Rails And Roads In The Upper Santiam (1980)

Horner Museum Tour Guide Series

Rails and Roads in the Upper Santiam

By Kenneth Munford and Robert Lowry

(Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1980)

At the end of the Civil War, the federal government split the Coast (Siletz) Indian Reservation in two and opened the valley of the Yaquina River to homesteading. People in the mid-Willamette Valley, especially those in Benton and Linn counties, began agitating for roads to this new area and as an outlet to the commerce of the Pacific.

A federal land grant was obtained and a road-building company formed. It hacked out a trail that wagons could use in good weather. The road ran from Corvallis through Philomath, Wren, and Blodgett's Valley and crossed the Coast Range at present Summit. From there it ran down the Yaquina Valley through what became Nashville and Eddyville. It terminated on tidewater at Elk City.

Another company was incorporated to build a railroad along the same route and continuing on from Elk City to Toledo and Newport. Contributions in money, merchandise, and labor amounting to $100,000 were subscribed to get the project started. But the local people had neither the financial capacity nor the engineering skill to complete such an undertaking.

In the early 1870s Col. T. Egenton Hogg appeared on the scene and for the next 20 years was the chief organizer and promoter of the railroad-building plan. In search of capital to finance construction, he went to San Francisco, eastern U.S. cities, France, and England. Prospective investors in Europe sent Wallis Nash, an English lawyer; Henry Moseley, a noted naturalist; and a retired captain to have a look. They brought back such glowing reports that funds were provided to start the survey and construction. Nash himself with his family and others--a party of 26--emigrated from England to Benton County in May 1879.

Col. Hogg organized the Oregon Pacific Railroad Company (OP) in 1880, with himself as president, his brother William Hoag as vice president, and Wallis Nash as second vice president and legal counsel. Overcoming many difficulties, Oregon Pacific completed the line from Yaquina to Corvallis in 1885. Hogg considered this line to "The Bay" only the first link in a grand scheme to continue the railroad eastward across the Willamette Valley, over the Cascade Range, and through central Oregon to connect with the Union Pacific in Idaho. The OP continued to build--northeast through Benton County, across the Willamette at Albany (finishing the bridge in January 1887), and on across Linn County to the canyon of the North Santiam River. The railroad surveyors found the grade up the North Santiam more feasible than the steeper South Santiam.

Between 1864 and 1868, a wagon road had been built from Lebanon up the South Santiam, and it was in use as a toll road. It had stopping places at Buckhead (Sweet Home), Lower Soda (Cascadia), Upper Soda (Mountain House), and Fish Lake. It crossed the Santiam Pass about three miles south of the present highway. The surveyors chose not to use this route.

Bridging the Willamette at Corvallis would have provided the most direct route to Albany, but the periodic high water on the flood plain on the east side of the river discouraged such construction. The route chosen stayed on higher ground on the west bank through Granger and along Thornton Lake.

Leaving Albany, the OP skirted the south side of Knox Butte, bridged the South Santiam six miles above Jefferson, crossed the flat Forks-of-the--Santiam country through Shelburn, and reached the North Santiam at Kingston. The grade presented no railroad-building problems along the narrow valley where the mills and towns of Lyons, Fox Valley, Mill City, Niagara, and Detroit soon came to life.

To reserve the right to the pass itself, the officers had work begun at the summit of the Cascades. Equipment and personnel were freighted up the wagon road on the South Santiam to Fish Lake, where a hotel was in operation, and on to the summit near Big Lake.

On the route surveyed for the railroad, a huge monolith, which became known as Hogg Rock, blocked the ascent to the summit. The only way to get around it with a railroad was to cross the sheer face of the stone bluff. Chinese laborers began hacking away at it a few hundred yards from where Santiam Lodge now stands. With picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and some heavier rock-moving equipment they carved out a gently sloping grade on the south and west faces of the rock.

Farther on, they made wall-like fills of hand-hewn stone laid without mortar and with such precision that they still appear serviceable today. Gradually descending from Hogg Rock, they continued grading for about five miles, as far as a point a half mile north of present Santiam Junction.

The grading crews worked in the opposite direction also, striking out east from the Santiam Lodge site to the summit and then south about three miles to the wagon road, which they intended to follow in descending the east side of the range.

