Monday, October 17, 2011

Grading the Grove

10/5/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Grading the Grove

As I write this, it is late Sept. and a groundswell of activity to save the Dr. Pierce Barn from destruction has begun again. An informal group has been busy getting the word out that the campaign to save the barn is still very much alive. This enthusiastic group of volunteers has accepted the challenge to do whatever it takes to get financial support for the Grove’s gem of a barn.

Cathy Bellavita describes the effort to save the barn as “simply people who love the Dr. Pierce Barn doing what they can to save it. By spreading the word we just may find the person who wants to love it for just what it is: an in-town mini farm with an irreplaceable historic barn and all the ingredients needed to become a successful commercial enterprise and tourist attraction for Cottage Grove.”

This on-going effort to save this old barn has caused people from all walks of life (such as myself) to dig down deep and ask themselves why the barn is so important. Frankly, to some people it’s not important at all. They could live the rest of their lives without seeing the fading barn façade again.

Others, like myself, believe it is very important to save prominent landmarks. Reminders of the past bring joy and perspective to the present. Just thinking about all the animals, changes and decades that old barn has survived is good for the soul.

All across the country, people are recognizing that small town gems like Dr. Pierce’s barn are priceless.

By pure happenstance, I found a website featuring towns that appreciate Americana. The site is and the pictures took my breath away the first time I clicked the link. The site is not affiliated with any person or organization promoting their municipality. They are like the Consumer Reports of small towns.

The site attempts to be an unbiased source of information about places to visit with populations of 10,000 or less. They define why people like me enjoy strolling the streets of old towns and soaking up the ambiance of yesterday. I decided to see how or if Cottage Grove measures up to their standards.

First, “Small Town Gems” reminded me of what I already know — a desirable small town and its architectural gems will touch your heart and make you want to stay awhile. Cottage Grove definitely passed the following emotional tests:
1. Does this town remind you of a Currier and Ives print?
2. Do you think to yourself “I can’t wait to tell my friends about this place?”
3. Do you wonder if your camera has enough capacity?
4. Is this place similar to the town where your grandmother was raised?
5. Could this be the great retirement location you’ve been searching for?
6. Would this be a safe, wholesome place to raise children?

‘Gems’ uses lots of adjectives to describe what appeals to such tourists: “historic, small, quaint, charming and romantic.” Places such as “historic districts, attractive store fronts on Main Street, antique shops, art stores, boutiques, Victorian homes and bed and breakfast lodging.” Towns are described with phrases such as ‘A step back in time,’ a ‘picture postcard’ or ‘small town Americana at its best.’”

The ‘gems’ website outlines 34 of the criteria that earn their approval. A few of those are: Distinctive architecture, numerous buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, bike or walking path, lampposts, fountains, luxurious tree and flower landscaping, art galleries, antique stores, specialty boutiques, nearby college or university, gourmet coffee shops and bakery, ice cream parlor, free summertime park concerts, proximate to a lake, clean, easily accessible public restrooms, wooden picket or wrought iron fences, unusual scenery, a vintage train station with antique locomotive offering excursion rides and iron or covered bridges.

Towns that don’t merit their approval are clearly defined. Back in the day, we used to say, “they know how to call a spade, a spade.” ‘Gems’ comes right out and says that not all old small towns are considered special. And it’s good to remember that the word ‘old’ does not necessarily mean historic. Sometimes ‘old’ is just that—old:

“Thousands of small towns in this country advertise their downtown areas as ‘historic.’ The difference between historic and historic district can be as severe as the difference between rap and rhapsody. The term historic should be used to designate structures of historical significance. Unfortunately, in many towns, historic simply means old. And all too often, historic is used to describe buildings in such a chronic state of disrepair that they should be bulldozed from terminal neglect…and unless a municipality displays an official federal or state historic district emblem, ignore the historic baloney.”

If a picture is worth a thousand words, you really need to check out the website The photos of their chosen towns are inspiring. Check out the murals at Barnesville, GA; the windmill in Pella, Iowa; the boat docks at Stillwater, Minnesota; the water tower shaped and hand- painted like a fancy coffee pot in Stanton, Iowa. There are 46,185 photos to keep you busy on this site.

FYI: This month, my husband and I are going to be checking out one of these landmarks and I’ll report back on how it meets the criteria.

But what do you think? Does Cottage Grove measure up to ‘Gem’ standards? Personally, I think we have many first-rate stones. They just need to be polished and appreciated. Once everyone is aware of their worth, there will never be a question of whether or not we want to keep an advertising barn icon of 1912 or spend the money on an hand carved, old-fashioned 1920s carousel. We will keep and upkeep our precious heirlooms here at home and in the family.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Efforts to save Dr. Pierce's Barn collapse

Photo by Cathy Bellavita

9/21/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

The news was sad but inevitable. The press release stated, “On Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011, the Historical Society Board of Directors elected not to pursue saving the Dr. Pierce Barn from demolition at this time.”

