Early Days in Rainier

Rainier 1886

By Jos. Hackenberg Sr. [written in 1936]

When I landed in Portland on January 16, 1886, a very cold wintery day, conditions in Oregon were very discouraging for a man with 15 cents in his pockets, incapable of using English except to swear (which faculty I still retain,) the country overrun with Chinese, wages 50 cents a day of 11 hours, work scarce, jobs short lived and pay uncertain. However in spite of all handicaps, difficulties and privation, I loved the country with its mountains, hills, forests, its good water, fine climate and the hospitality of the people, congregated from all states of the Union, in comparison to the east, where I had been on the sick list part of the time.

First I tried to locate in the Willamette Valley, but land prices were out of sight, and homestead land left was not worth taking. I therefore turned towards Astoria, and on June 8, 1886, I landed in Rainier, a filthy hamlet of about 11 houses, a few barns and outbuildings, several wharves, a sawmill, one store and postoffice, two saloons. The streets were dirt roads, the boardwalks were full of holes, some places tilting, some places missing; they had seen better days. Fences were much dilapidated and scattered were refuse heaps, tin cans and bottles. While houses and lots were comparatively tidy, there was an utter lack of civic pride to keep the so called streets and sidewalks somewhat clean and in repair.

The place had been incorporated the year before, was boss ridden and run by the saloon element; there was no church, preacher, doctor, dentist, barber, druggist, editor or lawyer, no telegraph, telephone, drinking fountain, or public toilet. The town was too small to carry such professions and conveniences.

The town consisted of two units, Rainier and Cedar Landing, now [called] West Rainier or Kentucky Flat. The latter consisted of 5 houses, 3 stores, 2 wharves and a blacksmith shop, and it was here where most business was transacted.

Between the two lay the Winchester place, in the bottom near the mouth of Fox Creek, and southwest of it the Nice place on the site now owned by the state and occupied by the World War Veterans State Aid Commission; aside of these there were no dwellings between Rainier and Cedar Landing, a distance of nearly half a mile.

There were two connecting links, the old Beaver Valley road over a low log bridge, now the cement bridge across the Nice Creek, and over an old wooden bridge across Fox Creek near the present school house, which road was planked, and a trail on the site of the railroad grade, bridging the creeks by logs, impassable, in high water. On the river front were cottonwoods, willows and wild rose bushes.

The families then in Rainier (1886) are easily enumerated; there were the Dibblees, the Pomeroys, the Silvas, the Weatherwaxes, the Dobbins, the Suttons, the Woodruffs, the Winchesters, the Moecks, the Merrills, the Lelands, and two families near the blacksmith shop.

The school house was near the present Masonic Hall.

There were though quite a number of unmarried men then: Dean and Merrill Blanchard, John Dresser, Bob Campbell, Dorah Dobbins, John Kettering, Lem Thompkins, Charlie, Ed and Jessie Bryant, Joe and Bill Doherty, John Braim, N. D. Johnson, Bill Forester, Barry Bussing, Loren Bohnert, Ben Taylor, Tom Wells, Charlie Doblebower and probably a few more.

Against this number of men there were only three girls of marriageable age, very desirable objects and known among the young men by outrageous nicknames: Edith Dibblee, “the Wild West”; Dora Winchester, “the Mudhen” and Emma Kettering, “the Swamp Angel.” [note: Joe married Dora Winchester.]

There were altogether about 150 people in Rainier then, and of these there are the following yet living in Rainier or close proximity: Mrs. Pomeroy, Mrs. Clement, Mrs. Reid, Mrs. Nettie Bourne and Rupert Dibblee. The rest either died or moved away.

The main occupation was fishing, and many lived in houseboats, then called scows. Some worked in the woods, in stores and on the docks.

The people were sociable, kindhearted and accommodating. The men were used to hard work, a rough life and were no mollycoddles. Quite a few were drinkers and gamblers. There was friction, occasional fights and a few killings; it was, in fact, still the wild West.

