Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Christmas by the River: Maddax Woods

In 1941, Virgil and Dorothy Maddax paddled a canoe on the Willamette River looking for just the right piece of property. Virgil, a commercial fisherman and boat builder, needed a waterside site where he could construct boats; Dorothy wanted a garden. They purchased a beautiful section of shoreline near a small island and Virgil began to build their house. By himself. With cement blocks that he formed by hand on the property. But when building had commenced Virgil was asked to build a boat, so the couple ended up living in a toolshed on the property until the house was completed.

Lights take the place of dormant flowers
in Dorothy's garden
Virgil was well-known for his boats, generally from 40 to 60 feet in length and most of them constructed of wood. Robust seagoing craft, these boats were mainly meant for hard-working fishermen, and to this day a quick online search will locate a number of them, still out there fishing and crabbing.

Dorothy was an accomplished gardener and prize-winning flower arranger. When not accompanying Virgil on his voyages, she maintained the grounds surrounding their home. She lived in the house that they had made until her death in 1999, several years after Virgil's passing. They left their beloved property to the city of West Linn so that others could visit this peaceful place beside the river.

Today, the cement-block house still stands above the river, and Dorothy's gardens are still blooming. It's hard to imagine a 40- or 60-foot boat in the modest yard, but this is, in fact, where Virgil's boat shop once stood, and there is hope of rebuilding it as an interpretative center. The crucial link, of course, is how Virgil got those boats down the bank and into the river; that puzzle is easily answered by a set of rails leading river-ward down a slope.

This seven-acre property is worth a visit any time of the year. While the house is not open to the public, it is a charming, sturdy building, and the blocks made onsite are clearly visible. Signage gives an extensive history of the property and its former owners. The park is a quiet place with picnic tables and a beautiful view of Goat Island, the second-largest blue heron rookery in the state; in fact, you might want to plan a visit during the first Sunday of the months of March through June for the Blue Heron Watch as the majestic birds return to their summer grounds to raise their families. During the summer and early fall the little beach near the end of the boat rails invites a picnic, and this whole stretch of the river is still popular with paddlers. To make a longer visit, consider exploring adjacent Burnside Park; click here for a hike that encompasses both parks. A wide, smooth trail connects them at a bridge over a small creek. Follow the path through mixed woodland to a small riverside meadow with a view of the Willamette and the tip of Goat Island.

But it's Christmas time, which means that it's time for the Lighting of Maddax Woods. Volunteers set up in mid-November, and the lights go on every evening until December 31. While this is a small park, and while the trails are not extensive, its quiet beauty makes it a perfect holiday destination. Lights run from the access road at the end of River Street, through Dorothy's garden, the river viewing area, and up the gravel pathway to the bridge into Burnside Park. Pick up a brochure and watch for the 50 woodland and river animals depicted by wooden cutouts. A boat made of lights harks back to Virgil's boatbuilding days. Consider coming before dusk to learn about the history of the property and view the Willamette, then wait for dark and the lighting of the lush Oregon woodland. This is a wonderful place to bring the kids (watch them beside the river, of course). On our recent visit we met with numerous delighted children, smiling parents, talkative groups of older folks, and young couples holding hands as they wandered together among the lights.

If you go: Please note that this is not an ordinary park. It is a home site in a quiet West Linn neighborhood, and as such it is not set up as a big tourist destination. Please be respectful; the neighbors don't want their driveways blocked any more than you do yours, and they don't need visitors' dogs running through their flowerbeds.

That being said, if you are unfamiliar with the area, it's easiest to access the park from the end of River Street. From I-205, take Exit 8 and drive toward West Linn on Highway 43/Willamette Drive. Turn right on Burns Street, swing left to stay on Burns Street, and then turn left onto River Street, which ends without much ceremony and with limited parking. You have arrived! Grab your flashlight and a camera and follow the lights! Do note that, while much of the park is accessible, some of the paths are not as wheelchair-friendly as others, so be cautious if you bring one. There is no fee to visit Maddax Woods.

