Category Archives: Live

Recreating History: Vernonia Family Brings an Old Farm Back to Life

On the east side of Highway 47, just south of Vernonia sits a wooden barn with an old windmill standing next to it. When the wind blows, the windmill spins, just like it did in the old days. A handful of sheep and goats wander and graze in the small pasture behind the barn. In the summer the gardens are overflowing with produce.   It looks like a Norman Rockwell painting from the 1940’s.

It looks like the 1940’s but in reality it’s a modern day, operating, small scale, family farm.

The property is owned by Jeff and Susan Ely. The old barn was rebuilt by Jeff after collapsing in 2007 . The old Star windmill was installed by the Ely’s, with the help of some friends.

The Elys have been purposely rebuilding this small-scale family farm complete with livestock, large producing gardens and most recently the installation of the windmill. And of course, there is that magnificent barn that they revived.

Reviving the old farm is, in part, educational for the Ely’s three children; Bradley, Meagan and Lauren all participate in 4-H and raise the livestock living on the property. The reconstruction of the barn was necessary because the family needed a place to keep the livestock and store hay and machinery. It also provided an opportunity to preserve some history.

Plus, it all looks really great!

We had the pleasure of visiting with the Elys, who also invited the previous property owners, Del and Kathy Allen, as well as Jack Finzel, who helped with the windmill installation. It was a beautiful fall evening and the group of us sat on the back patio the Elys constructed, soaking up the atmosphere. We talked about the history of the property and the changes the Elys have made as the sheep grazed nearby and goats nibbled on the trees. It was just about perfect.

The Elys moved their family to the Vernonia area from Hillsboro in 2006, purchasing the five acres from the Allens. According to the Allens, who bought the property in 1979, the land is part of one of the original handful of homesteads in the region.

It is a historically significant piece of land and many families have lived or worked on parts of it over the years. Both the Allens and Susan Ely tell similar stories of strangers stopping by to talk about past friends or relations who used to live there. “People stop here a lot!” says Ely. “It is not unusual. People have a lot of memories, anecdotes and stories about things that happened here, way back when.”

Like most homesteads in the area, the property was originally logged and then farmed.   The property also had an orchard; the remnants remained when the Allens owned the place.

In addition to the home improvements, the Elys have done some other major work on the property since they acquired it. They moved in around Thanksgiving of 2006; in February of 2007 the old barn collapsed.   For the Ely’s, the barn (and the barn owl that lived inside) was a major selling point when they decided to buy.   “When we came to look at the place it was a perfect fall weekend and there were apples on the tree, the leaves were all turning, and it just looked so perfect with the old barn that even had a barn owl looking down on us.” The Elys were hooked and moved in soon afterwards. Then the barn collapsed.

Jeff Ely and his brother had some experience building barns when they were younger, and so Jeff rebuilt this barn himself. Ely used new wood for the interior structure but used the original barn boards for the outside and reused the old tin roof as well.   Ely says he reoriented the barn on the property and also built it wider and not as tall as the original. They have also used some of the hand-hewn wood that was left over in projects around the property, including handrails in the barn and patio furniture.

The Star windmill that the Elys installed was built by Flint & Walling and is a ten foot model number 1937, built somewhere between 1937 and 1953. Jack Finzel, who has an interest in antique steam engines and other old machinery, found the windmill (which did not include a tower for it) and purchased it at a swap meet in Brooks, OR several years ago. He recently found out that the Elys were looking for one and sold it to them. He then helped them install it. Jeff Ely built the tower and raised it with the help of Dennis Weller of Weller and Sons Logging. The windmill is fully functional and could operate a pump on a well; the Elys just like it because it looks good and don’t have any plans to use it for anything else.

Finzel equates it to a type of yard art. “There’s a certain ‘cool factor,’” he says.   ”Every time I drive by here and I see it spinning it puts a smile on my face.”

The rudder has original printing on both sides and includes the manufacturer, Flint & Walling as well as the retailer, Mitchell, Lewis and Staver, which, according to Finzel, was a west coast hardware distributor. It even says Portland on it.   All of the original lettering was repainted by hand with enamel paint to give it a few more years of visibility.

According to research Finzel has been able to uncover, the windmill has a unique shaped blade. “Apparently this company had a wind tunnel available and did some experimenting with blade styles,” said Finzel. “And they claimed that this particular blade style is 30% more efficient than the squared off edged ones that had previously been built.”