The articles in trade were fish, cordwood, lumber and shingles, farm products cut a small figure. Then, as now, the credit system, next to outright dishonesty the worst curse in our commercial life, was in vogue, and the charges made for goods in the Rainier and Cedar Landing stores were outrageous, since aside of the slow steamers there were no communications. The vilest names of dishonesty, such as thieves, robbers, picker, cutthroats and pirates, were hurled at the merchants, who, on the other hand, lost by dishonest customers. Every cord of wood in the woods was piled as 1 1/4 cord, cheating the steamers on the dock, and the steamboat men had to be satisfied, as cord wood was then the only fuel.

There was a steamer every day to Portland and two to Astoria, carrying passengers, mail and freight, landing at Rainier about noon, while the Kellog and Toledo went up the Cowlitz to Castle Rock every other day and the Manzanillo to Clatskanie twice a week. The latter had no regular time of landing. The fare to Portland was one dollar, and the time consumed five hours.

Roads leading out from Rainier were poor excuses and part of the year almost impassable. Rainier then never paid the slightest attention to roads or any other obligation to the outside world.

The taxes were insignificant as the licenses of the saloons paid most of the expenses. This completes a short sketch of conditions and life 50 years ago. Comparing today with then, I say: Don’t come to me to talk about “Those good old times.”

Rainier 1895

dated June 17, 1927

History Told in First Issue

Some historical material of such importance that it could hardly be duplicated is contained in the article here reproduced, taken from the original “first” issue of the Review.

It will be remembered that the Review was founded in February, 1895, by W. H. Imus, who came here from Kalama, Wash. The first issue was printed on February 8, 1895. At one time the Review obtained a copy of this issue, but it was not complete. The article is reproduced as taken from the Review of February 8, 1895, with practically no changes. Many an old timer will read of persons long since moved away or dead, in this article, which brings back much of the fascination of the newspaper of the old days.

Since the eyes of the business world have centered upon this city and the name “Rainier” has become a household word all over this coast, it is but proper to give a short sketch of her location, present condition, business and commercial importance, resources and future prospects. This sketch is not written, however, in a boastful spirit (because Rainier has been more favorably blessed by Nature than her less fortunate neighbors) but simply for the purpose of imparting information that is much sought after by people of this coast and throughout the eastern states.

The site of the present city, as far as known, has always been here, but the city itself is a stripling of less than 50 summers. Think of it! Less than 50 years ago, the shy fawn slaked her thirst at the water’s edge where now stand the many mills, factories and warehouses of the present proud little city; and the she bear reared her cubs unmolested where now is published the Rainier Review (a family necessity) claiming the largest circulation of any newspaper on the Columbia river. Fifty years ago the sweet notes of the jay bird and hoot owl were lost on the desert air; the white man’s civilization had not yet been introduced — the festive tomato can and real estate agent were still unknown.

In 1850 Chas. E. Fox entered as a donation land claim the land occupied by the present town of Rainier, and was the first permanent white settler in this locality. He married a sister to Mrs. Allison Dray of Kalama. Mr. Fox has been dead a number of years but his widow is still living in Rainier, with the family of Geo. F. Moeck. In 1852 Major Smith, present clerk of the court of Cowlitz county, visited Rainier several times and says the town consisted of Mr. Fox, who had a little wharf, and a man who kept hotel. Some time after this Fox had the town site surveyed and platted, but in a few years the entire town was vacated, plat and all. In 1863, Hon. Dean Blanchard, present proprietor of the townsite, came to Rainier and took possession of the abandoned village and had the town site re-platted, having widened the streets from 60 feet to 80 feet. Geo. F. Moeck, who owns an addition to the city, has resided here for the past 20 years, but did not plat his addition until recently.

Among the early settlers at Rainier may be mentioned John Dibblee and family, M. J. Kittering, S. K. Hudson, Major Rinearson and others.

