All posts by Bill Langmaid

Museum Showcases Logging and Pioneer Living

VMPMuseumChainSawweb            Built in 1922, the Vernonia Pioneer Museum was originally the headquarters of the Oregon-American Lumber Company. The men and women in the building oversaw the harvest of 2 billion board feet of old growth timber over 31 years, and shipped finished lumber of various grades and cuts all across the country. The innovative mill not only kiln dried the lumber to save shipping costs, they also custom milled lumber to fill large orders from home builders in the mid-West.

Following the acquisition of the company and lands by Long-Bell Lumber Company in 1953 which then merged with International Paper in 1956, the lands and property were slowly broken up and sold off, with the company headquarters donated to the city in July of 1961.

Preceding that donation, a group of Vernonians gathered to discuss possible uses of the building that would fulfill the stipulation of it being used “for the common good” and were most excited to hear that there was interest in using it as a historical society or museum.

In the spring of 1962, 25 Vernonia area residents met to discuss the formation of a Nehalem Valley Historical Society and establishing a museum in the former O-A headquarters building. Included in this preliminary discussion were items such as cost of glass cases, utilities to heat and light the building, and the cost of a museum curator. They also discussed the possibility of combining the library with the museum.

Several months later, presumably after the proposed historical society failed to materialize, the Columbia County Historical Society gladly accepted the city’s offer of the headquarter building for use as the county museum. Thirteen months later, after extensive remodeling and a fresh coat of paint, the museum had its grand opening during the 1963 Vernonia Jamboree.

The museum curator was able to live onsite because the city adapted the sales offices in the back of the building to accommodate living quarters. Over the next year various skilled members of the county historical society built the glass display cases and typed the artifact tabs which identified not only the item and its origin, but also the donor.

The curator was able to keep the museum open 6 days a week for two years, but cut back to four days a week at some point in 1964. The museum played host to many field trips of school children from the Willamette Valley who got a good glimpse of the hardships of pioneer life and the tools of taming the wilderness.

The decision was made sometime in the 1990s to no longer employ a curator, and that the museum would have to operate entirely with volunteers, who continue to do all the work involved with running the museum to this day.

During those first 30 years of activity, the collection of the museum swelled from a few hundred items to over 5000, all housed in 3500 square feet of space. For most visitors the highlight is the catalog of pictures showing various aspects of mill life. Many also marvel at the period dresses and menswear including a wedding dress and two wedding coats. This eclectic collection will find you admiring a square piano, a stuffed moose head, World War 1 and 2 militaria, and a rock collection, all in short order.

Several walls are covered with depictions of cutting crews, steam donkeys and the locomotives that transported raw logs to the mill and finished lumber out of the Nehalem Valley. The General Manager’s office now plays host to a diorama that shows the various activities that take place at a logging operation, including a spar tree, haystack boom, and a temporary plank road used by log trucks.

While there isn’t a specific display which makes the collection noteworthy, it is an important and impressive collection of ordinary life objects from the time of 1880 through 1960 that make this county museum a worthwhile stop for both residents and visitors to Vernonia.

The building itself, built in the Craftsman style, was recognized for its significance by the National Park Service in 2002 by being placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was one of only three lumber mill offices that remained standing in Oregon.

The museum is open weekends from 1-4pm all year, and Fridays in June through mid September. Visitors can also arrange for private tours by calling 503-429-3713 at least 3 weeks in advance of your visit.

Biking and Hiking Around Vernonia

Stub-Top of Buxton TrestlewebOregon is well known internationally as a bicycling destination. Vernonia has been capturing its share of those cyclists, as well as hikers and equestrian riders, due to its proximity to two regional trails. Combine that with nearby Stub Stewart State Park and the multitude of logging roads surrounding the town, and Vernonia finds itself turning into a biking and hiking mecca.

The Banks -Vernonia State Trail, managed and maintained by Oregon State Parks, was extended in 2013 and became part of the new Tualatin Valley Scenic Bikeway. The entire trail system now stretches for fifty miles, beginning in Hillsboro and ending in Vernonia. It starts on mostly rural roads through fertile farmlands and lush natural areas before joining the paved trail in Banks and heading into the forest.

