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What, who and where is Wemme?

It’s possible to never even know you’re there, and if you blink, you could miss it.

It’s a short stretch of Highway 26, just east of Brightwood and just before Welches, or sort of “in” Welches, defined by a simple green road sign that reads, “Wemme.”

Our search for the essence of the place led to this hiccup of highway, where the prominent features are The Rendezvous Center and a fly fishing shop.

“You mean this guy?” answered Tom Anderson, the friendly co-owner of the Rendezvous Grill and Tap Room, just across the road and east of the Wemme sign.

He was responding to the question, “Who is the person that defines Wemme.”

Anderson walked over to a framed black-and-white photo of a man standing next to a steam-powered automobile named, “Old Scout.”

“That’s Henry Wemme, and next to him is Billy Welch,” Anderson said.

Welch and Wemme were major players in the area around the turn of the last century. Wemme, a German immigrant, made his fortune selling tents to prospectors heading off to the Klondike Gold Rush.

“Old Scout” was actually the first automobile in Oregon, and Wemme is the man who brought it here in 1899. We can also thank Wemme for the Barlow Road, which he purchased in 1912 for $5,400, and then left it to the people of Oregon at his death two years later.

Wemme and Welch beg the comparison between Romulus and Remus, the legendary brothers responsible for the founding of Rome. As the (extremely abridged) story goes, Romulus beat out his brother for influence when naming the new city, and so Rome it became, leaving Remus to the scrap pile of history.by: POST PHOTO: NEIL ZAWICKI - A lone sign along Highway 26 keeps alive the memory of Henry Wemme.

Like Wemme, Welch was influential in the area. He ran a hotel and a collection of vacation cottages, and acted as postmaster. This is ironic, because as Anderson points out, there used to be a post office attached to a grocery store in Wemme, and of course a post office begets a ZIP code, and as a consequence, a town. The Wemme post office turned into a video store in the 1980s and then a real estate office. Next, it became a ski shop, and today it’s the fly fishing shop.

“I’m 66 years old, so I’ve been here 66 years,” said Joyce Trask, an employee at the fly fishing shop. “Back when this was the post office and the store, we had the lockers across the street, where everybody would store their meat in freezers after hunting and fishing trips. We basically had the lockers and the Lion’s club and the post office.”

In 1977, Wemme was to be the name for the greater area, because there was no post office in Welches. It was only when the Wemme post office was closed and a new facility was built a little farther east that local resident Bill White petitioned to name the area to reflect the new location. And so, Welches became Romulus to Wemme’s Remus.

Today, maybe as a courtesy, all that remains of Henry Wemme and his legacy is a small sign that bears his name, which serves no purpose other than to pay respect to the man and the mark he left. Who knows, maybe just outside Rome there’s a little sign, chiseled in Latin, long since forgotten, that reads, “Remus.”

It’s possible.