I was dismayed at the news but not surprised at the collapse of negotiations between the Save the Dr. Pierce Barn Committee and Doug Stout, the barn’s owner. In my opinion, Mr. Stout held the barn hostage for two years, hoping to reap a profit from Cottage Grove’s beloved asset that he purchased for a bargain price in 2009.

This year Stout dangled the prospect of demolishing the barn over the Historical Society’s head if they didn’t come up with a sum of money to purchase it. His position was absolute—the barn had to go. If they didn’t buy it he might even sell it on eBay!

A committee was formed in early summer and diligently compiled information on their options. i.e. should they purchase the entire property; the property that the barn sits on; or dismantle and move the barn elsewhere. Experts were called in to assist in appraisal, real estate options, grant writing and other legalities. The Historic Preservation League of Oregon even sent down a consultant.

But it was too late. Like so many other things in life, this battle was all about the money. No matter how many angles the committee pursued, the real problem was not about maintaining the building or how many horses and cattle that could be kept on the land. The real problem was that the seller wanted more money than the land was worth. Monetary solutions were not available for this situation.

Actually, it was a lost cause from the beginning. The law was always on Stout’s side. The barn may be a public asset but it sits on private property—and the person paying the property taxes owns the barn! He can do what he wants with it. Chew on that for a minute. Why would anyone knowingly buy a public asset that they didn’t want to pay the taxes on? It makes no sense to me.

Having said that, I commend the committee on a difficult but prudent decision. Theirs was a thankless job and I’m not going to beat a dead horse over this issue. It’s done. Unless someone comes up with an extra $350,000 they want to use to purchase the property and renovate the barn—Mr. Stout has won. He held the barn hostage and no one could afford to pay the ransom. He won and we lost.

So now, instead of an historical landmark greeting visitors to our small town, we’re going to have another sterile new building of some kind to define the entrance to CG. Isn’t that special? No. Not at all.

Cottage Grove’s location in the middle of western Oregon means that we attract people from north and south out for a day trip as well as other tourists. We are known as the Covered Bridge Capital of Oregon and the home of the Dr. Pierce Barn. A place of peace.

I hear from people all the time who tell me that they come to Cottage Grove for the old fashioned ambiance. They come to the Grove to visit the barn and the covered bridges built at the turn of the 20th century. They swim and fish in our lakes and run or ride the Row River trail. They spend the night, eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores and slow down.

People care about the past. That’s why we don’t tear down our covered bridges. Right now, the Chambers Railroad Bridge is under restoration and soon to be completed. Mosby Creek Covered Bridge is a favorite photo spot for tourists and weddings. We maintain connections with these bridges because of the magical days of horse and buggy transportation. They are monuments to the past.

We paint murals on our buildings that reflect other eras. If they weren’t important, we would paint the walls basic beige and be done with it. Instead, tourists and residents alike whip out their cameras and record Opal Whitely and Buster Keaton. At one time, the entire Hot Spot Café at Main & Hwy 99 was a mural. The creative painting by artists Cheryl Chapman and Cindy Wolford is now gone.

Losing the Dr. Pierce barn reminds me of another asset that we lost because of a lack of money. Judy and Greg Cash offered the city a historic carousel. This was a genuine, vintage 1920 Allan Herschell unit composed of horses, pigs, rabbits, zebras and a brass ring. Local folks were restoring the animals and excitement was rampant.

But as I said in a column in 2006, carousels don’t make money. They attract money. Parents will drive 100 miles to pay $1.25 to put their kids on a horse and then see what else the community has to offer. They’ll eat lunch, shop the stores and generally spend money.

People responded to the column by the dozens ready and willing to help. But the carousel—like the barn—came with a catch. It needed a home. And again, there was no money to be found for land and upkeep. And the carousel? Last I heard it was languishing in a barn.

Many of you will remember the Blue Goose steam-powered passenger train that chugged out of town and up to Culp Creek on a 31-mile round-trip through the woods. Visitors loved it but the railroad line and train were sold. Thanks to the effort of the Save the Blue Goose Committee in Siskiyou County, the Goose is still chugging along in Yreka. Lucky them.

Do you see a pattern here? Piece by piece, we’re losing parts of our heritage and we’ll never be able to bring them back. Next column I’ll share with you some of the secrets of success that have raised some towns from just ‘old’ to the historically significant level.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

Remembering 9/11 — 10 years later

9/7/11 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

“Americans don’t live in fear. We live in freedom!” Tom Ridge, former governor and Director of Home Security.

