Annual Willamette Living History Tour shares history and flavor of West Linn in 1908

by: VERN UYETAKE - Tourists start the Willamette Living History Tour off with a carriage ride down Knapps Alley.Take a step back in time. Climb up on a horse-drawn carriage and be swept away to West Linn in 1908.

The fifth annual Willamette Living History Tour will be held Saturday evening. So, if you are in the Willamette neighborhood, don’t be alarmed to see horses, carriages, cows and people dressed in period SUBMITTED - The 2011 cast of the Willamette Living History Tour dresses in historical clothing to set the stage of life in Willamette in 1908.

Each year, a cast and crew of more than 90 people work to recreate life in Willamette as it was 100 years ago. From costumes to scripts, to lanterns, the history tour strives to replicate the lives and histories of Willamette’s earliest residents.

The tour is actually a play, with scenes at 11 different historical homes just off of Willamette Falls Drive. Tour participants will travel in groups, starting in a horse-drawn carriage from Lavender Bleu tea shop and make their way to Knapps Alley. In preparation for the tour, the alley turns back its clocks, removing cars, lighting lanterns and turning on porch lights.

“It’s kind of magical,” said Beth Smolens, tour producer and president of the Willamette Neighborhood Association. “They leave 2012. It’s very, very quaint.”

The first stop is a home on Sixth Avenue where participants will watch a scene with a choir (performed by a barbershop quartet), a woman and Reverend Blackwell discussing the finishing touches of the Willamette United Methodist Church.

From there, tour participants will walk to each location, led by a guide dressed in a period costume.

“We have to turn back the clock and make it 1908,” Smolens said, noting the year the town of Willamette formed.

One stop includes an argument over a loose cow traipsing through town, leaving hoofprints in fresh cement. The actual hoofprints can be seen on 14th Street by Fourth Avenue, declared Smolens.

The play was created in 2008 in honor of Willamette’s centennial. It was such a huge success, the tradition has continued. The play was originally created by Nicole and Danny Schreiber, who had seen a similar event in California.

“What better way to know more about the history of Willamette than to experience first-hand?” said Danny Schreiber, who continues to direct the production. The Schreibers live on Sixth Street, and their home is one of the stops on the tour.

Every story told along the tour is straight from Willamette history, from the characters to the events, such as the “theft” of Ellis Hughes’ meteorite.

The last stop of the tour is at West Linn City Councilor Jody Carson’s historic home.

“The inside of her home is like a museum,” Smolens said.

In the home, Carson serves the new Willamette council tea while they discuss the formation of the new town.

Most of the actors are returning locals who have repeatedly participated in the tour, but there are also some volunteer actors. The largest roles are those of the tour guides, who narrate the scenes and lead the VERN UYETAKE - A loose cow is to blame for leaving hoofprints in fresh cement in the historic neighborhood of Willamette.

Work on the tour begins in April each year with things really ramping up a few weeks before the production. Smolens said a lot of work goes into coordinating the tour. New this year is the addition of an old-time baseball tournament that will take place before the tour at 2 p.m. at Willamette Park. Four teams, the Willamettes, the Clackamas Nine, the Portland Pioneers and the Occidental Base Ball Club, will duke it out using the rules from the 1860s. The baseball game is free and open to everyone.

After the game, the baseball players might be spotted adding to the ambience of the Willamette neighborhood.

Though this year’s tour is sold out, be on the lookout to purchase tickets next July for the 2013 tour, which marks West Linn’s centennial. Smolens said they plan on rewriting the tour to take place in 1913 to reflect the passage of 100 years in the city.

“It’s not just about the place. ... It’s like our own version of ‘Brigadoon.’ The enthusiasm for bringing the tour back annually has been overwhelming,” Smolens said.

For more information, visit This program has been made possible, in part, by the city of West Linn through the West Linn Community Grant VERN UYETAKE - A barbershop quartet performs each year as part of the Willamette Living History Tour.

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