“Mountainous…Unfit for settlement” 1879
Those were the exact words uttered by an 1879 surveyor when he scanned the coastal range of NW Oregon. Clearly the guy wasn’t from Colorado, but as it turned out he had a point. The rolling hills of the NW are covered in thick and dense woodland, fed incessantly by moist air and rain. This is a world of cedar and pine and it was the trees, more than anything else that made settlement both impossible and possible.
It all started around the 1870’s with the first pioneers reaching the Oregon coast on old Indian trails. Lured by the promise of fertile land and the Homestead Act, they braved the perilous journey to a new life. Fertile land they did indeed find, but the darn trees were something else. Incredibly thick and prolifically abundant the early pioneers were barely able to chop the things down before they grew back, and as it turned out that was just the ticket. The area turned to logging and in 1920 the Oregon American Mill set-up in Vernonia and became the “largest in the world” fed by logging railroads in all directions. It was boom-times for NW Oregon.
Today’s Vernonia is a much smaller version of the early 20’s, but keeps much of its history alive in the Pioneer Museum, a simply fabulous collection of local bits and trivia. The curator told me most of the families who originally settled are still here so the items donated all have names of those who wore and used them, a rather unique touch. You can take it all in for free as well as a walk down to the local lake (with remnants of the old mill), and, for the more active, a 21-mile bike-ride down the path of the old railroad on the Vernonia-Banks trail to the south.
We’ve been hanging out in the area at the nearby State Park for a few days, hiking through the thick old pine, getting lost in the hills, picking blackberries (you can eat your way through the whole town this time of year) and breathing in the very (very) first touches of fall. From here we head to the coast for some beach-combing and hanging out with friends, but it’s sure been nice to touch some pine along the way.
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