It’s hard to believe that 10 years have come and gone since the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on American soil. It seems like just yesterday that the airwaves were filled with the stunning news that would turn the world upside-down. A militant jihad forever generated anger, fear and uncertainty in the hearts of all those who call this land home.

Ten years ago, on that fateful morning, I awoke like many of you, to news of the bombings. Through the haze of sleep I watched a surreal scene unfold on television. In a matter of a few hours, 19 men and four hijacked passenger jets brought down the symbols of our country’s military and financial might, destroying lives and making daily life a nightmare for those who survived.

Two planes crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York ultimately claiming 2,753 victims; a third plane crashed into the Pentagon killing 184 people—many of them children; and a fourth plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA, killing all those aboard. The total loss of life numbered nearly 3,000 and included nationals from over 70-plus countries.

Those who escaped the Twin Towers carnage ran from the scene clothed in dust and ashes, looking like mummies from a horror movie. But this was no movie. It was the real deal. Unable to breathe through the blowing debris, those on the ground didn’t think it could get any worse but it did. The towers imploded and hundreds of rescuers were trapped and died with the other victims.

As the scene played out before our eyes, priorities changed. In the attack zones, survival was the paramount concern. Searchers immediately began staring down the face of Hell as they descended into the rubble and wreckage looking for survivors.

Ground Zero was smoldering hot and superheated. It melted boots and hearts as rescuers searched for survivors. Cottage Grove Pastor Jim Jenkins was part of a team of chaplains who ministered at Ground Zero. His goal was not to cast blame. He said, “I was there to show the love of God in practical ways in the midst of chaos.”

Pat Gartman and Uno (her German Shepherd therapy dog) traveled to NYC with the Red Cross. Their days began at 7 a.m. with a trip through security and time at the Veterinary MASH unit where Uno was fitted with booties to protect him from the heat, tons of debris and broken glass. Daily they walked the pit where Uno was eagerly greeted as he comforted the workers. The grounds of a nearby cemetery were open to help restore him when he got depressed and needed space and a green grass respite.

Around the country, citizens from all walks of life dug deep to generously give money to the rescue effort. Trips abroad were cancelled as we chose to stay home near loved ones. Prayers were offered for the victims, their families, the rescue effort and wisdom for our leaders.

Patriotism swung into high gear. We truly became a nation of “one for all and all for one!” A battle line had been drawn and we Americans were gearing up for a fight. We just didn’t know exactly who we were fighting or why. We would soon learn that this enemy was slippery as an eel, deadly as a rattlesnake and elusive as a ghost.

Our enemy was and is Al-Qaeda, a global Sunni Islamist militant group founded by Osama Bin Laden. As early as 1997 he told CNN, “We declared jihad against the US government …” In 2001 he carried out his plan of destruction. And thus began a decade of epic warfare between the West and the Arab-Muslim world.

The hunt for bin Laden and The War on Terrorism began shortly after the bombings with an invasion of Afghanistan dubbed Operation Enduring Freedom. It took 10 years to hunt him down. He was found in Pakistan and killed at 54 years of age.

Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003 “to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, end Saddam Hussein’s alleged support for terrorism and free the Iraqi people.” No weapons were found but Saddam was executed and no longer poses a threat to us.

So far, tens of thousands of people have been killed. War is an ugly business. This one doesn’t seem to have a stop mechanism.

Looking back, I remember 9/11 as a time of almost unbearable grief.

I remember 9/11 as a time of horror, anger and seeking vengeance. It seemed appropriate to seek retribution and insurance that it wouldn’t happen again.

I also remember 9/11 as a time when Americans were kind and courteous to one another; reserving their anger for more important things such as the perpetrator of a heinous crime.

I remember 9/11 as that time when we were neither Democrat nor Republican. We were Americans standing tall to secure our country against those who wanted to destroy us.

Life is always uncertain but it is even more uncertain since 9/11.
We have learned that it is good to hope for and work toward peace but we must also live realistically.

We have learned that there is no such thing as absolute security. Between bomb attacks at the London underground, shoe bombs and shampoo searches at the airport, each incident makes us even more fearful, goading us into believing that the worst is yet to come.

America will always have enemies but that doesn’t mean that we must live in fear. If we do, the terrorists win. Instead, we must be brave, hopeful, fearlessly vigilant and always follow our dreams.

The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will be commemorated with special events including the dedication of the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC and The Flight 93 National Memorial near Shanksville, PA.

Shalom, everyone. Shalom.

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.