Rising From The Ashes
A few months back, I wrote about how we were living through history, and boy have we lived through some history since I typed those words.
The past few months have challenged us as individuals, communities, and a nation in a way most could never have foretold. While the COVID-19 pandemic has kept us apart (at least physically), the recent wildfires that have devastated our communities have served to remind us about all of the ways we are tied together. We talked with George Kramer of Preserving Oregon and Kuri Gill of Oregon Heritage during our September radio-edition of Underground History. Both spoke of the cultural resources that were impacted by the recent fires across the state and the role of heritage in rebuilding and recovery.
While the loss of old buildings is easy to quantify, the loss of intangible heritage will take longer to recognize.
The Almeda Fire burned Hanscom Hall, Talent’s first building listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The 100-year-old building has served the community as post office, restaurant, pottery shop, and as temporary city offices after an earlier fire. The circa 1925 Malmgram Seed Company building and the Phoenix Hotel are among other local landmarks lost. The Bolan Mountain Lookout was burned in the Slater Fire. This “house of glass” was constructed in 1953 to replace the original structure and was one of the last L-4-style lookouts remaining. While it will take time to assess the countless other cultural resources impacted by the fires across the state, there was good news, too. Locally, the Talent Historical Society and the Rogue Valley Genealogical Society—both important repositories of historical documents and data—survived.
A recent E-Digest produced by the Oregon Historical Society compiled links from the Oregon Encyclopedia of History and Culture as there are several entries on the historical communities recently impacted by fires. Head over to oregonencyclopedia.org to read about the history and resiliency of communities such as Talent, Detroit, Blue River, and Vida. The city of Detroit began as a railroad camp and relocated in 1952 for the construction Detroit Lake reservoir. Much of this community was lost to the Beachie Creek and Lionshead Fires. The Holiday Farm Fire hit the early mining community of Blue River as well as Vida (formerly Gate Creek), which served as an important link along the McKenzie River.
While the loss of old buildings is easy to quantify, the loss of intangible heritage will take longer to recognize. Communities are more than just houses and infrastructure: we lost whole neighborhoods, clusters of businesses, and the look and feel of familiar streets. In order to rebuild vibrant healthy communities, all of the stakeholders need to be recognized and involved. And heritage organizations can help!
The Oregon Heritage office of the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department has been hard at work crafting tools to help organizations and communities with disaster preparedness long before 2020 hit. Thankfully, many of these resources are now ready and available for use. Information provided below will take you to the State Disaster Preparedness, Recovery & Resilience Plan, help you reach out to the National Heritage Responders who are standing by to consult on collections assessment and treatment, and there is even a link to information about saving family heirlooms or objects that have been damaged in a fire. Local historical societies are also a great resource and can help provide historical photos and maps that can be consulted as part of planning and rebuilding efforts. For some residents they might also have information about family history or dates and construction details of buildings lost.
The grass roots relief efforts and donations of food and supplies to fire victims has been inspiring, and hopefully will continue to support displaced residents as they work to reestablish themselves. While addressing the immediate needs of food and shelter are critical, as the dust settles more nuanced decisions will be made. While buildings can be replaced, there is no reset to September 7th. Residents will move, businesses might not recover, and the affordable housing that drew many to the area may not be replaced. What do we work to keep and restore? What can we make better? While the scale of recent fires is exceptional, fires have punctuated the history of many Oregon and California towns. I think we are all feeling the fatigue of living through such a complex historical moment. While 2020 has provided much to grieve over, we are also in a unique position of power. We can’t go back, so onwards and upwards. The future of our communities is in our hands.