The directions I was given to get to the cemetery was, "to turn right onto the first dirt road when the road pavement ended and gravel began". Seemed simple enough. So when the pavement of the road turned to gravel, I turned right. The road to the right ended up being a private driveway that led to an active homestead belonging to a family that are wheat farmers. I saw no cemetery.
The story that shrouds the house is mysterious and full of strange secrets. You are going to be intrigued! The story told to me is bizarre, and the unknown that envelops the house, is going to leave you walking away wanting to know more. Join me while I tell you the story behind... "House on the Hill".
I was on a two week adventure, seeking out old pioneer cemeteries throughout the rolling hills of Oregon's wheat-belt region when I, in-a-sense, stumbled upon one of the largest abandoned homes I have ever encountered in Oregon.
What happens next became one of the highlights to my adventures visiting this region of Oregon.
Much like having to wait for water to boil, the night seemed to pass ever so slowly. I started hearing things, things like the sound of footsteps moving slowly through the stubble section of a recently cut wheat field. I got up several times to turn on the headlights of my car to break the darkness and to illuminate the house to make sure it was still there...or better yet, to make sure nothing or no one from the house was coming out to visit me. Yes, I was getting spooked. It was easy to get spooked!
But, like I said, the imagination can really get the best of you. The slow moving footsteps ended up being from a couple of mule deer cautiously crossing the field between the house and my camp. I had a good reason to feel spooked, for I was told shadows of a human form and a dim light have been observed in the second floor window of the house on more than one occasion. Morning could not come sooner!
Expensive counters, sinks and an elegant porcelain trimmed wood stove filled the kitchen. Small potbelly wood stoves were throughout the house. The doors were hand carved with wonderful stained glass windows. Most of the windows were stained glass and/or had decorative insets around the outside of the window.
One of the upstairs rooms had a sewing mannequin in it indicating the woman of the house most likely designed and made her own dresses and clothing for her family as well as designed for others.
She was a small standing woman, only 4'11". But don't be fooled by her small stature. It appears she was a tough one, for her husband did everything he could to appease her by building everything in the house to fit her small size. Yet having such an immaculate custom built home, to be better than the "Jone's", she hated everything about the house.
In less than a year of living in the house, the 4'11" woman "had-it-up-to-here" and was fed up. One afternoon she quickly gathered up the family and walked out in a hurry, and in a strange twist to the story...they never came back. Even stranger, they left everything behind. What was it about the house that made them flee and never return? It was built in a perfect location next to an active year-round spring. The house would have been every pioneer's family dream house. Why did they leave? I wanted to know more!
The Family moved to a small town on the Columbia River and lived above the town where they continued to farmed the land there. Before the region became the Wheat-Belt, much of this part of Oregon was overran with sheep farming.
Shaniko Oregon was a railroad terminus established in 1900, and quickly earned the title of the largest inland wool shipping center in the world by 1903. Sheep were very much woven into the lifestyle of this turn of the century family, and based on the "no-expense-spared" mentality with the construction of such an elaborate house, they made a lot of money from wool farming. Journals were found in the house about their sheep, counting lambs, ewes, and rams that supports this financial theory.
The Lady of the farm, who grew up with the house, recalls some of her childhood memories about the House on the Hill.
"My brother and I would explore in the house but we were never in there for long. We always were a bit creeped out by it. It sits up on the hill, with a lone dead tree. That is sort of spooky thing for a kid. When we did go, we would look through everything. They left a lot of stuff behind.
They also must have had children. The room in the back of the house on the bottom floor had two twin beds and an old wooden toy box. We use to play with the toys up there and I can only take a couple to our house. I wanted to know what they were. We use to imagine living there and wondering what it was like."
"The house did not have electricity so we only played in the house during the day. Several times we were scared and felt like there were ghosts in the house. Of course with the windows missing, the doors, curtains, and other things would flap, rattle, or move with the wind. One time we went upstairs, after being told not to because it was not safe, and the door to the right of the stairs started to slowly open. We caught sight of someone. We screamed and ran down the stairs and out of the house. Once our bravery returned, we proceeded back up into the master bedroom to discovered that the 'someone' we thought we saw was just the dressed mannequin. We use to sneak our friends up there to scare them with the mannequin. We thought it was so funny."
Once word got out that a fully furnished abandoned home ripe for the picking was near, looter's came and took everything that wasn't nailed down. Once all of that was gone, looter's returned for the windows. They hacked off the doors and ripped out the wooden banister. Looter's took the wood panels off the walls. They tore out the chimney bricks and even the pillars out front that once greeted guest to the porch.
One day in the 1980's her father caught two elderly ladies carrying off the velvet seating couch. There are no road to the house so they had to have accessed the property from the south side of the ranch. He made the thieves return the couch, and made them walk back off the property.
Others came for the pure idiotic joy and recklessness of wanting to vandalize something that wasn't theirs to destroy.
Please respect the owners request and do not trespass onto their property to get closer to the house.
Little did I know that while out in search of an old abandoned pioneer cemetery, I would stumble upon a piece of unique pioneer history relatively unknown to the general public. That mistake of turning up the wrong driveway was a mistake worth making.
A special thanks to the owners of the old house for letting me invade their space, letting me camp in the field, take pics of the old house, and gain interesting and unique information and history about...The House on the Hill.