Plans to bulldoze flat nearly 16 acres at the heart of one of Clackamas County’s most historic communities will shortly be filed with the Clackamas County Planning Division by the property’s purchaser.

Located at the heart of Jennings Lodge, it is hard to imagine the community without the campground and groves of trees overlooking the Willamette River. Soon to disappear are historic buildings and hundreds of evergreen trees in a park like setting cherished by generations of camp meeting attendees and Jennings Lodge residents.

How could this happen to a community such as Jennings Lodge where residents cherish their quiet historic neighborhood of large lots and many trees and where community activism is at an all time high? And why can’t Clackamas County’s Board of Commissioners find a way to help this beleaguered community?

At least one large, well respected, tree-removal company asked to bid on cutting down all the trees from the campground property refused the job and walked away saying they wouldn’t have anything to do with what was clearly a misguided request.

It is difficult to unravel how the Evangelical churches who have owned and occupied the 16-plus campground acres for nearly 105 years made the decision to sell. It is a mystery why so little effort was made to involve locals in planning the future use of such a huge piece of land in the middle of a historic community.

The developer, Lennar, who holds the option to purchase and develop the property plans to build 72 homes on the land apparently did not realize the property’s deep historic roots when it decided to build a large development there. It is unclear if Lennar realized the number of existing trees and structures that would need to be razed. Apparently, all they saw was the largest remaining piece of undeveloped property in northern Clackamas County, which also happens to be adjacent to the Willamette River.

It is not clear whether the Jennings Lodge campground ever paid much if any local taxes. Generations of children whose parents were either in service at the campground or attending Western Evangelical Seminary attended local schools and received government services. That fact alone should surely have suggested to the church owners the need to contact community leaders and ask what they would like to see happen if the property were vacated.

Located just two miles from the end of the Oregon Trail, Jennings Lodge has a rich history connecting the community to the first settlers who came west in 1845. The Willamette River and the falls in Oregon City had long been a focal point of Clackamas tribal life. Native American presence in turn lured early fur traders. Behind them came missionaries and then the Overlanders who pioneered the Westward Movement in wagon trains.

The history of Jennings Lodge mirrors the larger history of Clackamas County. Native Americans had summer fishing grounds along the Willamette River below Jennings Lodge. Fur traders likely used their trails where Oatfield and River Roads are today.

Traveling with one of the first two big wagon trains to come west, Berryman Jennings arrived in 1847, and staked his donation land claim at the center of Jennings Lodge several years later. Powered with electricity provided by Willamette Falls, the first electric interurban in the United States arrived in 1893. A land boom ensued all along the rail line from Portland to Oregon City including at Jennings Lodge. Spurred by the demand for land near the interurban, Addie Jennings Hodgkin who inherited the central portion of her father’s land, platted the original Jennings Lodge in 1904. The Willamette Evangelical Camp Meeting Association bought eight of Addie’s lots just above the Willamette River in Jennings Lodge in 1905. They thus brought historic American camp-meeting tradition to Jennings Lodge.

Never a bedroom community to Portland but rather a semi-rural outpost of Oregon City, people settled in and around the campground, as both it and later Western Evangelical Seminary became intertwined into the life of Jennings Lodge. Western Evangelical Seminary began on the campground property in 1947 but expanded across Jennings Avenue to a new campus a few years later. Bob Moore, of Moore’s Flour Mill and later Bob’s Red Mill, was one of its students. Former Sen. Mark O. Hatfield came to the aid of the seminary while he was serving as Oregon’s governor.

Today, the community of Jennings Lodge reflects and cherishes its historic roots. Sandwiched between Milwaukie and Gladstone along the Willamette River, its population of about 7,500 residents will once again be served by a commuter train when the new light-rail line begins operation in September.

The question now: What will be left of Jennings Lodge if the Lennar development is approved and built as currently proposed?

Elizabeth Marple Bentley is a resident of Jennings Lodge.

Contract Publishing

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