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Virgil Maddax: West Linn's Boat Builder

Editor’s note: On the second Thursday of each month the Tidings will feature an article about West Linn’s rich history written by members of the West Linn Historical Society.

The property now known as Maddax Woods, a West Linn park at the north end of River Street was once the site of a thriving boat building business.

Soon after Virgil Maddax married Dorothy Sommer in 1941, they rented a canoe and paddled up the Willamette River looking for a piece of land where Virgil could build and launch boats. They found and purchased the perfect property along the river in West Linn, and Virgil soon began building a house for the newlyweds to live in.

But with only the foundation completed, a man from Newport asked Virgil to build a boat for him. The house was put on hold, Virgil built a boat barn and he and Dorothy lived in an 8’ x 15’ tool shed for two years while he split time between building boats and the house.

Virgil Maddax was born August 28, 1898, in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Maddax family moved to Oregon City when Virgil was 3 years old. His father worked in logging and farming. As a young man, Virgil worked in commercial fishing out of Astoria fishing for Pacific Salmon.

In the late 1920s, Virgil built his first boat, the Loretta, in Oregon City.

Virgil built a reputation for his boat building, constructing ocean-going boats 40 to 60 feet in length. Most of the boats Virgil built were wooden, but his last three built boats were steel-hulled. He was featured in the magazine Pacific Motor Boat. Some of the boats he built include the Hornet (built in 1941), Ceres (1942), Lucky Strike (1948), Blue Sea (1949), Blue Belle (1961) Lorrayne (1966) and the Mar Azul (1969). The Lorrayne, a 60 foot steel-hulled pleasure boat was built for J.T. Low of Beaver Creek. Low sailed the Lorrayne to Alaska, Mexico and Europe.

Virgil died on October 31, 1991 at the age of 93. Dorothy continued to live on their property until her death on September 13, 1999. They bequeathed the land to the City of West Linn to be used as a passive park. The Friends of Maddax Woods formed in 2001 to maintain the grounds and restore Dorothy’s gardens. Another goal is to rebuild Virgil’s boat barn to be used as an interpretive center. The Friends have been holding their annual Lighting of the Woods since 2004.

For more information about the historical society, go to westlinnhistory.org or email info@westlinnhistory.org.

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