The Hood River Glacier, Hood River, OR., November 27, 1924, page 3

(By H.C. Coe)

     I note that you have several times referred to Nathaniel Coe as the founder of the city of Hood River. While it is true that the city was laid out from the Coe land claim, he had been dead over 10 years before the first lot was surveyed in the townsite. But now that I am on the subject, perhaps a short account of the founding of the town would be interesting.
     Ye editor also remarked that "A bridge across the Columbia river, was but a dream of the early pioneer." Permit me to say that a dream so absurd never entered my head, nor did I ever hear anyone mention anything so ridiculous as a bridge across the Columbia. Indeed, a bridge across Hood river was for many years but a dream.
     Early in 1881 work on the railroad from Portland to The Dalles was commenced, beginning on the Cascade-Dalles division first. Early in the summer, after active work had begun on the roadbed, E.L. Smith and C.F. Backus, who owned a tract of land near where the Columbia Gorge hotel now stands, determined to forestall any other town proposition, and laid out the town of Frankton. This did not worry me in the least, as early in the spring I had been assigned to the command of the supply steamer "Idaho," the home of the superintendent of construction, J.L. Hallet, who assured me that he would locate the station wherever I desired. Later I employed Newton Clark to plot and stake out a tract of four blocks on the east line of the claim, and, as a starter, offered a lot free to anyone who would build a house and live it. This brought results. Among the first to avail himself of the offer was George Champlin, who had been keeping store on the Adams place. He built a two-story building at First and Oak and moved his store in. I do not remember the order of their coming, but Nick Billing, John Hilstrom and John Parker, who built a two-story diagonally across from the Champlins, and George Prather and R.O. Evans also built. Thomas Hosford built the first section of the Mt. Hood hotel. Then E.L. Smith and C.F. Backus moved up from Frankton, where they had tried to start an opposition town that had proved a failure.
     Prior to their coming, however, we decided to build a school house, and I donated a lot south of state street, and a comfortable house was built and seated, entirely by subscription. Our school district then comprised the entire west side of the valley, including the Benson ranch on the east side at the mouth of the river. The school had formerly been held in the school house at the southwest corner of the Jenkins donation claim on and acre of land he had donated to the district. Mr. Jenkins, however, was drowned before he had made a deed to the place. When the town of Frankton was put on the map it was deemed necessary by its progenitors, in order to make a great city, it must have a school. By methods not entirely satisfactory to us in the east end, the school was moved to Frankton, practically eliminating us from all school privileges.
     After the completion of our school building, a delegation waited in School Superintendent Doane, asking that the district be divided, with the west line of the Jenkins place as the division point, and that our district be given the original name and number. Mr. Doane was a fair-minded man and knowing the situation here agree. He completed the deal then and there, asking only that we would give a bond to distribute equally the school moneys with the new district. This I did, giving my personal bond to that effect, although I well knew it to be utterly illegal act as we had absolutely no right to peddle out the public money to other districts. It might be imagined that there was "A hot time in Franktown that night." When the news that out, the state superintendent was appealed to and even the good Dr. Doane relented and asked us to recant. Of course we were greatly grieved over the situation, but were utterly helpless as the whole matter had been turned over to the board of trustees, consisting of Samuel Husbands, W.L. Adams and myself. They were a hard bunch to deal with, but the mellow influences of time smoothed matters out, and when Smith and Backus moved to the coming city, Frankton drifted back into its original potato patch condition.
     I have given the details of our early school troubles in detail, illustrating the fact that political gerry-mandering and "ways that were dark" were rife, even in those primitive days when Hood River was young. A smile of amusement comes with the memory of the hours spent with those wise old pioneers of the town, plotting and counterplotting over the building and school district matters. How proud we were when we presented the deed to the lot and little 18x30 school room, tax paid and title clear, to the board of trustees. It was the forerunner of Hood River's splendid schools of today.
     My story of Hood River's early history brings me down to more modern times. There is a matter concerning the lack of public parks, for which I have been very properly criticized, but am not wholly to blame. It had always been the intention of my brother, E.F. Coe, and myself to give a 10-acre tract that would include the side hill immediately back of the city and extending well back of the bench land of the top of a hill. However, soon after division of the farm, my brother taking the east half, he was taken seriously ill and practically incapacitated for doing any business. Soon afterward an investment company was organized to take over his holdings, to which I agreed, providing they would make the park preservation mentioned. This the promoters agreed to do, and the deal went through. Later they flatly refused to make their promise good. My error was not in making the deed before the land was sold. Truly there are but few with a psychic's vision who can peer into the future. The past, however, is too clearly seen.

©  Jeffrey L. Elmer