This tranquil park is an unsung gem with a bit of something for everyone. The site is a part of  Oregon's history, hailing from a time when our country was coming out of the Great Depression and lives were being rebuilt. It's part of Oregon's fishing industry and our maritime roots. It is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, foxes, otters, and waterfowl; in fact, Dorothy and Virgil were passionate wildlife lovers and bought feed by the truckful for the resident ducks and geese. Wildflower lovers should visit in the springtime and take the hiking trails that explore the woods and Burnside Park. And of course, don't miss the lighting of the woods during the holiday season. Come visit the home where Dorothy and Virgil spent a lifetime together, the place they loved so much that they wanted to share it with everyone. Come see the Lighting of Maddax Woods.

Virgil and Dorothy welcome you!

Site of the boat shop, with signs detailing the whole Maddox story

Part of the railing system that Virgil used to transport his completed boats to the river

More of the railing system, Goat Island in the background

Great Blue Heron nests on Goat Island

Trail from Maddox Woods to Burnside Park

Scenic viewpoint in Burnside Park, shortly after you cross the bridge from Maddox Woods

Burnside Park

Beach at Burnside Park

Overview of the old boat shop, lighted version of the "Mar Azul" in the foreground

Lights take the place of dormant flowers in Dorothy's garden

Merry Christmas from the Cases, we'll see you in 2020!

Friday, October 4, 2019

History Along Highway 20: Waterloo, Sodaville, and Cascadia

Sodaville Store
In its day, the Santiam Wagon Road connected the towns of Lebanon and Sisters, enabling settlers to pass through the Cascades between the fertile Willamette Valley and the wide grazing lands of central Oregon. From 1865 until the opening of Highway 20 in 1939, this road encouraged development and commerce along its length. Much of the old passage is still accessible today, and some of the towns it fostered remain. Others persist as traces of their former selves, quiet and faded, their history nearly forgotten. Sodaville, Waterloo, and Cascadia are among these villages, built on hopes and dreams of employing Oregon's plentiful water to attract business and build a future. Their days of prosperity long gone, these stops along Highway 20 still hold echoes of those days of Oregon's birth. Next time you're heading out of Corvallis, take a few short detours and find some of Oregon's history along the way.

Driving east from Lebanon, the present-day highway runs close to the original wagon road. After about four miles, turn left onto Sodaville-Waterloo Road and drive about a mile to the tiny town of Waterloo. Originally known as Kees Mill, the town's name was jokingly changed following a heated land dispute. At one time several mills were located near these lovely falls on the South Santiam River, and the town boasted shops and stores as well as a hotel and livery stable. Today this spot in the road offers a sprawling, 128-acre county park on the river banks. Here you will find expansive picnic areas spread out under tall old trees, picnic shelters, a children's play area, and a year-round campground. Swimming and fishing in the river are popular pastimes, and boat ramps offer easy launching. You will also find a fenced dog park, a hiking loop, and a challenging disc golf course. Look near the park entrance to find the falls that originally attracted businesses to this beautiful area. While little remains of Waterloo's bustling past, its spacious park and campground are definitely worth a detour; in fact, you might consider spending a whole weekend here beside the river.

Head back, cross Highway 20, and continue to the community of Sodaville. This town's history began in the 1840s when pioneer Reuben Coyle discovered a pungent mineral spring on a west-facing hillside. Incorporated in 1880, the town built up around the spring, which was deeded to the public so that all could access the purportedly healing waters for free. During its heyday, stagecoaches transported bottles of the famous water to businesses in Albany, and people came from all over to "take the cure." Also known as Soda Springs or Summer Soda, the community once boasted numerous businesses, including several hotels, a skating rink, a general store, a weekly paper, three churches, and a college. Unfortunately, many of the buildings were destroyed by fire, and the spring itself petered out over the years. Sodaville has gradually faded into obscurity on its sunny hillside, but its history has not been forgotten.

