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The Oregon-American Lumber Company Mill - Vernonia, Oregon

 

The office of the Oregon-Amercan Lumber company. Now the home of the Columbia County Historical Society Museum.

Vernonia, Oregon was the home of the Oregon-American Lumber Company from the mid-1920's until it closed in 1957. The old mill was one of the largest in Oregon, and was an industry leader during its existence. Logging was viewed as a resource extraction business in those days so the mill, being tooled specifically for the large old growth trees that made up the company's landholdings, was destined for eventual closure from the day it was built. The the town has survived as has the forest products industry, although not as it once was.

A real treat for history hunters, there is evidence of the old mill, railroading, and logging all around the town.

Coming into town from the South on Highway 47, the first interesting site is at Shay Park, where the Oregon-American Number 102 has been preserved and can be viewed through an iron fence. We have a special place in our heart for this little shay, as it was previously owned by the Western Cooperage Company (WC Number 2) located near Astoria, Oregon. Many stories of this locomotive are told in the great books authored by Sam Churchill, including Big Sam and Don't call me Ma. Stop at the park and check out the locomotive, an old jail and some other old stuff. Unfortunately, the iron fence makes for not such great picture taking but the shay can be viewed up close. It is truly wonderful this locomotive has been saved from the scrapper.

Moving on to the East, you will find the Columbia County Historical Society Museum located on the right as you are heading out of town. The museum is located in the office of the Oregon-Amercan Lumber Company and is well worth a look. I think it is free, but you could and should donate a few dollars if you go. Many great exhibits and photos there, but really no mention of the real live history that exists behind the mill office - the site of the old mill.

Just a few hundred feet down the road from the museum is Vernonia Lake Park, where the old mill was. In fact, Vernonia Lake is the old mill pond where logs were dumped from railroad cars and stored until ready for sawing. As you enter the parking lot note the concrete wall on the edge of the lake - this is the log dump. The bike path around the lake follows the grade of the railroad that used to serve the mill. A small day-use fee is required in the park.

 

The area in the field to the West of the pond is the old mill site. The concrete foundations of many buildings remain, moss covered and surrounded by weeds. If you are really adventurous and like to go off into the bush I'd recommend a Fall or Spring day to avoid bees and other field insects that thrive here in the Summer. I speak from experience - something bit me on my stomach last time we visted! Also, the field grass is much lower in the Spring so you are better able to see the concrete remnants of the mill. The area is littered with foundations from old buildings, lumber kilns, the refuse burner, the sawmill and the planning mill. The walls of the fuel bunker still stand. Scrap piping from the mill's dust collection system litters the site. A huge electric blower rests on its side in the weeds. Junk to some, interesting history for others. One of our favorite historic sites to visit.

The log dump at the Oregon-American mill pond, now Vernonia lake. Logs were dumped from railroad cars here into the pond for sorting and storage.

There is a great book called The Oregon American Lumber Company (Ain't no more) that tells the story of the mill in great detail. One of my favorite books for sure, highly recommended.

The fuel bunker is the only building that still stands. A number of small trees grow inside its grafitti covered walls.

The foundation of the refuse burner.

A small tree grows from the burner.

Moss covered concrete covers the landscape. Head rig foundation far left, fuel bunker to the right

Metal scrap that was part of the mill's dust collection system. Concrete footings that supported large storage sheds

What equipment was here?

And here?

More moss and concrete. Another part of the head rig in the distance?

The foundation of the log slip, where logs were pull into the mill for sawing.

The foundation of the planing mill. Note the fuel bunker in the distance.

Large cyclone blower that powered the mill's dust collection system. 1 of 3

Foundation of the kiln.

Note the size of the trees.

 

 

Copyright 2004, 2005 Garrett J. Keeton.

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