History Notes: Memories of summer recreation in South Washington County
"What did people do to have fun here?" asked my 9-year-old grandson, Ahny, youngest volunteer at the Sherwood History Center. I thought about that a minute, because even as a kid in the 1960s, having fun was not an important thing on our list of things to do.
We were farm kids, who took great pride in being champion berry pickers and working in the bean cannery. I did tell him about our running off to explore the woods and our secret dips in the pond hidden in the woods on Chehalem Mountain. That was when I learned that garter snakes could swim and frogs will kiss you on the legs. I also told him about playing in Goose Creek near "Little Multnomah Falls" on Chehalem Mountain. We learned a lot about how to build dams and fish ladders.
But there has always been a bit of play for hard-working kids going back to the Hall children in the 1860s who swam in the Cedar Creek swimming hole near the old log cabins.
In the 1890s, people also started swimming in the Tualatin River. There was a flat area off the wagon road near the Taylor's Ferry Covered Bridge near Tigard and it was called Roamers Rest. It was a perfect spot to have a lunch before going or coming back to Sherwood from Portland and one could go swimming as well. Roamers Rest and Avalon Park on either side of the river, and the bridge, were both steamboat stops for the 'Hooser."
For local people of the Sherwood and Scholls area, there was the long, flat bank along the river at the Elsner's property, just upriver. It started out casually after the Schamberg Covered Bridge was finished on Oct. 14, 1897. Hop pickers came out that first year and camped between the hop and plum crops. The next spring, a small house was built for people to change into their bathing clothes. The place was called the Elsner Picnic Park. Grain threshing crews would gather food and soap and go down to the river after a long hot day. The United Artisans and the Woodmen of the World held annual picnics at the Elsner Picnic Park. Swimming, boating, horseshoe playing, a children's playground, and a baseball diamond were the activities. Uncle Gus Hoffarber later had a small cottage on the grounds. He kept up the property and trapped mink, muskrat, and beaver during the winter trapping season.
In the late 1930s, my dad, Robert Weisenback, would walk cross country (or "shanksmere") from Aloha or Beaverton, over Cooper Mountain, and down Beef Bend Road to get to Roamers Rest to swim and socialize. He became a good swimmer and diver for many years. The same is true of young Sherwood newlyweds, Howard and Orlean Holmes, who married in 1934 and had a dairy farm at the base of Kruger Road. Orlean became an excellent swimmer and won some contests at Roamers Rest.
Summer recreation hit an all-time popularity in the 1930s and 1940s. Property owners along the river developed their land into a series or parks from up-river at the Elsner Picnic Park, Paradise Park, Roamers Rest, Avalon, Louie's and Jurgen's Park. The two biggest ones, Roamers and Avalon, bookended the Taylor's Ferry Covered Bridge. Avalon was known as being a more adult themed park with a dance hall near the boat landing. Woody Hite and his band played there. It was owned by the Fredricks Family.
Roamers Rest catered to younger people and was owned by the Jossy Family. They had a foot pedaled Swan and a slide that went out to the river. They also had a tavern at the park entrance and a dance hall. In the 1950s, Roamer's Rest had rock and roll dances. Both Roamers and Avalon rented swim suits and rowboats and kept a lifeguard on duty. All the parks had swimming pool floats, sunk into the river, with boards or cages to contain the swimmers. There were diving boards and bath houses for changing. Fees were charged at the entrance for picnicking, playing ball, and swimming.
John Jurgens operated his park near a golf course which also had a dance hall. But then he purchased land across from Roamer's Rest and started a tavern, grocery store, gas station, picnic grounds, and cabins. They kept a bear in a cage which got out and mauled their daughter's pet goat. In the 1950s, Highway 99 was widened and the old Jurgens Park was torn down and buildings moved. The Jurgens settled on a cozy log tavern.
The river parks were still doing great summer business, but the Tualatin River was ailing. More farmers up-river were pumping more water onto their beans, corn, and berry crops. More effluent in the form of fertilizer and sewage was going into the river. Many people in Washington County thought the Tualatin River should be cemented into a canal. Mr. Lampman, an old-time history buff whose wife, Evelyn Sibley Lampman, wrote many historical fiction books, managed to convince people that the river should remain natural. Both the Tualatin and Willamette Rivers went on a downward spiral of pollution which was not stopped until the end of the 1980s. People were warned by the ends of the summer to not swim in the rivers. Nevertheless, in the early summer, Roamers Rest accepted strawberry pickers and family reunions until Labor Day.
"We would swim there. There were different size swimming areas, boarded off from each other. The was a "floor" in the one I was allowed to swim in. I was about 5-8 years old, when we swam there. The floor was made of two by fours spaced apart a bit"
The roamers Rest Tavern had a big following, but the Avalon Dance Hall faded.
"I remember swimming at Roamer's Rest and Avalon, and how the water was not clear at all. And I went with friends to swim at Pat's Acres, too."
"There was one called Louie's for a while. His last name was Walent. It was across the Tualatin River from Avalon Park."
The parks fell into disuse and there were several drownings. Park insurance went sky-high. One by one the parks closed. There was a big flood in 1969 and another in 1974. Roamers Rest is the only site that still exists and is now a trailer and RV park, exclusively.
Unless notified, the Morback House Museum will be open on Wednesday and Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m. Due to the fourth spike in the COVID delta variant, there is now a mask mandate upon entering the building.
The renovation in the basement is complete and the model train is running once again. Aug. 28 is the Cruisin' Sherwood car show and we hope to be open.
Also, we hope that there will be an open house for the Robin Hood Festival on Sept. 24. Sherwood's Museum and History Center is located on the corner of First and Main streets on the Veteran's Park grounds.
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