Rainier was incorporated in 1887. The present charter was granted in 1893. The following officers presided over the material destinies of the future metropolis of the lower Columbia: Councilmen, Dean Blanchard, Chairman; W. J. Deitz, S. H. Kistner, J. J. Braim; treasurer, W. J. Muckle; police judge, Robt. Campbell; marshal, Philip Drant.

Some of the public improvements made in the town during the past few years are: Plank road, bridge across Fox creek, bridge across Nice creek (cost $450), town hall, jail which cost $400. The Masonic hall is the finest in the state of Oregon. It is 30 x 90 feet, with 28 feet walls. The lodge room is finished in elegant style and at great cost.

The new school building is a great credit to the town of Rainier. It is 32 x 48 feet with 12 x 32 hallway attached, walls 28 feet high above basement, which is 7 feet high, built of limestone. It is heated by hot air and is a very commodious and well arranged building. It was built at a cost of but $2,500 a very low figure. The officers who are managing the school affairs are: John Dibblee, A. P. Anrys, I. N. Shatto, directors; W. M. Perry, clerk.

Rainier is located on deep water, in the very center of logging business of the Columbia, is just opposite the mouth of the Cowlitz river, the principal logging tributary of this great stream. A mile of slack water excellent for boom purposes lies just in front and below the city. The people of this place are wide awake, hospitable, enterprising. They are also very hopeful of the future, and are determined to make the most of it.

Following is a partial list of the various mills and factories located in and about Rainier:

Siverson Bros. Logging Camp

This is one of the many industries that furnish employment to laborers and help to make Rainier the manufacturing and commercial center of the lower Columbia. The camp is located at Dent post office, five miles back from Rainier, and employs during the season about 20 men, though at present but eight men are employed. Three miles of tram road are operated and two engines are used in drawing logs. Another new engine is now being constructed for use in the camp. The proprietors, Siverson Bros., are shrewd business men, energetic and reliable. Their yearly output adds considerably to the wealth of Rainier and vicinity.

Smith and Sons Saw Mill

This is one of the largest and best mills in the state of Oregon. Indeed it contains some machinery that surpasses in quality and capacity that of any other mill in the state. Before locating the site and building the mill Joseph Smith, senior member of the firm, went east and visited the big mills of Michigan and Wisconsin for the purpose of studying the latest sawmill methods and machinery. Being an experienced mill man he was soon able to select the best and most useful machinery made. While in the east he gave an order to a factory for the plant that now graces the water front at the upper end of this city, the large quadruple boilers being made according to his special directions and of select material. He also made a study of mill sites and mill architecture while among the big eastern mills. on returning to this coast he visited every available site in the country and had many subsidies offered for the location of his plant, but he selected Rainier and bought his own site at a good price. The site consists of about 120 rods of waterfront, protected on the south by a high bluff and lies away from the current of the river. Vessels loading at their wharf would be entirely protected from storms, flood trash and ice.

The largest craft that floats can load at this mill without danger of hanging up on the bottom of the river. The main building is 200 feet long by 36 wide, besides the boiler house and lumber sheds. Two full stories of 12 feet in height are occupied, the first by the big engines, steam pipes, shaftings, etc.; the second by the saws, planer, etc. The following description of the machinery may be interesting; The boilers are four in number, capacity, 500 horsepower, weight of each (without shaft and drive wheels) eight tons.

The shaft is nine inches in diameter and is solid steel. There are two drive wheels, one eight feet in diameter and the other ten. The latter has 24 inch face and weighs 3 1/2 tons. These engines are the largest and finest in Oregon, with the exception of those in Wieler’s mill, Portland. This mill contains the only gang saw in the state.

This piece of machinery occupies but little space but cost $4,000. It contains 39 saws when set for inch lumber. Its capacity is enormous. This machine saves (in sawing one inch stuff) one fifth of the log – a large item. The mill also contains a gang edger, two cut off saws, a huge planer that weighs 4 1/2 tons and many other pieces of machinery. The slip or lifter, of Mr. Smith’s own invention, deserves special mention. The logs are floating in over two big chains which are fast at one end to the platform by the carriage, the other end being attached to a cylinder over head. By turning the cylinder the logs are lifted up and rolled onto the platform. Very simple, but perfect in its work.

