Mt St Helens Community Stories
Castle Rock, a small Southwest Washington city, was known as the gateway to nearby Mt. St. Helens long before the mountains 1980 eruption.
Situated beside the Cowlitz River along Interstate Highway 5, the town was named by its first postmaster, William Huntington, when he established a post office in his home in 1854. The name came from a huge rock outcropping on his property along the river, a landmark known to river pilots as the castle rock because of its appearance. Thanks to its proximity to the Cowlitz and Toutle Rivers, and a mainline railroad which runs through it, Castle Rock presented an ideal location for several sawmills that provided employment for its populace in the town's early years. As the local sawmills disappeared over a period of time, most Castle Rock working men found jobs in the logging industry or at sawmills in nearby Longview. Castle Rock currently has a population of about 2,101.
Considering their small populations, Castle Rock and the nearby un-incorporated Toutle area have produced an amazing number of nationally known logging show champions.
Best known for their exploits were Hap Johnson and Paul Searls, world champions in their specialties for many years.
Johnson, of Castle Rock, was tree topping champion for 16 years, all around best logger for four years and axe throwing champion for three years. He was actor John Wayne's stand-in for climbing action scenes in the movie "North to Alaska," and demonstrated his skills on several national television programs.
Searls, of Toutle, was champion log bucker for 30 years, and was featured on TV programs such as "You Asked For It" and others. The highlight of a dedication ceremony for California's famed Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 was a log bucking contest in which Searls sawed through a redwood log in two minutes, forty seven and two fifths seconds to defeat a champion from Idaho. He too was a guest performer on a number of TV shows. See story of logger poet.
CASTLE ROCK EXHIBIT HALL
The Castle Rock Exhibit Hall, dedicated on the 10th anniversary of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, is one of North Cowlitz County's featured attractions for visitors. Operated by the nonprofit Castle Rock Exhibit Hall Society, the facility has three galleries of exhibits, displays and photographs portraying the area's history and culture. Those exhibits include Cowlitz Indian artifacts, logging carvings, sawmilling, logging displays, a Smithsonian Institution exhibit depicting the Mt. St. Helens blast zone, pre-eruption and post eruption pictures of the mountain and Spirit Lake, and other exhibits. The Exhibit Hall also includes a demonstration area that hosts annual quilt shows, holiday wreathmaking and other events, and a small store featuring books by several local residents among its merchandise. In the front of the building is a Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center that provides tourists brochures, maps and information about Mt. St. Helens and other Washington and Oregon tourist attractions.
In the weeks preceding the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, legendary Harry Truman, delighted children with his warmth and determination as he visited schools to explain why he would never leave his beloved Mt. St. Helens Lodge.
Truman, not to be confused with the late President Harry Truman, could also be cantankerous, grouchy and profane. He reportedly ran off the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas after their first encounter at Spirit Lake, although the two later became close friends.
When Truman once happened upon burglars ransacking his quarters, one of the intruders struck him in the head with a club. Although injured, the angered lodge owner jumped into his truck and chased the thugs down Spirit Lake Highway before they managed to elude him. Truman operated the lodge over 50 years before losing his life in the eruption.
Hollywood Gorge, a scenic spot along the Toutle River near Castle Rock, owes its name to a movie filmed in part there in 1937. Spectacular waters at the site were ideal for action scenes in the film, "God's Country and the Woman," featuring George Brent and Beverly Roberts in lead roles, supported by other well known actors such as Alan Hale Sr., Barton MacLane Mushy Callahan and Roscoe Ates. Bette Davis was the original choice for the female lead, but turned the role down. Several local residents appeared in the movie in logging and action scenes.
Much excitement was generated in 1924 with reports that a miner's cabin in a Mt. St. Helens canyon had been attacked by large, hairy creatures. Huge footprints were found in there, but the elusive beings thought to be Sasquatch were nowhere to be seen. In later years several individuals claimed the attack was a prank and said the giant footprints were artificially made.
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