The Banks-Vernonia Trail was the first Rails-to-Trails project in the state of Oregon.   It has an easy grade with thirteen bridges, including the scenic Buxton trestle. The trail can be accessed at six trailheads and permits only non-motorized use at a safe, slow speed.

The middle portion of the Banks-Vernonia Linear Trail travels through a portion of Stub Stewart State Park and features a gentle climb of 600 feet. Overall the Scenic Bikeway is rated as a moderately challenging ride and can be enjoyed by a wide range of cyclists.

Many cyclists have discovered the joy of riding to Vernonia in the morning and enjoying the scenery, fresh air, and solitude, then stopping off for a bite to eat at one of several eclectic restaurants the downtown has to offer before heading back down the trail towards home.

Paved trails in and around Vernonia give families a chance to ride together as well. The connection from the Banks-Vernonia Trail to Webb Way at Anderson Park is a flat and easy ride for even the youngest cyclists and takes riders to scenic Vernonia Lake.

For other trail users not on two wheels visiting Vernonia, the paved Banks-Vernonia Trail is great in any weather for walking, running or just strolling and enjoying the scenery.

The Crown Zellerbach Trail is a different type of trail altogether and is Columbia County’s newest jewel.

Spanning the twenty miles from the outskirts of Vernonia to Chapman’s Landing on the Columbia River in Scappoose, this lightly used trail is accessible to all non-motorized traffic, including bikes, horses and hikers and is maintained by Columbia County. The trail is mostly hard pack, with some areas of gravel, and follows logging roads and abandoned rail lines. It is accessible at several locations along the Scappoose Vernonia Highway.

The CZ Trail gives users a new opportunity to experience the beauty and history of Columbia County. Its rougher surface makes it attractive for mountain bikes as well as equestrian trail riders and provides a great alternative to the paved Banks-Vernonia Trail.

For mountain bikes enthusiasts, Stub Stewart State Park, just 10 miles south of Vernonia, has a Free Ride Skills Area that is open to the public. A session/training area includes options for beginner to advanced Free Ride mountain bikers. All trails within Stub Stewart Park are open to mountain bike riders.

There are more than thirty miles of natural surface, shared-use forested trails of various difficulties meandering through the rolling hills to help you explore this 1800 acre park. For the equestrian enthusiast the park has the Hares Canyon Horse Camp, open March 1 through October 31, with full-hookup sites and corrals.

For others looking to explore more of the outdoors, the Vernonia region is literally covered with logging roads that are regularly used by hikers, bikers and equestrian riders.   Many of these trails are within walking distance of downtown and are open to the public for limited recreational use.

As you can see, it’s no wonder Vernonia is becoming a destination for bicycle riders as well as other trail users who want to enjoy the great outdoors.

Our Community Treasures

Our Community Treasures…We are rich beyond words!

The Nehalem River, Rock Creek, and our little lake
We’re surrounded by water, for goodness sake!
Right through the middle and down the length of our town
These streams of ours sure get around!

It’s the perfect time of year to get out the drift boat
As the sun rises, make an early morning float
They just stocked the lake, I know you can’t wait
Grab your fishing pole and some earthworms for bait

From the sounds of the frogs, I’d say it’s perfectly clear
In our little town, springtime is here!
The trees are in blossom, a sight to behold
Though in the morning, it’s still a bit cold

Our little neck of the woods is coming alive
We made it through winter! Once more we survived!
This year wasn’t bad, except for the snow
But it makes some great memories for the kids, you know

Spring has sprung! The golf course has been waiting
They’ve been working hard, anticipating
You should go play a round and stop in for some lunch
The people that work there are a nice, friendly bunch

Get out of the house! Take a stroll down the street
Grab a cup of coffee, Black Bear’s can’t be beat
Browse through some stores while you sip on your brew
I’m sure Out on a Limb has some treasures for you

Go for a bike ride, we have a great trail
All paved and so flat, hardly a hill
Visit our museum and see history unfold
Learn about our mill and our days of old

There’s so much to do in our quaint little town
Get up off the couch and take a look around
Don’t let this good weather just go to waste
Make some plans now to explore this great place