On the Hogg Rock grade, cross-ties and rails were laid for several hundred yards. A small box car and other rolling stock were hauled up the mountain on the wagon road and placed on the rails. The story goes that their primary purpose was to be moved by mules at regular intervals in order to retain rights to the pass by virtue of having "trains" running on the right-of-way. The rails near the summit and those at Idanha, 25 miles below, were never connected.

The dream of a cross-state, transcontinental railroad ended suddenly. Hogg's financial backers, disappointed with their returns and with the prospects of the railroad, withdrew their support. The workmen grumbled about not being paid. The Oregon Pacific plunged so suddenly into bankruptcy that the equipment at the summit was left right where it was. It rusted away for decades before being carried off bit by bit by souvenir hunters and scavengers.

Hogg, Hoag, Nash, and other officers lost their investments along with other financial backers, but the 143 miles of rail line they had built and put in service remained a valuable property. In receivership it was reorganized as the Corvallis & Eastern Railroad (C&E) by A.B. Hammond, a major lumber tycoon on the Pacific Coast. He had timberland in the redwoods of northern California, around the mouth of the Columbia (Hammond), and along the route of the C&E. After the railroad had passed through several ownerships, the Southern Pacific got control of it in the early years of this century [twentieth] and continued to operate it under the C&E name, providing both freight and passenger service.

In World War I, the demand for forest products spurred mill development at either end of the line--at Toledo on the coast and at the mill sites along the North Santiam. Later, as SP acquired other lines in the Willamette Valley it realigned the trackage. It rebuilt the narrow-gauge Oregonian Railway line from Shelburn to Lebanon and tore up the trackage of the C&E between Shelburn and Albany after high water took out the bridge over the South Santiam River. Other sections of the original Oregon Pacific, however, remain in use today--as the prosperous Albany-Corvallis-Toledo branch and from Shelburn to Mill City.

Western and eastern ends of the line have been clipped off. The OP originally terminated at a turntable at Yaquina City between Newport and Toledo. It now terminates at the western end at Toledo.

The eastern end now terminates at Mill City. It at one time ran as far as Idanha. The Detroit and Big Cliff dams cut it back to Gates. Now tracks between Gates and Mill City have been taken up.

Horner Museum Historical Tour #18

Points of Interest

On this tour we seek out sections of the old Oregon Pacific Railroad where the grade is still visible. We also take side trips to view other points of historical interest along the way.

Corvallis. The Oregon Pacific (Corvallis & Eastern) had its principal station at 9th and Washington. The Southern Pacific called it a Union Station. The old depot now at 6th and Madison was originally built there and moved to its present location about 1917.

The OP ran north on 9th street and veered off to the northeast just north of The Old Cannery. The spur still in use is a remnant of this trackage. The OP crossed the line of the Oregon & California, West Side Division, at Corvallis Junction (also called Belmont), which is now beneath the 4th Street overpass.

Granger. A station on the OP midway between Corvallis and Albany that had a post office 1888-1903. It was named for the Granger Movement (Patrons of Husbandry) vigorous at that time.

Thornton Lake. On the Donation Land Claim of the well known lawyer/legislator J. Quinn Thornton, who was a bitter critic of Jesse Applegate and David Goff, who had persuaded him to take the Applegate Trail in 1846. Fairmount, the name he gave the lake, is still used for school and voting precinct in North Albany.

Albany. OP bridge completed in 1887 was in same location as the present one. OP tracks crossed the main line of the Oregon & California in Albany and swung northeastward, crossing what are now the municipal airport and Timber-Linn Park.

Santiam Road. Route to Lebanon and South Santiam country.

Scravel Hill Road. Short for "hardscrabble." Early maps show a church on the John Geisendorfer place on left. Note century-old house and barn. Burkhart Creek. Just south of "Stop Ahead" sign abandoned OP right-of-way visible on right, obliterated on left.

Knox Country. Knox School, 100+ years old, on DLC of child-bride Mary Margaret (Knox) and M. Carey Chambers. Claim of father James Knox ran from flat land on left to top of Knox Butte. Knox Butte Cemetery. Claim on north side owned at various times by John Earl and George Knox.

