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Dundee Lodge: Quiet retreat has rich, fascinating history

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A couple plans to renovate this 94-year-old lodge so it can be used for events such as weddings, reunions, concerts, retreats, lodging, farm-to-table dinners or occasional farm-life education programs. Gaston is home to one of the most intriguing buildings in Oregon, although many Gaston residents never have heard of it, and more still don’t know where it is.

The log cabin-style structure is nestled in the woods between Patton and Scoggins valleys. It was built at the height of Prohibition, and the wild parties thrown there, fueled by bootleg whiskey, are legendary.

But the stories of debauchery are just one slice of a past that landed the Dundee Lodge on the National Register of Historic Places, the Gaston area’s only entry on that list. A steam-powered race car nicknamed “Whistlin’ Billy” also figures in the Lodge’s history. Oh, and so does Tofurky.

Fred Dundee was born into one of Oregon’s most-prominent pioneer families. His great-grandfather, Clinton Kelly, was an early missionary to the Oregon Territory. He married Esther Brooks, a member of one of the wealthiest Oregon families. Fred Dundee didn’t need his in-laws’ fortune, however, because he was a pioneer in his own right and cashed in as the automotive craze hit Oregon. He was a machinist and a master salesman, quickly building a small empire as the Portland dealer for White Motor Company.

White made steam-powered cars, and sales soared when President William Taft chose a White Steamer as the first official White House car. Besides his mechanical and sales expertise, Dundee was a larger-than-life showman, and toured the American West racing his White Steamer race car, which he named “Whistlin’ Billy.”

The Dundees led a fast-paced life in Portland, which included wild, alcohol-fueled parties that continued even after Oregon’s statewide Prohibition was passed in 1915. But Esther craved a quiet country retreat, so Fred bought her more than 100 acres in Patton Valley, which he named Dee Brook Farm in honor of Esther’s married and maiden names, and because “dee” means “brook” in the Scottish dialog of his ancestors. The couple used the land to raise cattle and as a weekend retreat away from the big city.

The summer of 1919 was one of the hottest in local history, and by Labor Day, Gaston Fire Chief Hermann Krahmer took the unprecedented step of banning burning. The Dundees spent the holiday weekend on the farm, then headed back to Portland. Within days they got the awful word that their cozy retreat had burned to the ground.

Dundee vowed to rebuild, but with a very different vision for his Gaston property. By the time of the fire, national Prohibition had been enacted, and federal agents did not turn a blind eye to enforcement as local Portland police had. So instead of rebuilding a cattle ranch on the valley floor, Dundee chose a spot up the rugged hillside in a hollow obscured from the prying eyes of revenuers. Instead of a quiet retreat, Dundee vowed to transfer his wild parties to Gaston.

He completed his new home, the log cabin that exists today, in 1921. It was much grander than the first home, built to be a veritable hotel for overnight guests. It quickly acquired the nickname “Dundee Lodge.”

The epic parties continued until 1933, when Prohibition was repealed, at which time Dee Brook Farm resumed its role as retreat, and then retirement home of the Dundees, until they sold it in the late 1940s. Since then the Lodge has been passed from owner to owner.

Various incarnations of “community schools,” “community centers” and “alternative schools” occupied the lodge from the late 1950s until about 1984, including the Cherry Grove Center, which started in 1975 and permanently housed four separate couples, offering “personal growth experiences” for adults and environmental education for youth, according to a story in “The Oregonian.”

In 1980, Seth Tibbott invented Tofurky in the lodge’s kitchen when he taught at “the Community School” then operating at the lodge. The popular soy-based meat substitute went on to achieve fame among vegetarians and Tibbot went on to own a food co-op in Forest Grove.

The Dundee Lodge still is a quiet retreat, but its history of fire, bootlegging, race cars and vegan cooking has never been dull.

Much of this column originally appeared in books written by the Bilderbacks, including “Creek With No Name” and “Fire in a Small Town.” More information is available at www.kenbilderback.com.

Dundee Lodge to rise again?

Twenty years ago, Hayden White’s dad, Carl, saw an unusual want ad in The Oregonian.

The owners of the historic but then-vacant Dundee Lodge outside of Gaston wanted someone to live there and renovate it.

After interviewing about 140 applicants, they chose Carl and Hayden for the job.

Complications ensued, however, and the White duo never ended up moving there. In fact, the whole renovation project fell through.

But Hayden, now 38, always remained wistful about that lost opportunity — until last year, when an even more complicated chain of events brought him back to the lodge, this time with his wife, Kya Eckstrand-White, and two children, Soren and Freya.

Their plan is to renovate the 94-year-old structure so it could be used for events such as weddings, reunions, concerts, retreats, lodging, farm-to-table dinners or occasional farm-life education programs.

Like the Friends of Historic Forest Grove, who are renovating the A.T. Smith House and property about five miles northeast, Kya and Hayden envision school groups coming to Dundee Lodge to learn about history and farm life, complementing similar local programs that are already established.

They are especially prepared for such a project, given that they worked at GeerCrest Farm and Historical Society in Salem for three years prior to moving up here.

Hayden was GeerCrest’s farm and property manager while Kya (pronounced Kee-ya) was the education and events director. It was an exciting place to work.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Dundee Lodge stood vacant from about the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, then housed a low-level caretaker for about 13 years, until Hayden, Kya, Soren (not pictured) and Freya Eckstrand-White moved in last year. They hope to renovate the lodge and turn it into a nonprofit.

Schoolchildren come stay overnight. They learn to milk goats and care for farm animals and to weed, plant or harvest in the garden. They also learn how to can and preserve food and eat meals together at a long table, as large farm families used to do. In the evenings, a storyteller would bring history to life.

The Eckstrand-Whites want to recreate such activities at Dundee Lodge. But first they need to raise money to renovate the structure.

This weekend, they’re holding a private fundraiser and hope for a couple hundred participants — mostly friends and locals, all notified by word of mouth. Whatever money they raise will go straight into the furnace fund, Kya said.

The lodge’s original boiler is broken, as is the propane stove that replaced it. The only current source of heat is a wood stove in the living room. “We literally camped out in the living room all last winter,” Kya said.

After the furnace, a new roof is probably the next most dire need, she said. “I have a whole list.”

Once they form a nonprofit, there will be a board to oversee funding and spending on such projects and they can hold official, public fundraisers or apply for historic preservation grants, Kya said.

A friend from GeerCrest has offered to help them create Friends of Dundee Lodge and Kya hopes it will be official by this time next year.

Meanwhile, they’ve been doing a lot of work on their own and with the help of friends and WWOOF volunteers (World Wide Opportunites on Organic Farms).

Last summer, Kya said, they cleared so much moss off the roof it could have buried a Volkswagen beetle.