Our parks are perfect! Go play with your kids
At the end of the day, you’ll be glad that you did
They’ll fall into bed worn out from their play
You’ll know for sure some great memories were made

Take a walk in the woods, take your camera too
I bet you see wildlife looking right back at you!
We live in a rainforest and it’s coming awake
You’ll come back with some photos you just had to take

Take the time to enjoy our community treasures
A day in the outdoors brings nothing but pleasure
That’s what it’s about, that’s why we live here
In our small town, we have so much we hold dear

Our pioneers knew when they first settled down
There was something special about this little town
We’ve been blessed by this valley tucked back in the woods
If you’ve lived here a while, you know we’ve got it good!

Written by: Kala Cota

Lucky kids!

Lucky Kids!

Seriously, we’ve got it so good!
Who else has this in their neighborhood?
A place at the river where kiddos can wade
A good spot to skip rocks from the bank in the shade

A little waterfall, just the right size
They can walk along top, these little guys
Wading in the rapids, looking for crawdads
It’s the best fun that I’ve ever had!

Oh, the memories they’re making, they can’t be beat!
A great place to escape the hot summer heat
I have the same memories, I remember that spot
It’s where we’d all head when it got hot

I think I’m jealous, I wish I could do it again
Hang out at the river with my childhood friends
These are the places that stick with us like glue
If you grew up in Vernonia, it’s in your memory too!

Written by: Kala Cota

Photo credit to Kelli Krieger

Really good dog tricks!

The amazing canines from the Border Collie International Performing Canine Team are coming to Vernonia! Since 1994 BCI has uniquely educated and entertained kids of all ages through demonstrations of football, basketball, baseball, soccer and world class Frisbee tricks.

This event is happening courtesy of the Vernonia Public Library Summer Reading Program. Make sure to join us at Hawkins Park at 6pm, alongside the beautiful Rock Creek. Come early to take a refreshing dip in Dewey Pool.

As a courtesy to the performers, no outside dogs will be allowed at this event. Thank you for understanding.

History of Vernonia – The Weeds

weedfamilyHave you ever wondered about the life of a pioneer in Vernonia? At 6pm on Thursday the 25th of June there will be a 1 hour presentation in the Vernonia Public Library on the first and second generations of the Weed Family. This will trace them from the Civil War period to their efforts in carving our a life in the Nehalem Valley wilderness.

The presenter, Tobie Finzel, has been a member of the Vernonia Pioneer WeedhouseMuseum Association for over 10 years and has been writing regular articles on Vernonia history for the local newspaper for just as long. The talk will include information about the Weed family, their impact on life in Vernonia, as well as pictures of the family and their environment.

This presentation is part of the VPL Summer Reading Program, and is part of a regular series of events that are happening this summer.

North Coast Fishing

Many classic coming of age stories involve fishing, featuring idyllic interaction with nature as part of the ultimate childhood. The process of learning how to catch a wary trout parallels the journey to adulthood. Quite a few people have speculated that David James Duncan ‘s The River Why is based on the Nehalem River. The Nehalem is a great fishery for both resident and sea-run cutthroat trout, featuring deep pools and long riffles.

Vernonia is located at the junction of Rock Creek and the Nehalem River in the North Coast range of Oregon. Ninety miles from the ocean, most salmon are wearing their spawning colors when they arrive, so be sure to make a special salmon watching trip in October to catch a glimpse. Anglers concentrate on the main stem from January through early June, and then move to the larger tributaries in the heat of the summer.

The Nehalem River will support drift boats during the winter flows, and tends to clear quickly after a rain. Spring fishing will have to take place in shallow water craft, preferably something sturdy enough to bang around some rocks and fallen trees. With human populations clustered at various points of the river, there remain stretches where the only spectators are bald eagles and scared squirrels.

Rock Creek originates in the heights of the coast range and then travels east over 26 miles before dumping into Vernonia. It is host to native populations of cutthroat trout, both coho and chinook salmon, and steelhead. The catch and release fishery for steelhead is spectacular with a fly or light tackle, as the big fish will challenge even the most skilled angler.

