’t lucky enough to be paddling on the water you can still peer down at this structure from the walking path leading between West Linn’s River Road to Lake Oswego’s George Roger’s Park. Many who walk or run this popular trail may not recognize this river-facing stretch to be named the William Stafford Pathway (see: From William Stafford to George Rodger’s and back again). Continuing north on the trail past the long ago log hoist brings us to today’s footbridge crossing Sucker Creek, once a covered bridge, before reaching the boldly visible furnace relic of Oregon Iron Company. All of these stories of olden days –mills and iron furnaces – are today hidden in the rustling boughs of Douglas firs as their trunks parade deep green moss and the honking of Canadian geese.
Although the pandemic is affecting our ability to gather with people we know and love, we are fortunate to be able to enjoy our special places, whether we paddle the rippled river or stroll along the banks nearby. And for that I am grateful.