Haight House. "Little White House." Started by Eliza Jane Knox and Grandville Baber in 1846. Sold to Rebecca Ann (Knox) and Silas Haight. Passed to Henry Haight, Clair Haight, and LeAnn Haight Cool, present owner.

Hardscrabble Hill. First pioneers in Linn County came this way from Hale's Ferry, their wagon tracks becoming the Territorial Road.

Jefferson. Population 1,690. Incorporated 1870. Conser's Ferry, started in 1851, replaced Hale's Ferry on the Territorial Road after the big flood of 1861. O&C finished first bridge in 1870; present one dated 1906. Jacob Conser house restored and now used as City Hall and Library.
Jacob Conser house
[Above: Jacob Conser house, now Jefferson City Hall.  Margaret Hitchcock in foreground.  Horner Museum historical tour #26, 3 April 1982.]

Greens Bridge. On T. Green's property. This road, jogs and all, is more than a century old. Also as it turns northeast paralleling the North Santiam River. Old OP grade is on the right.

Shelburn. Two railroads crossed here. The one now running south was once the narrow-gauge Oregonian Railway, which came south from St. Paul, Woodburn, and Silverton and went on south from here to Gilkey, Crabtree, Brownsville, and Coburg. The railroad along the road to the northeast is the old Oregon Pacific.

Mt. Pleasant. This well-drained area settled early. Church built by Cumberland Presbyterians in 1854 on land donated by Washington Crabtree. Used at one time by First Christian denomination. Now United Presbyterian. One of oldest in the valley.

Mt. Pleasant Drive. Valley of North Santiam on left, of Thomas Creek on right. McCully Mountain on right.

Lyons. Population 920. Owes beginning to Oregon Pacific RR. Named for Lyons family.

Fox Valley. Settlement by John Fox and Indian wife pre-dates coming of railroad. P.O. established 1874.

Mill City. Population 1,630. Mill and post office started in 1887. Curtis Lumber Company, started in 1905, became Hammond Lumber Company in 1911. This was the same Hammond who owned the Corvallis & Eastern before the Southern Pacific. Became the principal lumber town of the county in early 1900s. It lies in both Marion and Linn counties. Railroad now ends here, just short of the bridge where it once crossed the North Santiam River.

Gates. Population 300. Post office since 1882.

Niagara. For 40 years various entrepreneurs tried to tame these dashing rapids, with log dams and masonry, but Mother Nature always defeated them. Now Marion County protects remnants of this early ingenuity and enterprise but lets Nature have her way also.

Sardine Creek Fire. In 1951 destroyed 20,000 acres of prime timber in two months. Towns of Gates and Detroit were threatened.

Big Cliff Dam. Regulating dam for Detroit Lake. Project forced abandonment of railroad above this point.

Detroit Dam. Completed in 1953 by the U.S. Corps of Engineers for hydroelectric power and flood control.

Detroit Lake. A popular recreational area for fishing and water skiing. Many vacation homes on south bank.

Detroit. Population 620. Most of old town flooded by the rising waters of Detroit Lake and moved to higher ground.

Idanha. Population 370. End of the line for the Corvallis & Eastern before building of Detroit Dam. Had a post office as early as l895.

Pamelia and Marion Lakes. Jewels in the cups of the mountains on the western slopes of Mt. Jefferson. On easy trails for hikers.

Santiam Junction. Little Nash Crater in the forks between the North and South Santiam Highways in danger of depletion as its cinders are used up for highway construction. It and larger Nash Crater to the south both named for Wallis Nash, one of railroad builders. Railroad grade from summit came this far west.

Lost Lake. In a picturesque meadow, has no visible outlet. OP railroad grade on hillside north of lake.

Hogg Rock. Watch for remnants of old railroad grade as it winds up to and around the monolith.

Airstrip (Hoodoo) Burn. In 1967, 8,000 acres burned in seven days, destroyed lodge and lifts at Hoodoo Ski Bowl. County's most expensive fire to control. Two thousand men served on fire lines.

Santiam Lodge. Leased from the U.S. Forest Service and operated by the United Presbyterians as a Conference and Retreat Center and as a youth hostel especially appreciated by hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail. Once had a rope tow for skiing. Skiers now go a mile south to Hoodoo Bowl.

