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North Umpqua Early History Pt 3

Posted by Mark Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Once again, thanks to Mark Hoy for compiling this historical account for the Steamboat Inn:

The North Umpqua Lodge

Racks upstreamLike many others who were to make their impact on the flyfishing scene along the North Umpqua, Clarence Gordon was introduced to the Steamboat area by John Ewell. In 1929, Gordon and his wife, Delia, stayed at Ewell's Camp View Motel in Roseburg on a trip from Southern California to Victoria, British Columbia. Ewell took Gordon upriver to sample the fishing at Steamboat, while Delia remained behind in Roseburg. Enchanted with the area, the Gordons stopped in again for a few days camping in the Susan Creek area on their return trip from Canada .
Gordon returned with a friend and his 15­year-old son on a fishing trip the next summer. The following year, 1931, he and Delia drove to Steamboat, where they left their car, and let Jessie and Perry Wright pack their gear to a camping spot on Dry Creek, about 10 miles upriver from Steamboat. It was on this trip that Gordon began to dream of operating a "mountain lodge or resort" on the "beautiful point across the river from the Ranger Station" at Steamboat. Of course, this was the old camp of Major Mott, who had died that spring, and the camp was now occupied by Zeke Allen.
By 1934, however, Gordon had secured the necessary approval from the Forest Service to set up a rustic resort on the old Major Mott campsite. By the summer of 1935, the "resort" consisted of several tents and a rustic dining room and kitchen near the water's edge. The Kitchen Pool on the river, famous among anglers, gained its name because the view from the kitchen tent looked directly out over the pool. Before the Mott Bridge was erected in the late 1930s, guests arriving on the north side of the river rang a bell there in order to alert someone in camp to row across and ferry them and their baggage to camp. Ever since, this section of the North Umpqua has been known as the Boat Pool.
Throughout this period, Gordon also managed the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs and a resort in Pasadena during the winter season. Using his contacts in Southern California , he began to attract a regular group of professional and other well-to-do men and their wives to his fishing camp which he called the North Umpqua Lodge. This regular clientele sustained the resort during the 1930s, when it became something of a haven for doctors, lawyers, and other professional men.
Some local residents, as well as some Forest Service employees who visited the lodge, thought the Gordons guilty of catering to an elite crowd. A price list for the 1938 season shows that the standard charges for an individual at the lodge were $3.50 a night for a cabin without a bath and $5.00 per night for a room with a bath, on the American Plan (meals included). Guide service cost $5.00 a day for two anglers.
Admitted one Forest Service official, “There is certainly no reason to complain about the accommodations, or, I believe, the prices charged. Although, I admit that $7.00 or $10.00 per day per couple is pretty high for the average individual, and it is entirely out of the question for people in the middle brackets of salary income to take the family to a resort of this type.”
Clarence Gordon was considered a top angler and guide on the river in his day. He was a large, quiet man - intense in his own way - who could become quite a promoter when it came to the North Umpqua. He invited Ray Bergman, of Nyack, New York, the angling editor of Outdoor Life magazine, to come sample the fishing at his camp. Bergman and his wife, Grace, visited Steamboat and enjoyed the fishing and companionship so much that they returned the next year. Bergman's experiences resulted in several articles in Outdoor Life. In his classic book, Trout, he also included an entire chapter called "Steelheads of the Umpqua." Together, his writings give us a taste of life in the Gordon camp and a detailed portrait of the flyfishing methods of the day.
Bergman's Trout also provides tying instructions for some of the most popular fly patterns in use on the North Umpqua in the 1930s. They included the Cummings (developed by guide Ward Cummings), the Umpqua, the Sawtooth, and the Surveyor - the latter two named after well-known fishing pools on the river. Not pictured in the book, but extensively used on the North Umpqua , was the Black Gordon, a pattern developed by Clarence Gordon. Some experts believe that the Skunk pattern - one of the most widely used flies today for steelhead - was developed during this era on the North Umpqua, although its origins remain obscure.
During the 1930s, the Forest Service pressured Gordon to make his North Umpqua Lodge permanent by building additional cabins and a lodge on a bench above the highwater mark of the river. Eventually, the "dugout" was constructed, consisting of four bedrooms and baths, as well as a central living room. Later, more floored tents and cabins, an office building, and a flytying room were added.
The Fisherman's Dinner also began to take more definite form at the North Umpqua Lodge. A bachelor logger named Scott and a 16-year-old guide at the lodge, Knute Kershner, built the dining table and benches - hewn from large sugar pine logs - which are still in use today at the Steamboat Inn.
