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The story of a ghost town

The tiny town of Bridal Veil, containing just a post office, a church
by: John Klicker, Tom Cowling stands in the Bridal Veil cemetery with Interstate 84 in the background. Cowling has written a second book about the former logging town in the Columbia River Gorge.

BRIDAL VEIL - People get squeamish these days about chopping down trees, but Tom Cowling, child of a mill town, says we should never forget when timber was king.

Cowling, who in 2001 published a collection of histories of Bridal Veil in the Columbia River Gorge, now has a second book about his favorite ghost town: 'Letters from a Dying Town, Bridal Veil, Oregon, (1955-1960)'.

Cowling is a retired financial advisor who lives in Southwest Portland, but his heart is at home in a town that barely exists.

'So many obituaries have been written for Bridal Veil,' he said, standing in the town's old cemetery. Now, as the Trust for Public Land prepares to sell the 20-acre town site to the U.S. Forest Service, Bridal Veil has been whittled down to a church, a tiny post office and a cemetery.

The mill houses were demolished about five years ago by the Trust, which bought the property in late 1990. The people who filled the little town in Cowling's childhood have scattered and aged. Cowling, who remembers an idyllic boyhood in Bridal Veil, is helping to organize his 50th class reunion, Corbett class of 1956.

He looks at Bridal Veil and sees the homes and the families who lived there. He sees the Columbia River, where he swam long distances, feeling secure because he and his brother were trailing two inner tubes for life support.

The disappearance of towns like Bridal Veil, he believes, let people forget when lumber was Oregon's 'gold' and put the state on the economic map.

For 74 years, from 1886 to 1960, Bridal Veil functioned first as the Bridal Veil Falls Lumbering Company and then in from 1937 to 1960 as the Bridal Veil Lumber and Box Company. The mill continued to operate under other ownerships through 1988.

First established in the 1880s as Oregon's first paper mill, the Bridal Veil site was established by the lumbering company in 1886 to mine the timber resources of Larch Mountain. A saw-mill and logging town named Palmer was built one- and one-half-miles uphill, and a wooden V-shaped flume floated the rough cut timber down the mountain to the planning mill at the railroad tracks at Bridal Veil. When fire destroyed the first Palmer, taking two lives, a second Palmer was rebuilt higher up the mountain. Eighteen miles of railroad track helped to haul the harvest.

The lumbering company ended its tenure when the timber was exhausted and the planning mill burned in 1936. That should have been Bridal Veil's first obituary.

But in 1937 the whole town and its mill buildings were sold to a company that produced wooden cheese boxes for Kraft Food Company. Cowling's father was a saw filer for the company. The wooden boxes made there are now collectible antiques and those and other enterprises kept Bridal Veil alive until 1960, when the company ceased operations. Another opportunity for an obituary.

For the last five years of the company's operation, Leonard Kraft, president of the company, published a newsletter that spoke frankly about the business and prospects, but also offered chatty little items about pot luck dinners, who was sick, who was visiting and who had marked an anniversary with the company.

It was the newspaper of the business, which employed about 180 people at one time, but also the newspaper of the town, which held about 100 people.

In September 1957, the newsletter reported: 'Tom Cowling will be returning to the University of Oregon about the middle of September. Tom bought a 1937 Dodge to take back to school with him. He kind of figured that if he got an older car, no one would want to borrow it, but he might be wrong this time because the car is good looking.'

Cowling and the other Bridal Veil offspring worked summer vacation relief in the mill to pay their tuition. While they were filling in, the workers they replaced were hunting and fishing. When a big fish was caught, the picture was in the newsletter.

Cowling borrowed several collections of the Bridal Veil newsletter to muster a complete lineup of the publication, which is priced at $25 and includes shipping and handling. The newest volume is companion to 'Stories of Bridal Veil.' Coming up are two more books for the Bridal Veil Heritage Collection, a story of the artifacts found by an archaeological team at the site of the first Palmer, and Logging in the Gorge, an eye-witness account of lumbering in the 1890s.

'After writing the first book,' he says, 'I realized that Oregonians had not a clue of what the history was in the state as far as lumbering goes.'

Cowling self publishes his books under Acorn House of Publishing, 3140 S.W. 97th Ave., Portland, 97225. He also maintains a Web site, www.bridalveiloregon.com, encouraging exploration of the community and its associated towns.

Society celebrates getting cemetery title

On Memorial Day, the Bridal Veil Historical Preservation Society held a service in the historic Bridal Veil cemetery.

Rod and Geri Canzler, who live next door, and Tom Cowling, who used to wander the cemetery on spooky Halloween nights, count the second annual Memorial Day service as a celebration of ownership.

Title to the old cemetery, which has been an orphan for years (the last burial was in 1934), is now in the hands of the preservation society. Geri Canzler, the president, and her husband and other volunteers help to maintain the cemetery and are looking for grants to do more work there.

The society, with the help of volunteer attorneys and title searchers, tracked down heirs to the owners of the cemetery, founders of the Bridal Veil Lumbering Company.

Last week, Canzler, who is relief postmaster at the Bridal Veil post office, showed off a deed. The document secures the right of the preservation society to preserve the cemetery, where stones bear grim evidence of the diphtheria and small pox epidemics that swept the community more than 100 years ago.

Canzler and other area residents are also working with the Trust for Public Land to gain title to the building and land of the Bridal Veil Community Church and someday, she adds hopefully, the post office.

The cemetery and the two buildings are all that remain of the historic town. The Crown Point Country Historical Society put up at a 10-year fight to preserve the Bridal Veil mill houses and a site for a lumber museum. They lost the battle and the houses were demolished.

The Bridal Veil Historical Preservation Society invites members to join in saving the surviving community. Membership is $20. The address of the organization is P.O. Box 33, Bridal Veil, OR 97010. For information, call 503-695-2773.

Don't forget to buy stamps, too

You might think of Bridal Veil as a one-woman town.

Peek in the window of the post office and there is Geri Canzler. Ask about the president of the Bridal Veil Preservation Society, and there is Geri Canzler.

But there is more to Bridal Veil and Canzler, resident of downtown Bridal Veil, will be the first to say so. Like it or not, though, she is the public face of the community.

And she is postmaster to thousands of brides. Any bride with an ounce of savvy knows that a quick trip out to Bridal Veil on Interstate 84 secures the coveted Bridal Veil postmark on her wedding invitations.

The result is that spring and summer - prime wedding season - fills one of the nation's smallest post offices with thousands of wedding invitations all requiring that special cancellation mark.

The wedding business, in addition to the avid support of local residents who rally to support the post office every time the feds consider shutting it down, has kept Bridal Veil going for well over 100 years.

Canzler, who took over the job as relief postmaster this spring after the retirement of Lloyd Davis, reminds brides that while handling all that mail counts, the post office makes its living selling stamps.

'Tell them,' she says, 'to buy their stamps here, too. That's how we make our money.'

This word has been brought to you by your friendliest neighborhood post office.