Hunting with questions
   Asking questions about the landscape and the past


A team of adults and students visited Gerald Leighton along Spring Creek in the Mission Valley. They had been brought there by questions. They were studying a stream restoration project spearheaded by local environmental activist Bill Edelman that was underway, and they wanted to compile a history of the stream. They had read the journals of fur trade era residents, and knew that once the area supported dense beaver populations, but they also knew that now few beaver were to be seen. They had looked at aerial photographs that made vivid how the stream had been straightened and wetlands drained to increase ag production during World War II. They came intending to talk to Gerald about his fifty years experience living along the creek.

As they talked, they noticed an abandoned barn that, as they got nearer, they saw was crafted of hand-hewn logs. It was all that remained of a stagecoach stop, Gerald told them. This led to a story about his mother’s arrival in the valley in a Model T taxi before there were roads. He began pointing out where the cold house had been on the creek, where people lodged. All sorts of questions arose about the history of transportation–roads, waterways, railroads–began coming to mind.

Most places have layers and layers and layers of hidden history, and the more you learn the more you wonder. Our landscapes are enchanted with traces of lost worlds.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
  1. A hidden layer of history I came across when implementing the Ronan Spring Creek rehab was a comment about a saw mill where the creek emerges.

    This puzzled me because there now was not nearly enough fall to turn a water wheel and the topography was such that it seemed impossible that there ever had been. 

    My thoughts were of water wheels because my great grandfather made his fortune with water driven sawmills and grist mills in the Ohio River valley.  Also, I had been active in hydrogeneration of electricity so was coversant with the demands of water power.

    All was revealed when I ran across an early 1900’s photo of the spring.  On the hill above the spring was a smokestack coming from a donkey engine surrounded by piles of wood waste.

    They were using the wood byproducts to fire a steam engine that ran the saw and they located their facility by the spring to have easy access to boiler water.

    Another mystery solved.

    Posted by  on  03/06  at  02:47 PM

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