The Ely family has raised lambs and sold plants in addition to raising meat rabbits and chickens for eggs. They also have a horse and two Nubian goats, which are considered pets and entertainment. They are also growing strawberries, tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers, potatoes, onions, peppers, basil, spinach, lettuce and huge blackberries!

The Elys have re-created their own version of a homestead in Vernonia and are enjoying and sharing the fruits of their labors. For them it’s a little slice of history and of heaven.

Student Art takes center stage at the annual Jr. Salmon Auction

JrSalmonChair            Each spring the Vernonia Hands On Art Center, the local non-profit arts and culture support group, presents their annual Jr. Salmon Auction.

A fundraiser for the Vernonia Schools arts programs, the auction features the amazing salmon creations of Vernonia art students. The students are supplied with blank pressboard salmon on which to craft their own unique visions. In addition to salmon, students have worked their magic on small furniture items that are also to be included in the auction.

The event is held at the Vernonia Schools on Missouri Avenue. Salmon are auctioned off with a minimum starting bid of  $10.00. Profits go to support Vernonia School Arts and Hands On Art programs.

Vernonia Volunteer Ambulance Association

VVAA1One interesting aspect of small town life is that the idea of neighbors helping neighbors extends to our emergency services. In cases where medical support is necessary, be it due to a fall, car crash, or outdoor accident, the ambulance and fire apparatus will be staffed with both paid and volunteer staff. Our emergency services are provided by the Vernonia Rural Fire Protection District (VRFPD) and the Vernonia Volunteer Ambulance Association (VVAA).  Both are located at 555 E Bridge St.  Though ambulance and fire are separate departments, they work together as a team.

At the fire station, the Medic’s private living quarters are located on the second floor with a living room, charting computer, 2 bedrooms, showers, Wi-Fi and TVs with satellite service. There is also a small kitchen located in the ambulance bay.

The VVAA is unique in that it is sponsored by Metro West Ambulance (MWA), allowing for advanced medical care and state of the art equipment about 40 miles away from the nearest Hospital.  MWA supplies Vernonia with a fully stocked ALS ambulance, a paid Paramedic (24/7) and a paid EMT Basic (M-F, 6am-4pm). The remaining hours, 4pm-6am and all weekends, are covered by our dedicated volunteers.

Ambulances are stocked similar to those in Washington County with the addition of an Easy IO drill.   Vernonia operates under Washington County protocol and MRH.  They run a type 2, 4X4 ambulance as terrain and weather can be extreme.  A second ambulance is occasionally available and can be managed by 2 EMTs whenever needed.

Emergency Services played a vital role in protecting and sustaining our small town during 2 catastrophic floods and multiple extreme snow storms.

If an MWA employee wants to come out and experience rural EMS by helping to fill shifts, they need the approval of the Vernonia supervisor, Jeff Mathia. ‘You do not need to be a VVAA member, but may want to join after taking part in this unique, rural EMS experience!’

To become a member of the VVAA, prospects are made employees of MWA, ifVVAA2 they aren’t already. They must meet all requirements; background check, driving record, drug testing, continued education (CE), certification and other code of conduct required by MWA.    They must also attend 2 business meetings or 2 drills and be voted on by the other members after all requirements are met. Meetings are 1st Tuesday of the month; drills are the 3rd Tuesday of the month, but prospects should call in advance as drills have been known to change.

Volunteers can be Paramedics, EMTs, drivers or fund raising/support staff. The VVAA has a Chair, Co-Chair, secretary, treasurer and Sergeant of Arms.   All positions are elected by the members.

EMT certified members must dedicate 24 hours per month to shifts in a schedule book.  These hours are made to be as flexible and as convenient as possible. Shifts are available in 6 hour blocks on up to a 24 hour weekend shift to get your commitment done at once.  Current out of town members use volunteer hours for study and reading as call volume varies from an average 7-10 calls per week.

Though volunteers are unpaid for shifts, a transport will earn you $25.  There are often paid opportunities working out of town, such as the Races in St. Helens during the summer or concerts and events at the Moda Center in Portland year round.

Pagers, uniforms, EMS polo and 1/4 zip sweat shirts are provided.  Other benefits to members include CE classes (3rd Tuesday of the month), paid re-certification, EMT basic course paid with completion, award banquet, specialized logo T shirts, personal tactical items and of course BBQ’s! Members, who show excellence by taking extra shifts, helping with fund raising events and covering 2nd out emergencies, receive gift cards, challenge coins and possible EMS Conference and lodging, all paid for!  There is an Oregon State Rural EMT tax credit of $250/year available for volunteers who meet requirements.