Rock Creek beyond the roads

My favorite spots in Rock Creek are off road, and can only be accessed by exploring the gated logging roads. Look for access through ODF roads and via the Rock Creek mainline. The owners of True Value Hardware in Vernonia have been fishing the steelhead of Rock Creek for decades and might share a tip or two when you visit their Bridge Street store.

Anglers can also visit Vernonia Lake, just to the east of downtown Vernonia. This lake is actually the millpond for the long closed Oregon-American lumber mill, and the path around was the grade used by steam locomotives delivering old growth logs from the forests to the mill. Evidence of this history is easily seen around the Lake, and there are interpretive signs for the inquisitive.

The Lake has excellent access, with two fishing platforms that are ADA wheelchair accessible, as well as a boat ramp. No gas powered motors are allowed, and it’s small enough that a canoe or small rowboat is the ideal conveyance. The 34 acre lake is well stocked by ODFW with over 12,000 rainbow trout each spring. They will also drop off brooder trout occasionally, and there is a strong warm water fishery in summer that includes native population of bluegill, perch, largemouth bass and crappie.

Remember to check the current fishing regulations before getting a line wet, and be prepared with the right gear. Several downtown businesses offer licenses and fishing gear, even nightcrawlers. The host at the lake stays current on the fishing action and is always willing to answer questions about “What’s hot?”

Vernonia has Venues for Your Events

Looking for place to hold a quaint wedding and reception in the country? How about a business meeting or some type of retreat ? Do you have a family reunion, bridal shower, or surprise birthday party you need to plan?

Vernonia has several venues that might be just right for your upcoming event.

VMP CabinInVernweb            The Cabin in Vernonia, formerly known as the Scout Cabin and managed by the Friends of the Scout Cabin, is a beautifully restored log cabin nestled among huge trees in Vernonia’s Hawkins Park.   The Cabin has a full kitchen, river rock gas fireplace, wrap around deck with tables and seating for 100 people. Hawkins Park features a gazebo perfect for taking your wedding vows.

The Cabin in Vernonia is also accompanied with a wonderful story about its history. Built in 1928 and used by local Scout troops for decades, the cabin was obtained by the City of Vernonia when it fell into disrepair in the 1980’s. It sat unused and was then further damaged in 1996 by a severe flood. A group of local volunteers, spearheaded by longtime resident Shirley Daughtry, organized the Friends group, developed a business plan, raised funds, and rebuilt the cabin over a three year period. The end result is a handsome and functional community center that hosts youth activities, town meetings, and other special events. The Friends of the Scout Cabin rent it out and continue to maintain the venue with the proceeds.

            Cedar Ridge Conference and Retreat Center sits in the hills just outside Vernonia on twenty-eight acres along Rock Creek. Originally constructed in 1963 as a basketball camp, this staffed full service facility boasts a kitchen and dining area, a 1200 square foot conference center, lodging, a swimming pool and lots of open outdoor space. Owned by formed Portland Trailblazer and 1977 NBA Champion Larry Steele, Cedar Ridge continues to host basketball camps each summer, along with corporate picnics, weddings, retreats, youth camps, and more.


The Steeles are particularly proud of the outdoor wedding chapel located at the north end of their property. “That section of the facility has always stayed pristine,” said Larry, noting that he only recently decided that the best use was as a natural chapel. The giant cedar and Douglas fir tower overhead, allowing sunlight to filter through while still creating a foliage roof. Parking is convenient, and the facilities for pre- and post-wedding activities sit just out of sight of the chapel.

The Real Estate Market is Booming

VMRSpring2015RealEstateweb            2014 was a very good year for real estate sales in Vernonia. According to local agents 2015 looks like it will be even better.

“The real estate market in Vernonia has changed dramatically since 2013” says Sharon Bernal, a local broker with John L. Scott Realtors. Bernal handles numerous Vernonia properties each year as well as other properties around the tri-county area.

In 2014 a total of seventy-seven real estate transactions took place in Vernonia and Bernal says she had her best year ever, closing sixty-six transactions; thirty-four of those were in Vernonia.

Bernal says she expects that trend to continue. “I think Vernonia is going to have a fabulous year in 2015.”

