Museum Chatter: Mt. Hood’s Steiner Log Cabins
By Lloyd Musser
Why were there so many cars and people in Rhododendron on Saturday, August 12? About 350 people attended the annual Mt Hood’s Steiner Cabin Tour. The tour this year featured five log cabins built by Henry Steiner, plus the original Rhododendron homestead cabin built in the 1890s. Participants enjoyed walking to these cabins along the one-mile loop, with perfect weather. This annual event is organized by the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum as it is their mission to preserve and share Mount Hood History.
What is the historical significance of Steiner Cabins? Henry Steiner grew up in the Oregon City/ Beavercreek area. He became a carpenter and contractor, building warehouses, barns, and wooden bridges. Around 1924-25 he built the Arrah Wanna Bridge on the Salmon River. He then built his first log cabin near Brightwood. He moved his family to Brightwood in 1927 and lived there the rest of his life in a rented house. He passed in 1953 at age 76. He left no records of his work, but research indicates he built over 100 cabins and two churches during his years living in Brightwood. Most of these cabins were built between Sandy and Government Camp. He was occasionally enticed to build cabins in places such as Rockaway, Garden Home, Troutdale, Molalla, and Roseburg.
There was a building boom on Mount Hood following completion of the Mount Hood Loop Highway, in 1923. Thousands of building lots were created and sold between Alder Creek and Government Camp. These building lots sold for about $500 each, or you could lease a U.S. Forest Service summer home lot for $25.00 per year. Henry could build you a 1000 sf log cabin, with a fireplace and shower, for $600.00, if he could harvest the needed logs and rocks from your property. The price would be slightly more if he had to purchase logs off site. The going price for a 12” diameter Douglas fir tree from the Sandy Lumber property at Wildwood was 25 cents per tree.
Henry was trying to build housing units for a low cost by only purchasing items he could not make out of wood, such as windows, sinks and bathtubs. He made his own doors, door handles, furniture, curtain rods and cabinets. He made a practice of hiring members of his family, including his sons John and Fred at ages 16 and 14 years, respectively. He paid them very little because he was providing the room and board at home. Money was always tight in his household as he always undervalued his work’s worth.
Henry was trying to build low-cost housing but he never missed an opportunity to incorporate some artful touches in each cabin. He started by siting the cabin so that it faced the best view. He always found some logs for porch posts that had some twists and character to them. One of his trademarks was finding naturally bent small trees to use for stair railings. His entry doors, made of crooked logs, sawn in half vertically and bookended were unique. Overall, his cabins have a sense of scale and design that is very pleasing visually. This visual appeal is perhaps the reason a majority of the cabins built by Henry Steiner, nearly 100 years ago, are maintained and coveted today.
To learn more about Steiner Cabins visit the Mt. Hood Museum. Watch a video on the Museum’s website: www.mthoodmuseum.org. There are several videos on YouTube if you search Steiner Cabins.
Lloyd Musser is the volunteer curator at the Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum. The Museum is located at 88900 E. US26, Government Camp, Oregon. Open daily 9-5 www.mthoodmuseum.org