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A stroll back in time

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - Willamette Historical Society President Beth Smolens chats with members of a local Red Hat Society, there as audience members for the Living History Tour Sept. 19 in West Linn. Sixty-five.

There were 65 actors in the Living History Lantern Light Tour Saturday night. I counted. And that doesn’t include the extras and the production crew. How has a town as small as West Linn mustered that much dedication and talent every year for the past eight?

When I started work at the Tidings there were a few things I was told I should not miss and I haven’t. No one told me the Living History Tour — put on by the West Linn Historical Society — was a sure thing but I figured that out myself after hearing the event title.

They had me at history.

When I arrived in the Willamette Historic District on the night of the tour, actors milled about in astonishingly elaborate costumes for such a small town production. The program is set in 1913, before West Linn existed as it does now and when all the neighboring villages — Weslynn, West Oregon City, Sunset, Bolton and Willamette — were bustling with growth and excitement. It didn’t take long for the show to catch the audience up in the whirl.

As we strolled from historic home to home along quiet streets, we ‘met’ the neighbors who lived in those homes and surrounding streets in 1913. Eavesdropping on their conversations and interactions with friends and neighbors, it was easy to feel a part of the action.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: LESLIE PUGMIRE HOLE - In addition to the vignettes put on for the strolling audience, extras were liberally sprinkling throughtout the neighborhood, adding to the ambiance.

We first dropped in on the Snidow house (which still had the family name stamped on its walkway), listening to a parlor full of people discuss current events, town gossip and political goings-on. On our way to the Capen home we happened across three nervous women on the way to a temperance meeting. They were waylaid by a itinerant salesman, promising cures big on hope (and alcohol) and low on effectiveness.

As the sun slipped behind the hills and the evening became quiet and still, neighbors out for a stroll passed, him in a bowler at and her head laden with an enormous hat decked out with flowers. A horse clopped down the street with a sidesaddle rider.

The Capens were celebrating upcoming nuptials with a bridal shower while the next block over the groom-to-be and friends spoke of their futures: work, wives and possibly war. We walked by a group of young people attempting — without much luck — to court each other. And nearby, a gathering of women in a crowded parlor, there to discuss temperance, managed to slip in some gossip that left us all intrigued.

In an ornate Craftsman house the town sheriff, mayor and local businessmen talked politics. It seems the town of Willamette was under threat of absorption from neighboring West Linn, the city was desperately in need of a dependable water source and lawsuits and rancor were abundant.

While we heard people debate the folly of air-delivered mail, in other ways the evening showed that history changes little.

As the evening wound down with a wagon ride back to Willamette Falls Drive I pondered what I had seen and experienced: the time, dedication and resources it must have taken to put on such an event.

While West Linn has no museum or place to share the objects and stories of 100-plus years, it obviously has a population dedicated to its history and the stories of a place and its people. And that is a cause worth supporting.

Leslie Pugmire Hole is editor of the West Linn Tidings.