If you have a desire to serve the community and would like to learn how to help someone in a medical emergency, the Vernonia Volunteer Ambulance Association, in partnership with Metro West Ambulance, offers an opportunity to save a life and change yours.

Feel free to attend one of our business meetings to ask questions and meet our volunteers.

Vernonia Celebrates Opening of New School

“I cannot tell you how proud I am to be an Oregonian because of this community. You are what Oregon is all about.”

                ~ Former Oregon Governor, Ted Kulongoski


                It was a day for happiness. It was a day for smiles. It was a day for a few tears of joy. But most of all it was a day for celebration.

            On August 21, 2012 the new Vernonia School was officially dedicated and opened.   The events included speeches and tours of the new facility and also took time to thank all those who have had a hand in making this dream a reality. The day was filled with visiting dignitaries from government, business and philanthropy, including several US and Oregon Senators and Representatives and a former Oregon Governor.


            “It’s a great day to be a Logger and a great day to be in Vernonia!”

               ~ US Senator, Ron Wyden


            The day of celebration began at 9:00 AM with a short presentation inside the building. This was followed by the official Grand Opening Celebration at 10:00 AM in front of the new building with speeches by former Governor Ted Kulongoski, US Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, US Representative Suzanne Bonamici, County Commissioner Tony Hyde and more. The biggest round of applause was reserved for State Senator Betsy Johnson, who has championed this project from the very beginning.


            “In 2007 when Vernonia was in ruins, some people said, ‘Who cares! Give it up! Move to town! Send the kids to Hillsboro or Scappoose or Forest Grove! Rebuild someplace else!’ And you Vernonia didn’t! We fought back, and here it is—your new schools!”

                ~ Oregon State Senator, Betsy Johnson


            The opening of the new school facility was a tribute to the many sectors that worked together to accomplish this goal, including the creation of an Oregon Solutions team by then Governor Kulongoski. The infusion of local, state and federal funding played played a significant role. Fundraising efforts, both big and small kept the campaign to replace Vernonia’s schools moving along, including donations from philanthropic organizations, private business and efforts by local students and citizens.


            Today V is for Vernonia. Today V is for vitality. Today V is for a valediction to churning flood waters claiming your schools, your homes and your businesses. Today V is for victory and for Vernonia.

                ~ President and CEO of The Ford Family Foundation, Norm Smith


            The facility is beautiful both inside and out. The wood siding, local materials and the upright cedar logs that tower over the main lobby and the wood benches both inside and out are a testament to the history of the community. The computer labs, natural lighting and energy efficiency and sustainability features speak to the modern design that has been incorporated into the construction. The new natural resources curriculum that will use the building as a working laboratory is a look towards the future.   The facility will house grades K-12 in an innovative approach to cost savings and a new educational model. It is designed with the capacity to expand and hold up to 1000 students.


            “This school is model of sustainability but the people of Vernonia are a model of what can happen when we work together. You should all be very proud – you’re an inspiration.”

                ~ US Representative, Suzanne Bonamici


            The school building was designed to achieve LEED certification and to be a model which incorporates human and environmental health, sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality into its design and uses. The facility includes natural lighting and ventilation and is orientated on the site to maximize use of solar energy and day lighting.   A biomass boiler will provide heating and cooling through a radiant in-floor system.   The site includes bio swales to treat storm water; a community garden, a greenhouse and a nursery. Off site is a wetland education center.


            “Vernonia is on the national map as a leader in natural resources education.”

                ~ US Senator, Jeff Merkely


                Some people thought the day would never arrive. But arrive it did, and there were smiles all around. Especially from the children and students who now have lockers and hallways and a new school they can be proud of. School Superintendent Dr. Ken Cox made sure the teachers and students were the first to enter the new building following the dedication ceremony, because first and foremost, this building will be for them.


                “Kids bring us to this place of faith where we step out sometimes not knowing what might happen. We dare to dream big again in spite of adversity. We actually say to ourselves that which we hope our children will say when they are not around us which is, ‘One door may close, but another opens.’

                These children in front of us, children who are going to come to this school and children all around this state, are asking us, and you have demonstrated the ability, to step out on faith and say, ‘We will actually build, not just this, but we’ll build a whole new world around it.’

                I want to tell you, that’s inspiring. It’s absolutely awe inspiring. From somebody who has been in big cities, all across this country, from somebody who has been across the back woods of a lot of places both here and in Washington, I can tell you I have seen inspiring and I have not seen it any more beautiful, any more finely textured, any more human than what I have seen right here in Vernonia.”

                ~ Chief Education Officer, State of Oregon, Rudy Crew