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Archeological dig discovers Lake County’s lumber camp past

Lake County’s rich history is being preserved one project at a time through the work of volunteers in the Passport in Time program.

Part of a national U.S Forest Service program that pairs archeologists and historians with volunteers to survey, excavate and restore notable historic areas of significance in forests and parks, the program encourages public involvement in preserving American history.

Overseeing the Passport in Time program in Lake County is Fremont-Winema National Forest Archeologist John Kaiser, selecting one site each year for volunteers to map and excavate a designated area for one week. In 2014, the site selected is the Crooked Creek mill camp, the location of the first large timber sale on the Fremont Forest, which operated from 1926 to 1930. Since 1993 Kaiser has led various excavations throughout Lake County, constructing informational kiosks showcasing the historic landmarks and their significance.

John Kaiser displays one of the more interesting finds at the site of the old Crooked Creek Mill Camp, handmade metal rings that disconnect at the right angle.

John Kaiser displays one of the more interesting finds at the site of the old Crooked Creek Mill Camp, handmade metal rings that disconnect at the right angle.

At first glance the site, approximately 12 miles north of Lakeview, appears to blend in with the surrounding terrain. It is hard to imagine a sprawling lumber mill and camp where 50 people lived seasonally once occupied the area. A closer inspection reveals a large foundation that once held the primary mill saw, a now collapsed brick boiler to generate steam power, and plenty of discarded metal and glass objects covering the ground untouched for over 80 years.

The Crooked Creek camp was built following a March 15, 1926 sale to the Crooked Creek Lumber Company for 37 million board feet of Ponderosa Pine in the Fremont Forest, encompassing 3,400 acres on the Crooked Creek watershed. From the Lakeview-Paisley highway, now known as Hwy 395, a three-mile road was built leading to the camp, where grounds were cleared to build the mill and lodging for workers and their families. Lumber cut at the mill would be trucked to the highway and down to the Lakeview railroad station to be shipped to Klamath Falls or Alturas.

Activities at the camp continued steadily until July 1930 when lumber operations were suspended in the wake of the 1929 stock market crash. The lumber market had slumped severely, leading to heavy financial losses. In October, 1935 Crooked Creek Lumber Company applied for cancellation of the contract, and whatever could be salvaged from the inactive mill and camp was removed.

Bob and Nancy Durham and Louise Whitehead are the volunteers for this year’s Passport in Time program, assisting Kaiser with sifting through plots of dirt rediscovering life on the old camp. The Durhams are veteran volunteers in the program, working with Kaiser on several past digs. Work includes drawing, photographing, mapping, documenting discovered artifacts and sifting dirt.

“Mills would have their own blacksmith to make handmade items as needed,” explained Kaiser, displaying some of the unique metal and handmade items discovered by the team during the archeological dig. “Sometimes we can find historic architectural drawings online to compare to what we discover.”

Of particular interest was a metal chain with links specifically designed to be disconnected when turned at the right angle, like a magician’s magic rings.

For more information on the Passport in Time program contact John Kaiser at 541-947-6260 or visit www.passportintime.com.

For video of the Passport in Time archeological dig visit the Lake County Examiner youtube channel or www.lakecountyexam.com.

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