Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Value of a Historical Landscape: Heritage and Nature at Bridal Veil

Academic journal article Oregon Historical Quarterly

The Value of a Historical Landscape: Heritage and Nature at Bridal Veil

Article excerpt

I am saddened to see the town is declining and will probably disappear. I have been back several times over the years, and as I go through the town memories come flooding back. The families I remember are the Cowlings, Taylors, Wheelers, Elliots, Nielsons, and others I only remember by their face[s]. They are good memories and I don't want to lose them. However, there is some comfort in knowing that the town is disappearing. The present and future always seem to ruin those warm memories by putting parking lots, stores and high intensity lights over my memories. I want my memories to remain the way they were. As the moss and ferns slowly hide Bridal Veil, I want it to remain a special place that is guarded by the trees along the banks of the mighty Columbia. (1)

--Dennis Barnes, Bridal Veil Resident, 1945-1951.

THE COMPANY TOWN of Bridal Veil lived for eight decades along the banks of the Columbia River but today is present only in memory and historical records, as its physical remains have been removed and the landscape transformed into a scenic destination. By 1886, the Bridal Veil Falls Timbering Company had begun creating a community based on efficiently transforming the tree-covered mountains into profits, work that would be continued by its successors for many decades. In the process, the mountainsides surrounding Bridal Veil became an amalgam of built infrastructure within cut-over, managed, and remnant forest. By the dawn of the twentieth century, visitors to the area could easily recognize it as the by-product of an industrial-scale sawmill community. Today, visitors to the site find a park with hiking trails, scenic viewpoints, and the infrastructure to support day trippers; no evidence of the community and its industrial heritage remains.

Transforming the remaining historical legacy of the industrial landscape at Bridal Veil into an ecologically focused place was a cultural and aesthetic choice that inspired substantial debate during the 1990s. Contemporaneously, a complex national debate reflected these issues from many perspectives. As Frederic Quivik has argued, when aesthetic values drive evaluations of significance, industrial resources are invariably lost. Quivik explores this argument in his call for the preservation of mine tailings for their historical and cultural value. He acknowledges the environmental challenges of maintaining mine tailings in the Butte-Anaconda National Historical Landmark District, but argues they are too valuable as a cultural resource to remove. (2) The remnants of the industrial past, whether toxic mine tailings or decaying company towns, offer focal points for discussions of place, landscape, and heritage. The creation of a park at Bridal Veil that is devoid of such remnants destroyed a valuable piece of cultural heritage, one that locals and cultural resources professionals fought to save. Understanding Bridal Veil's history as a significant logging community and its powerful nostalgic hold on former residents is necessary to recognizing that loss.

Shortly after the Civil War, Amos Moore, a lumberman from Albina, Oregon, filed a homestead claim on Larch Mountain about thirty miles upriver from Portland in the Columbia River Gorge. He soon sold the claim to Willard Hawley, who built a mill on the site by 1884, just as the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company pushed its first line through the Gorge. Oregonians migrated to the area for work at Hawley's mill and continued to do so as Loring Palmer and the Bridal Veil Falls Timbering Company (the Company) began construction on a sawmill and several homes near Hawley's claim in 1886. The unreliable service provided by the early railroad undermined Hawley's effort, and he sold to Palmer's group in 1892. The Company acquired near-complete control of the timber and land on the north side of the mountain and established Bridal Veil as a regional economic center. (3)

John Bradley, John Leiter, and the brothers Loring C. …

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