Delia Gordon, a graduate of the Julliard School of Music and a woman of culture, presided over dinner and was reputed to be an excellent cook. However, much of the cooking was done by hired camp cooks, beginning with Zeke Allen, who stayed on at the Gordon lodge for some years.
The dinners relied heavily on local fish and game, since foodstuffs came from Roseburg on the rough road to Steamboat. Grilled or smoked steelhead was, of course a mainstay, as was venison. More than one cougar was shot in or near the camp, and bears were often hunted in the area, but there is no evidence that either was ever featured as an entree in the evening meal. In many ways, the early camp fare relied on many of the foods that native peoples in the Umpqua Valley had exploited for centuries: native fish and game, local nuts and wild berries, and whatever could be coaxed from a garden during the sum­mer growing season.
The Fisherman's Dinner acquired substantial new flair after the arrival of camp cooks Harry and Dolly Killeior. This couple had previously starred in vaudeville acts, and their sense of showmanship soon began to add a unique element to the evening meal. Harry reportedly did most of the cooking, with Dolly serving as his "straight man," as it were. From all accounts, they turned out superb meals that were well appreciated by the guests.
However, the Killeiors also insisted that the dinner show must go on promptly - at seven o'clock each evening. This mandate posed a dilemma for the avid fly anglers in camp since the last hour before dark was usually the best time of day to lure summer steelhead to the fly. They were often forced to choose between eating and fishing - which sometimes resulted in grumbling anglers (as well as stomachs!) around camp.
Business was slow at the North Umpqua Lodge during the early 1940s, as the war effort took young men overseas and restricted travel for those left at home. After the war, business at the resort picked up briefly, only to be dashed by two monumental undertakings on the river - dam building and road construction.
In the mid-1920s, the California Oregon Power Company (COPCO) surveyed the North Umpqua drainage for potential dam sites, with the goal of generating hydroelectric power. Seven sites were identified on the main river. Anglers and other sportsmen protested loudly that the two sites farthest downriver - one at Rock Creek and the other near the North Umpqua Forest boundary - would flood large sections of the canyon, destroy the fish runs and ruin any potential recreation development in the future. In response, COPCO agreed to begin its power development in the river's upper reaches, moving to sites farther downstream as demand dictated.
After World War II, dam building began in earnest upstream in the area near Toketee. Part of the development plan for the area also included a new road, to be built at river grade along the upper North Umpqua. The new road would complement dam construction, provide access for timber companies to vast tracts of old­growth forests, and also complete a high speed highway between Diamond Lake and Roseburg .
The results of all this new development were disastrous for Gordon's North Umpqua Lodge and the river itself. Dam building resulted in heavy siltation and river levels that fluctuated wildly, dwindling away at times and then rising rapidly when flood gates were opened. The runs of summer steelhead were severely impacted - in some years, there was not enough water released at the appropriate times for the fish to return upstream from the ocean - and fishermen feared for their lives whenever they waded the river. Road building at river level introduced even more silt into the river, further damaging the fishing and steelhead spawning beds.
In 1951, in an effort to preserve the dwindling runs of salmon and steelhead, Clarence Gordon and members of the Roseburg Rod and Gun Club were instrumental in persuading the Oregon State Game Commission to change the regulations on the North Umpqua to "fishing with artificial flies only" in the area from Rock Creek all the way upstream to the new dams being built on the upper river.
In 1952, after the Gordons had already completed their reservation list for the summer season, the heavy dam building activities made the river completely unfishable. They were forced to cancel all reservations. From 1952 until 1955, the lodge was closed, with only the Gordons' old friends visiting their camp.
The only bright spot was the Steamboat Store, a small lunch counter operation which Clarence Gordon had opened near the junction of Steamboat Creek and the North Umpqua River. There the Gordons served hot lunches and operated a small store for the construction crews. Later, the store was moved to the present site of the Steamboat Inn, where the building which now houses the Inn's main dining room and kitchen was constructed by Gordon.
The North Umpqua Lodge buildings on the south side of the river were leased to a construction company to house their personnel during 1953 and 1954. In 1955, the Forest Service purchased Gordon's holdings on the south side of the river and moved the Steamboat Ranger Station to the site. This was the end of the old North Umpqua Lodge, but the Steamboat Store across the river would soon evolve and continue the area's fishing camp tradition.

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