Big Lake. Campground 3 miles south of Santiam Lodge.

Santiam Wagon Road. Scouted by Andrew Wiley, John Gray, and John Brandenburg in 1859. Used to drive cattle and ship products between Willamette Valley and eastern Oregon. Sometimes wagon trains were a half mile long. Toll charged between 1864 and 1921. First automobile, an Oldsmobile, crossed pass in 1905. Road ran three miles south of Santiam Lodge, on the south side of Hoodoo and Hayrick Buttes. As it descends westward from Lost Prairie, the modern highway runs on or parallel to old wagon road to Sweet Home.

Lost Prairie. Named by Andrew Wiley on 1859 trip to find pass. The completed South Santiam Highway was dedicated here on September 4, 1939, with 1,500 people in attendance.

Hackleman Creek. Named for Abner Hackleman, early Albany settler; is headwaters of McKenzie River. Highway runs along this creek for about five miles.

Tombstone Prairie. 18-year-old James McKnight accidentally shot himself to death while camping here with his parents in October 1871. He was not buried here but his mother later had a memorial erected where the accident occurred. The Oregon Garden Clubs are now developing a wildflower preserve on this prairie.

Tombstone Pass. On divide between McKenzie and South Santiam Rivers drainage.

Mountain House (Upper Soda). A stopping place for stagecoaches and other travelers from the earliest days of the Santiam Wagon Road (1860s) to present.

Cascadia (Lower Soda). At this popular stopping place on the wagon road, George Geisendorfer (son of John who lived on Scravel Hill Road) in 1898 built a 30-room hotel and a 40-horse barn. Hotel burned. Since 1940 a state park.

Cascadia Dam. Proposed site for a high dam is two and a half miles west of Cascadia Park.

Foster Dam. Regulating dam for Green Peter high dam five miles northeast.

Sweet Home. Population 7,250. Incorporated 1893. First settled 1851-52. Post office 1874. Once called Buckhead. The Oregon Electric railway company built a non-electric railroad from Albany to Sweet Home in 1931, bringing the community a prosperity it still enjoys.

Waterloo. Population 175. Incorporated 1883. First settled in 1848 as an industrial site, making use of the falls of South Santiam for waterpower. Mills making flour, lumber, woolen goods, and hosiery once operated here; now all are gone.

Rapids Dam. Provides a steady flow of water for the Lebanon-Albany canal which was completed in 1872. Flow proved too swift for barges but was used to operate mills along the Willamette. Now supplies water for city of Albany.

Lebanon. Population 9,560, settled 1846, incorporated 1878. The Albany "ditch" winds through the city. Santiam Academy, chartered 1854 as a Methodist prep school for Willamette University, held annual sessions with 50-100 students for about 50 years. Crown-Zellerbach paper mill, site of pioneering mill that used wheat straw to make paper.

Albany. Population 26,150, settled 1846, incorporated 1864. Once planned to be the railroad center of Oregon with lines radiating in eight directions. Now trading center for large agricultural, forest, industrial, and recreational area.

Corvallis. Population 40,500, settled 1846, incorporated 1857. Principal industry: Oregon State University.

Sources of Additional Information

Edwin D. Culp, Stations West. New York: Bonanza Books, 1978 (reprint). Chapter 9.

Margaret S. Carey and Patricia H. Hainline, Sweet Home in the Oregon Cascades. Brownsville: Calapooia Publications, 1979. Chapters 2 & 9.

Floyd C. Mullen, The Land of Linn. Lebanon: Dalton's Printing, 1976.

Maynard C. Drawson, Treasures of the Oregon Country. Salem: DEE Publishing Company, 1973. "Hogg Rock" page 32; "Niagara's China Dam" page 118.

 Wallis Nash, Oregon: There and Back in 1877. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 1976 (reprint).

Lewis A. McArthur, Oregon Geographic Names. Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1974.

Howard McKinley Corning, Dictionary of Oregon History. Portland: Binfords & Mort, 1956.


THANKS to Mr. Culp and Mr. Drawson for permission to use illustrations from their books in this Tour Guide booklet.