According to Bernal, the region’s real estate market reached it’s peak in 2006 and then hit bottom in January of 2013 during the recession. During that time Bernal says homeowners lost forty percent of their property values. “We never thought it would go down as far as it did,” says Bernal.

The market has been slowly recovering through 2013 and then really turned around in 2014.   In general, prices in Vernonia are usually lower than the rest of the tri-county region, a trend which tends to drive buyers to the Vernonia area when prices start to rise.

“One of the problems we have today is there are not a lot of sellers with equity,” says Bernal. She explains that sellers with equity everywhere, not just in Vernonia, jumped in and sold when the market rebounded in 2014. “That’s part of the reason we had such a good year.”

Bernal said the average price of properties she sold in Vernonia in 2014 was $160,000.

According to Bernal this year there are emerging a few sellers in western Washington County and the rest of the region that have equity in their properties. Quality homes that go on the market at a reasonable price are receiving multiple offers. Bernal says buyers are getting tired of finding the right home and deciding to make an offer, only to end up being outbid. “I just had a client out here last weekend that said, ‘We don’t want to play that game anymore.’”

Vernonia is close enough to Hillsboro and the jobs in high tech and other industries, making the thirty-five minute commute with almost no traffic very appealing. “Our problem in Vernonia now is having enough listings,” says Bernal.

It’s not just the short commute to work that makes Vernonia a desirable location for buyers. Most lots in Vernonia are fifty by 100 feet or larger, which is much more space than buyers will find elsewhere. “I’m seeing a movement of people wanting to go back to a simpler lifestyle,” explains Bernal. “People are loving Vernonia because even if they buy in a subdivision or a city lot, they are getting a whole lot more space to garden or have animals.”

Bernal says another draw is the local school. She says families are tired of their children being just a number in the large districts and find the personalized attention and involvement of staff in the smaller district setting as “a difference of night and day.” The new LEED platinum, energy efficient campus is also a selling point to younger families.

Easy access to outdoor recreational activities makes Vernonia a great choice for families and young adults as well, with rivers, streams, timberland, parks and trails practically in the backyard. “They can get on their bikes or motorcycles and go,” says Bernal.

Although Bernal says young families make up the majority of her buyers, the new health clinic facility and twenty-four hour ambulance service also makes Vernonia appealing to retirees.

Property taxes are much lower in Columbia County, which is an additional bonus. “There is no comparison to the tri-counties,” says Bernal.

The close knit community is also a surprise to some new residents. “Everybody talks about that,” says Bernal. “They come out of these subdivisions in Portland and Beaverton and they don’t even know who their neighbors were. They say, ‘Vernonia is so friendly,’ and it is.” She says the attractive downtown corridor draws potential buyers at first, but the level of community engagement seals the deal. “We have so many committees and opportunities to get involved and make a difference.”

Purchasing and living on acreage is also a motivation for some buyers. According to Bernal bank lending on bare land has loosened up and is currently more readily available. Bernal noted that she had some recent clients in their fifties who were both raised on a dairy farm. They were looking at an early retirement and considering starting a farm in Vernonia. Bernal said she asked them, “Why Vernonia?” “They said the prices were still reasonable and the weather was perfect for a dairy farm,” said Bernal. She added that the most desirable properties – one and two acre lots – are hard to come by, but five and ten acres parcels are starting to make their way back onto the market.

There are several small, new developments being constructed in Vernonia right now which are attractive to some potential buyers. “New construction seems to be moving pretty good,” says Bernal. As an example she mentioned a new home in the Knickerson Ridge development, a custom four bedroom home on a 7,500 square foot lot with plenty of parking and an oversized two car garage, listed at $229,000. “That house in Hillsboro would be listed at $289,000,” says Bernal. “People are driven to come out and look at that property.” Other small subdivisions with new homes are located on Fourth Avenue and in Roseview Court.

Bernal says there are some attractive commercial properties available in Vernonia which have been drawing recent attention, including several in the previously mentioned downtown corridor. “People are interested and they are looking,” said Bernal.

Bernal’s enthusiasm remains constant whether she’s discussing homes, bare land or commercial spaces. “I think it’s going to be a great year for real estate in Vernonia.”