The capacity of this mill is 100,000 feet, cost $40,000 cash, and employs when running at full capacity, 35 men. It was built for the shipping trade, and expects to run more of less this summer. Joseph Smith is a native of Ohio and came to Oregon in 1847. He built the first steam sawmill on Tillamook Bay and made the first shipment of lumber from that harbor. His associates in business are his sons, R. B., B. T. and Milton, all born in Oregon, and all are practical mill men.

The running of this mill means prosperity for Rainier and we hope the demand for lumber will soon justify its running.

Michael Rosier’s Mills

These mills are located just back of Rainier about four miles, and are usually kept running. They consist of a sawmill of about 10,000 daily capacity. A good quality of both lumber and shingles are turned out and ready sale is usually made of his product. He usually supplies the Rainier market with lumber.

J. K. Bourne’s Shingle Mill

This plant is situated about three miles from town. It is run by steam power and cuts abut 15,000 shingles per day. Brant Bros. Shingle Mill

Brant Bros. shingle mill and dryhouse are out about four miles. The capacity of this mill is about 30,000 per day. It is an excellent mill and well managed.

Dean Blanchard’s Saw Mill

Dean Blanchard’s saw mill was one of the earliest institutions located here and was for a long time the principal support of the town. Orders for lumber came from near and far and much money has been distributed in Rainier through the medium of that mill. The building is very large and commodious, and is located on a roomy wharf where the water is deep enough for the largest ocean vessels to load. The capacity of the mill when running a full complement of men was about 30,000, but it has not run at its full capacity for a long time. Since the bottom fell out of the country and especially the lumber business, this mill had not run steadily. However, it has never remained idle log at a time, but has continued to fill what orders could be secured. The general improvement in business that is expected this season, together with the building of the Goble-Astoria road will probably create a demand for lumber that will enable this mill, with other Rainier mills, to begin a steady run.

A. J. Ally’s Plant

A. J. Ally’s plant is back in the country about six miles and cuts about 25,000 shingles daily.

Jared Wilson’s Shingle Mill

This mill is located a few miles back of Rainier, but we are unable to give its capacity.

Wagner Bros.’ Shingle mill

Wagner Bros.’ shingle mill is on Fox creek back of town one and one half miles. Its capacity is 20,000 per day.

Suffolk Mill Co.

Suffolk Mill Co. owns a large shingle mill in the lower part of town, which is now leased and operated by Hutchinson Bros. of Kelso. It runs steadily and employs 20 men. Its daily capacity is 100,000.

Dryden and Clanton, Loggers

Dryden and Clanton, loggers, have a camp just outside the city and are engaged in filling a large order of piling.

Sash and Door Factory

One of the finest and most important institutions of the Columbia river stands on the water front of this proud city hushed and silent from the blasting effects of the hard times. The wheels do not run because the products will not sell. This factory was built with Rainier capital a few years ago, and has had a checkered history. Dean Blanchard owns the site upon which it stands and now has control of the institution. It runs occasionally in filling the few orders that are given for supplies. The building is a huge one and the machinery is fine. Great hopes are entertained for running it more or less this summer. When Rainier’s mills and factories run at full capacity, this will be the busiest and most prosperous cities in the country.

Rainier’s Business Houses

A careful reading of the advertisements in the columns of the Review will give the reader a pretty fair idea of the business capacity of the town. The following enumeration of business houses and mills may be interesting:


Six wharves.

Four warehouses.

Sash and door factory.

Three sawmills.

Seven shingle mills.

Blacksmith and wagon shop.

Barber shop.

Butcher shop.



Four general stores.

Grocery store.

Harness shop.

Cooper shop.

Drugs and medicines.

Doctor's office.

Fish packing house.


But one post office (at present).

Printing office.

In this list the wood and logging industries, also fishing industry, (the principal support of the town, aside from agriculture) have not been enumerated.

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