Photo Hopkins Demonstration Forest Summer 2021

This could be the oldest house in Oregon history, perhaps even predating the start of Lewis and Clark’s 1804 expedition. Soon the public will have a chance to discover and explore it at Hopkins Demonstration Forest, where it is being reassembled with a combination of the original and restored hand-hewn logs.

The building was found in south Molalla in 1984, attracting the attention of historians who discovered it had been dismantled and moved from its original location in 1892. The Molalla Log House is not typical of Oregon pioneer log buildings. The Douglas fir logs were meticulously hand hewn square and held together at the corners with half-dovetail notching. The craftsmen, who originally built the structure, knew how to make a tight- fitting log building without the need for filler between the logs. It is locked securely together without the use of iron nails.

“The log house has been a real mystery for us because when we found it we didn’t know the age, we didn’t know who built it or the original site, so it has been a long process of historical research starting with the pioneers,” according to project manager Pam Hayden, an architectural historian. Hayden began studying the log house in 1984 when she was inventorying historical buildings for Clackamas County. “Because of its craftsmanship, design and rarity it was designated by the Board of County Commissioners as a Clackamas County Historic Landmark in the 1990s.”

But by 2007 the house’s roof had collapsed and the logs were deteriorating. Hayden contacted Gregg Olson, an expert in rehabilitating log buildings in Oregon and they determined that the structure needed to be dismantled again in order to be saved. It was carefully disassembled piece by piece and moved to a storage facility where it was analyzed, preserved and restored. Dendrochronology was used to help date the structure through studying tree rings on the logs, and the search for a new home began.

“The first thing we did was go out into the woods and re-hew the logs that couldn’t be saved,” said Olson. “We spent over a year dove-tailing the new logs and patching the old ones.” The logs were stacked back together in a shop to solve any construction problems and made it easier to reassemble the structure on the Hopkins site, where some of the new wood pieces were harvested.

Forests Forever, Inc. the Hopkins Board of Directors, was intrigued by the Log House story and its depiction of the history of the family forestry movement in Oregon with the use of wood products in sustainable construction today. They voted to approve the re-homing of the Molalla Log House on the Hopkins site. “We educate about the use of wood and the Molalla Log House is the perfect example of bringing the past into the future here in Oregon and why managing our forests ties all that together, said Peter Matzka, Oregon State University Extension Service Forestry Educator at Hopkins Demonstration Forest.

“We are very fortunate to have Hopkins Demonstration Forest as the home for this building,” said Hayden. It is the perfect setting here in the forest, possibility very similar to historic geography and landscape of where the structure was originally built.”

Most of the grant support for the building rehabilitation and reconstruction has come from the Kinsman Foundation, according to Hayden and they hope to have the Log House complete by 2020. Visitors are welcome to walk the trails at Hopkins to view the Molalla Log House during reconstruction but are asked to stay behind the yellow taped area for safety reasons.

When complete, the Molalla Log House will be open for scheduled tours and Hopkins staff is exploring interactive educational opportunities for the public and the thousands of students that visit the Demonstration Forest each year.