Hear this edition of Canby Then in all of its audio glory on Episode 10 of the Canby Now Podcast.
Much of the history of a town can be gleaned from the history of its fires. In these stories, we see a community’s courage, values and, in Canby’s case, anyway, its charm.
Hope Springs Eternal; Also, Fires
Two terrible fires occurred in the vicinity of Canby in 1916. The first happened at Wilhoit Springs in Molalla, named after its discoverer, pioneer John Wilhoit. 45 years earlier, John Wilhoit had laid claim to the property and constructed the building that would become the Wilhoit Springs Hotel.
Wilhoit Springs is now a county park, but in 1916, it was one of Clackamas County’s most well-known and popular tourist destinations. The hotel contained 40 rooms, and there were numerous cottages surrounding it as well. Fortunately, when the fire broke out in February, the hotel was closed, and only one patron was lodging there.
The McLaren brothers, who operated the hotel, tried to put out the blaze with chemical fire extinguishers, but their efforts were useless. The hotel burned to the ground, as did two of the cottages.
A happy to this story, at least: Less than six months later, a new, larger and improved Wilhoit Springs Hotel was opened on the site of the old one. Built from “big logs” harvested on the property, the hotel hosted a large crowd from Canby, Oregon City, Salem and Portland for its grand opening on July 22.
“A turkey dinner was served, and the party danced until after midnight,” The Oregonian reported.
The second terrible 1916 fire happened in April in Hubbard, breaking out in an office building and decimating much of the downtown core. Newspapers reported that the fire spread rapidly and threatened to destroy most of the town.
Firefighting apparatus, and even dynamite, were called for from neighboring Woodburn.
In 1923, a fire of unknown origin decimated the Barlow Post Office, which was also the home of W.S. “Bud” Tull. Fortunately, Bud wasn’t home. The fire started in the home’s attached woodshed and quickly spread, even burning down several telephone poles that knocked out service for the area temporarily.
St. Bernard, Prince of a Dog, Savior of Turkeys
In May 1942, a 2-year-old St. Bernard named “Prince” heroically saved thousands of Thanksgiving dinners from being barbecued six months early. Prince, the farm dog at a Macksburg turkey factory owned by a Mr. and Mrs. Lamour, was sleeping in his usual perch on the second floor of a hatchery building when he sensed something amiss.
His loud barking attracted the night man, who soon found that an overheated stove in the brooder house had set the building on fire. More than 5,000 young turkeys were inside. The alarm was sounded, and local firefighters arrived promptly on the scene. They extinguished the blaze before considerable damage was done, resulting in only a small hole in the roof and the loss of about a dozen birds. Yum!
‘Thank You for Saving the Fairgrounds, Canby Fire! Uh, That Will Be 60 Cents.’
A contingent of Canby firefighters, asked to be on-hand to protect the fairgrounds during the annual fireworks show, were late to arrive to the Clackamas County Fair in 1949, but it wasn’t their fault. Just blame the overzealous ticket takers at the gate booth, who refused to let them in until they paid admission.
They paid, “rather than have an argument,” said a gracious Fire Chief Clayton Yoder, who was among the party. Two of them had previously purchased season passes. The rest were charged daily admission — 60 cents. It was a good thing, too. No less than two fires broke out in the dry grass that night, which Canby firefighters were able to put out with hand hoses.
The “’everybody pays’ police,” as dubbed by the Canby Herald, also caught the youngsters who’d marched in the Kiddie Capers parade on opening day. The kiddies had been thrilled with the chance to be part of the parade and march with the “giant” Cliff Thompson, a Hollywood actor was a reputed 8 feet, 7 inches tall, and they thought they’d be able to sit in the grandstand and enjoy the rest of the show.
But they, too, were hunted down and charged admission.
As a lover and longtime attendee of the Clackamas County Fair, this story…doesn’t surprise me at all.
Big Store, Big Fire
The ’70s was a time of radical growth and change for the country, and this was also true in Canby. It was also a time for a bunch of huge fires.
One that stands out, and that some listeners may even remember, was the devastating fire at the Canby Big Store, a local landmark for over 60 years, which was engulfed and completely destroyed in less than an hour in August of 1973. Thirty-five of the district’s 38 firefighters fought to control the blaze within the 10,000 square-foot concrete building, which had been erected in 1913.
The three-story building, which at one time was the largest retail store in Clackamas County, had been a marketplace that housed a number of businesses: the Canbyland Market, Top-Flyte’s Beauty Shop, Canby Hardware & Implement Co., Gene Look’s Television Repair Shop.
Most of them were decimated in the fire, which started at the back wall and spread quickly along the wood floors, ceilings and staircases. Also destroyed was a Volkwagon owned by Miss Margaret Schoonover. It caught fire when the store’s first floor windows exploded and shot flames across the street.
The losses, in terms of the building, merchandise and equipment, was estimated at over $300,000 — the equivalent of more than $1.6 million today.
‘I Swear, Honey: I Only Print It for the Articles!’
Another 1973 fire happened in Woodburn, but it was covered in the Canby Herald and bears mentioning here. The fire broke out at an unassuming building on Front Street that was leased to a company called TLM Publishing Co.
The building itself was owned by Eugene Stoller, former publisher of the Woodburn Independent. No one was hurt in the fire, but it caused an estimated $15 to $20,000 in damage.
So, why was it noteworthy? Well, first of all, it was pretty clearly an act of arson. Woodburn firefighters said the door into the publishing company had been forced open, and the fire showed evidence of two separate points of origin, as well as an explosion.
Also, TLM Publishing Co. published a very specific type of newspaper: pornographic newspapers. Their titles were Ginger and Spice and The Whorehouse Gazette.
According to Fire Chief Martin Krupicka, it was “real hard core stuff.” I’d say it sure sounds like it was pretty hot — hey-o!
We have many more colorful and thrilling stories to share with you from the history of the Canby Fire District, but it will have to wait till next time, on Canby Then.
Photo courtesy the Canby Historical Society.