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The Construction of Timberline Lodge

July 14, 2017

Undated photo showing Timberline Lodge’s setting on the south side of Mt. Hood.

Timberline Lodge serves as the starting point for several of the most popular hikes on Mount Hood. The iconic around-the-mountain Timberline Trail starts and ends at the lodge. It’s now once again a complete 41.5-mile trail, thanks in part to the volunteers of TKO for helping to build a new section of trail at the washed-out Eliot Branch crossing. Hikes from the lodge lead west to Zigzag Canyon, further west to Paradise Park, north up the mountain to the Silcox Hut, and east to the White River Canyon.

Though most who hike the Mount Hood trails visit Timberline Lodge periodically, few are familiar with the details of the lodge’s construction. It was built as a make-work project by the Works Progress Administration, which was formed in 1935 to employ out-of-work men and women during the Great Depression. The WPA built roads, parks, schools, and bridges, as well as the beautiful lodge on the south side of Mt. Hood.

The WPA began construction on the lodge in the spring of 1936. A road to the site already existed, but it first had to be cleared of snow. Although snow removal was expected to take four weeks, it actually took three months. It didn’t help that new snow kept falling to replace the snow that had already been removed. Because summers on the mountain are so short, construction began before the June 14 groundbreaking ceremony. Building plans had not even been approved yet, but there was no time to waste.

Excavating land in preparation for construction of the east wing of the lodge in 1936.

Fifty stonemasons laid flagstone on the front steps and terraces. Stonemasons built the huge central fireplace inside, as well as the smaller fireplaces throughout the lodge and their chimneys. The main chimney weighs about 800,000 pounds. The brass and bronze weather vane that rises above the chimney weighs 750 pounds! Local cabin-builder Henry Steiner shaped the six huge columns that support the roof of the central section of the building, a 60-foot in diameter hexagon called the “headhouse.” Using only hand tools, a foot adze, and a broadaxe, he finished the columns in less than two weeks.

The lodge was framed by October. Interior finishing work continued through the winter. Decorative elements inside evoked Oregon’s history and wildlife. Light fixtures in the Cascade Dining Room resembled Native American drums. A wood carving depicted pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail. Newel posts were carved into the shapes of animals such as bears and owls.

On September 28, 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited the lodge for its dedication ceremony. Roosevelt delivered his dedicatory speech on the terrace that would later bear his name, looking out over the landscape to Mt. Jefferson in the distance. After a luncheon the president and his entourage left. Fortunately the weather had been beautiful and sunny, and a snowstorm held off until after the festivities, leading WPA administrator Emerson J. Griffith to declare, “I shall never again doubt the efficacy of prayer.”

The lodge opened in February 1938 and although it has closed several times over the years, it continues in full operation today. Visitors are welcome to explore the public areas, and many Pacific Crest Trail hikers look forward to the hearty brunches served in the Cascade Dining Room.

Learn More
For more history of Timberline Lodge, check out Sarah Baker Munro’s Timberline Lodge: The History, Art, and Craft of an American Icon. You might also consider taking a tour of the lodge with a US Forest Service ranger. The tours are free and informative. Check timberlinelodge.com/ for more information.

Take a Hike
Follow the Timberline Trail west from the lodge for a 4.5-mile round-trip hike that takes you to an overlook of Zigzag Canyon. If you’re up for a longer and harder hike, a 12-mile-plus round-trip hike takes you to Paradise Park. The Timberline Trail is usually hikable in July, August, and September. Check oregonhikers.org for detailed hike descriptions and trail condition updates.

—Cheryl Hill

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