Sodaville-Waterloo Road turns into Maple Street as you enter the town. Turn left onto Main Street to find Soda Springs Park, arguably Oregon's first state park. A small parking area beneath the trees provides a pleasant stop to have a snack and read the sign detailing Sodaville's history. City Hall resides on the grassy hill above, occupying the site of the original spring house. This porous hillside still produces tiny seeps of water, but the flowing spring is gone and the water is no longer considered safe to drink. Note Sodaville's "post office" in the parking lot: a pair of mail boxes, one for incoming and one for outgoing mail. Across the street the town's citizens are working hard to develop a community center park, as well as restore an old store building. A few other old buildings still stand, including a well-maintained church. Overall, this tiny town seems happy to be what it has become: a sleepy, out-of-the-way village that time has passed by.

Back on Highway 20, continue to the town of Sweet Home. This section is also close to the original wagon road; in fact, there was a tollgate just east of town. About 14 miles past Sweet Home, a left turn brings you into Cascadia Park. This beautiful place, located at the confluence of Soda Creek and the South Santiam River, was a stage stop on the old wagon road. This site also had a soda spring, and during the final years of the 1800s George Geisendorf built a sawmill and resort hotel here. In the early 1900s there were formal gardens, tennis courts, and even a bowling alley. Now the gardens and buildings are gone, but this leafy retreat is still a delightful place to spend an hour, or an afternoon; in fact, if you are lucky enough to be here during the summer, there is a peaceful, seasonal campground tucked among the tall trees.

Park near the picnic area to access the trails. Look across from the restrooms for the trail to the spring. This area is now a small, rock-paved terrace next to the creek. There is a picnic table and a drinking fountain, but sadly it only dispenses plain water (at this writing, Linn County is in the process of taking over the park, and they hope to be able to have the old pump working eventually so that visitors can sample the water that built the Geisendorfer Hotel). Climb the opposite bank; the flat spot in the trees to your left is where the old hotel stood. Traces of wagon ruts can be found in the trees; it is said that these were side roads made by travelers attempting to avoid a nearby tollgate on the main wagon road. Steep spur trails lead down the bank to the Santiam. This wide field is an excellent spot to eat a picnic and let the kids run off some energy.

Return to the parking area and look for the signed trail to Lower Soda Falls. This hike is less than a mile and is generally easy; on our last visit there were a few maintenance issues on the trail, but most people should have no trouble accessing the falls, and you definitely should see the falls. Walk along Soda Creek through the lush forest, climbing a bit at times. You may not hear this narrow waterfall from a long way off; it plummets 134 feet down a cliff face, but tiny Soda Creek slips and slides, a thin ribbon of water in a rocky crevice. It's easy to access the base of the falls for photographs. This whole hike is also a superb wildflower destination during the spring months.
Return to your car in the picnic area, but don't rejoin the highway just yet. Follow the river on Cascadia Drive to find Short Bridge, the only surviving covered bridge over the South Santiam. This spot is popular with wildlife, fishermen, and photographers. From here, High Deck Road will take you straight back to Highway 20.
Back in the days of the Santiam Wagon Road, it took four days on a good horse to get from Lebanon to Sisters; at the time, this was amazingly efficient. Now we can drive it in about two hours, but perhaps we don't have to. Perhaps we can take a little extra time to find some vestige of Oregon's history. It cascades over the falls where Waterloo's mills once stood. It seeps and trickles from a hillside in Sodaville. It ripples past the confluence where Geisendorf's hotel welcomed travelers over a century ago. We can find part of our state's history where the old road ran beside the water, and perhaps make a few memories of our own. 

South Santiam River near Waterloo Park
An ominous (but important) warning at the Waterloo Park boat launch

At the falls

Waterloo Park

Disk golf course

Sodaville Store, in process of restoration at time of photograph
The slow seepage of the springs at Soda Springs Park
A commemorative pumps stands in the park as a reminder of the town's past

Grace Bible Fellowship, one of Sodaville's maintained historic buildings

Cascadia's water pump. Currently dry, but hopefully not for long!

Approximate site of the Geisendorfer Hotel

Grown-over wagon ruts near the hotel site

Tiger Lilies

Lower Soda Falls (and the photographer becomes the photographed)

Underneath the falls (thank goodness for waterproof cameras!)

On Short Bridge

See you by the water!