This photo shows the men of one of the temporary Silver Falls Timber Co. Railroad logging camps.
The city actually got off to a promising start: a Congregational Church, Watson’s store, a blacksmith shop, a few homes, and even the eight room Arnold’s hotel. Arnold and Watson erected the first water-powered sawmill on the bank of Silver Creek just south of the county road crossing. Logging was done by hand using the cross-cut saw (loggers call it the “misery whip”) manned by two stout woodsmen who balanced on springboards wedged into notches cut into the trunk. In this way, they could get a straight-grained cut and avoid the thick butt of the tree.
Springboard notches are still visible on some of the large cedar stumps in the park. Ox teams hauled the lumber out of the woods on skid roads. When the dirt roads were reasonably dry, a four horse team with two wagons would take the lumber to Salem, taking two days for the round trip.
Silver Creek was a favorite recreation spot for Marion County people for more than fifty years before the first land was deeded to the state for a park. In summer and fall when the roads were finally free of mud, hundreds of people traveled by foot and by horseback to Silver Falls, sometimes using the mill teams to haul their gear. Many of the citizens of Marion County can tell you of their Silver Creek trips, long before the comforts of paved roads and cars. Trout were plentiful, game was abundant. Even bears were numerous enough to lure hunters and their dogs to the nearby hills.
Families came here to camp and picnic, pick the luscious huckleberries and blackberries, hike, swim, and play baseball in the large open field near South Falls. Arnold’s Hotel was always filled with weekend guests, and the overflow spilled over into neighboring homes. The more hardy simply camped out on bough beds under the firs.
Silver Falls Becomes a State Park
Local people had always known very well what a treasure they had in their backyard, but it took the lobbying of a few civic leaders and the special persuasion of Silverton photographer June Drake’s magnificent pictures to convince the State to begin acquiring property in 1931. Fortunately the State Parks Superintendent at the time was, Samuel H. Boardman, a charismatic figure whose far-sighted planning earned him the title “father of Oregon State Parks system.” Boardman engineered the purchase of 100 acres including South Falls for $10,000 from D.E. Geiser. Another 40 acres at North Falls was bought from the Silverton Lumber Company for $2,000. These and other acquisitions totaling 700 acres were the nucleus of Silver Falls Park which today covers 8,302 acres.
The piecemeal business of land acquisition which proceeded over a period of more than 30 years afterward is the subject of a letter from Sam Boardman to his successor Chester H. Armstrong. In Boardman’s words, the history of park development is far from dull.