Logging in Oregon in the 1920s looked a lot different than it does today. Loggers used handsaws, axes and steam-driven skidders to fell trees and load lumber into railcars. But the history of the industry is one that is largely told through the lens of the state’s white settlers. That is, until now. Timber Culture, an exhibit curated by the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center in Eastern Oregon, aims to tell the full story: the multicultural history of Oregon’s logging industry.
“It’s there if you dig for it, but it’s not part of the telling of our collective history,” says Gwen Trice, founder and executive director of the Maxville Heritage Center, located in the remote town of Joseph, at the foothills of the Wallowa Mountains.
The exhibit was meant to travel across the state, with plans for it to be on display at various museums and institutions throughout 2020. Visitors would get to see a series of historic photos, a 1920s musical instrument called a ukelin and an opening-night presentation by Trice.
During the temporary closure during COVID-19, the exhibit has stayed put. However, visitors can see the photo-collection portion of the exhibit as well as past presentations on display virtually on the Maxville Heritage Center’s website. See the center’s Facebook page for updates on the in-person exhibit.
“For people who can’t travel for whatever reason … they can go through a journey in [the online] space,” Trice says. “Our goal is to provide an opportunity for dialogue, because we’re hoping people are really engaging in reflective contemplation from some of the work.”
Trice’s own family history dates back to Maxville, a small, 400-person multicultural timber town located about 15 miles north of Wallowa. The photos in the exhibit date back to the 1920s and depict life in Maxville. Created by the Missouri-based Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company, the now-empty town was once filled with logging employees. Maxville’s residents — Black and white Southern transplants as well as Greek immigrants and white Oregonians — were segregated. Photos show groups of children posing in front of their segregated schoolhouses.
The donated photos, which originally were part of a few families’ personal archives, add to the inclusive historical narrative that Trice is trying to achieve. But the work is still in progress. Over time, she aims to include stories and photos from Japanese, Greek and Indigenous residents who are part of Oregon’s logging history. Trice has already started working with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, which she says has started adding to the history
It’s not just Eastern Oregon’s history in the spotlight. Maxville Heritage Center is in the process of interviewing elders in the town of Vernonia, located 40 miles northwest of Portland, for a history of their diverse logging camps. A plat map shows sections of the town meant for Japanese, Black and Filipino residents.
“The goal is that [the exhibit] can grow and it can be more comprehensive. It’s more truthful,” Trice says. “What better way than to go to the subject matter experts rather than to the dominant culture to get materials and information?”
Check it out:
The Maxville Heritage Center is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to purchase the present-day ghost town of Maxville. Thanks to a $120,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, the organization is on its way to its nearly $300,000 goal to purchase the 240 acres of land and restore the original Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company headquarters. Consider supporting the effort by making a donation via the organization’s website.