Students in Snow on Marys Peak
Above: Student group from Oregon Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in deep snow on Marys Peak, about 1915. ©BCHM 1980-088.0020.

Marys Peak: Queen of the Coast Range

Marys Peak, at 4,097 feet, is the highest point in Oregon's Coast Range.

The native Kalapuya called the Peak tcha Timanwi, or "place of spiritual power."

The Peak is a Willamette Valley landmark, a symbol, and (according to local historian Ken Munford) a weather vane.

From a distance, the majesty of her silhouette hardly reveals the activities the Peak supported during the 20th century.

Her slopes accommodated a town, a cemetery, and a logging railroad; her summit was the site of a fire lookout, a radar installation, and a nationally known charitable event; her streams have provided drinking water for the City of Corvallis. All the while, logging and recreational activities have shared the same stage.

This online exhibition showcases images illustrating some of the 20th century themes linking this multi-faceted landscape to Benton County's identity.

Life On Marys Peak

People on the Peak

The Kalapuya Indians, earliest inhabitants of Marys Peak, lived on the bounty of the forests and streams.

As homesteaders moved into the area in the early 1900s, they found that short growing seasons and steep terrain made farming difficult. A few settlers raised Angora goats and beef cattle, transporting the animals to market on mail wagons.

Settling the Peak

Established in 1898, the community of Peak, Oregon, had a post office, a cedar shingle mill, and a school, which was also used as a church by the United Brethren.

In 1905, the town was large enough to construct a one-room school for the children. The log structure, chinked with moss, was roofed and sided with hand-split cedar shakes.

The community hired young, single teachers who boarded with local families to teach at Peak school, but teachers seldom stayed after their first year. The school term ran three months in the fall and three months in the spring.

A Town Abandoned

By 1917, the Peak post office had closed. When the highway to Newport, Oregon, bypassed Peak, the community dwindled away. Peak, Oregon, eventually became a ghost town, marked only by a twelve-grave cemetery.

John Garman Photograph
Above: John Garman, local photographer, described his glass plate negative: "I took (this picture) 31 October 1935 from 1-2 miles east of Philomath...At that time there were no logging scars to spoil (Marys Peak's) appearance. It showed up plainly because I took it by infrared." ©BCHM 1981-003.0001P

.Peak, Oregon, Post Office on Marys Peak, Benton County, OR, USA
Above: The post office in Peak, Oregon, was located in the Davidson home on Marys Peak. This photo was taken about 1910. ©BCHM 1994-038.0802.

Marys Peak fire tower, Benton County, Oregon, USA
View of Marys Peak fire lookout tower, about 1950. © BCHM 2005-071.0005.

Silent Sentry: Protection on the Peak

Fire Lookout Constructed

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began construction on the Marys Peak fire lookout tower. The project was completed in 1941.

Guarding the West: SAGE and Gap Filler Stations Established

In response to the 1949 Soviet nuclear bomb test, the United States established the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, or SAGE, a communications engineering marvel that laid the groundwork for today's internet.

Gap filler sites provided seamless coverage of 800,000 square miles monitored by the west coast SAGE system. Norm Maves, Jr., recalls that the local community, proud of the gap filler site located on Marys Peak, "...felt important, and (we) were safe from the Russians" [Oregonian, Sept. 16, 1984].

Natural Resources on Marys Peak

Resources Encourage Settlement

In the early 1900s, settlers supplemented meager farming by gathering chittum bark, used in medicinal remedies. When the price of chittum bark reached record highs, more homesteaders filed land claims on the Peak, only to leave when the chittum was depleted.

At the turn of the 20th century, Marys Peak was a checkerboard of Oregon and California (O&C) railroad lands sprinkled with private holdings.

The Chamberlain-Ferris Act of 1916 gave the O&C lands to the Department of the Interior, whose policy was to sell off profitable land.

Logging companies purchased many of the abandoned homesteads to consolidate their timber holdings.

A Watershed Protected  

In 1905, the City of Corvallis voted to construct a gravity flow water system to tap the Marys Peak watershed fed by Rock and Griffith creeks. Within a year, water flowed through redwood pipes. The City of Philomath also tapped into the pipeline for water.

Cooperative Protection Established

Corvallis city leaders, concerned that logging interests would impact the watershed, appealed to the U.S. Forest Service for assistance to incorporate both public and private lands into the Siuslaw National Forest. The lengthy process required an act of Congress and additional purchases of private lands.

Logging Railroads Short-Lived

The first logging railroad on Marys Peak originated at Noon Junction. When William C. Noon sold his company to Charles K. Spaulding of the Marys River Logging Company, Spaulding expanded the railroad. By 1929, logging operations had ceased on Marys Peak.

Lloyd M. Palmer recalls in his book, The Woods Creek Logging Railroad Then and Now, "...the inherent nature of logging railroads is that they were short lived. They were built into a fresh stand of timber, the trees logged out and rails removed, only to be spiked down on a different creek or over the next bridge" (1996).

Water System Today

The Baldy Reservoir was constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which replaced original wooden pipes with cast iron. Today, the water system is called Rock Creek Municipal Watershed and includes approximately 10,000 acres, jointly owned by the City of Corvallis and the U.S. Forest Service.

W.C. Noon Lumber Company logging on Marys Peak, Oregon, USA
Above: W.C. Noon Lumber Company operation on Marys Peak

Log Dam, Corvallis Watershed, Oregon
Above: Log "crib" dam, probably on Rocky Creek, Marys Peak. One of the four intakes of the Corvallis Water Department. ©BCHM 1980-088.0029.

Corvallis Watershed map, 1962
Map from a 1962 pamphlet published by the U.S. Forest Service, titled, "Corvallis Watershed."
BCHM 1982-054.0004.

Fun on Marys Peak

A Road to the Top

Thirty-seven members of the Camp Nestucca Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Marys Peak Road, providing public access to recreation areas of pristine streams, forests, and mountain snow.

A Place for Winter Sports

Marys Peak winter sports area, once regarded as one of the best in the west (with the exception of Mount Hood), had a portable ski tow and ski hut operated by the Helonskis Ski Club.

In February 1937, the Corvallis Gazette-Times noted, "For winter sports the top of the Peak is said to be excellent..."

Marys Peak, Proposed Site for Ski Lift, 1950
View of Marys Peak with blue line, indicating proposed site of a ski lift, circa 1950. Photo courtesy Oregon State University Archives, John H. Gallagher, Sr., Collection.