Every Trail Tells a Tale
By Cindy Weeldreyer
The theme of the 59th Bohemia Mining Days celebration highlights the history of how our familiar geographical names east of town came to be. Many of the names are traced back to the second half of the 19th Century when early white settlers arrived in Western Oregon to receive free land from “Uncle Sam” in this fertile Eden-like paradise. Today’s road names reflect their proximity to nearby rivers and creeks and memorialize the names of early settlers of this area.
Brice Creek: This stream originates in the Cascade foothills and flows into Row River. It was named for Frank Brass, an early prospector. He fell into the stream on a prospecting trip and a companion named the creek for him. Somewhere along the way the spelling changed to Brice. Until 1943, it was known as Frank Brice Creek. That year the U.S Book of Geographical Names simplified it to Brice Creek.
Culp Creek: The name has two noted origins. One story is its namesake was John Culp, who was born in Missouri in 1858. According to his obituary in the Cottage Grove Sentinel, Mr. Culp spent most of his early life in Cottage Grove working as a laborer, which could’ve been in the mines or the woods. He and his wife, Minnie, had six children. He died on June 26, 1926, at the age of 67 in Seattle, where his daughter lived. The local history book, Golden Was the Past, indicates the first settlers in the Wildwood area changed the name to Culp Creek after a clear, cold water spring nearby.
Currin Covered Bridge: The bridge honors William Currin who was born in Virginia in 1818. He endured hardships along the Oregon Trail to arrive in Oregon in the fall of 1850. For the next three years he engaged in packing into the mines of Southern Oregon and Northern California. He obtained one of the federal donation land claims and spent the rest of his life in the Row River Valley. His obituary in the April 27, 1900 Bohemia Nugget states, “He retained the friendship and respect of those who knew him through a long life to the end.”
Disston: An enterprising Disston Saw salesman (whose name has been lost in history) visited sawmill owner J.I. Jones and offered to give Mr. Jones two circular saws if he would name the new town, Disston. The mill operated only three years (1906-1909), however the name stuck. Today the unincorporated community is just a wide spot on Row River Road serving as the gateway to the picturesque Rujada Campground.
Dorena Lake & Covered Bridge: In the 1850’s, the first settlers in the Row River Valley were farmers and ranchers. They agreed they would combine the first names of Dora Burnette and Lorena Martin to name their community. The school was built in 1896 and a post office was opened in 1899. In 1946, the town was abandoned then flooded in 1949, after the U.S. Corps of Engineers completed the Dorena Dam to control flooding in the Willamette Valley. About 100 homes were moved five miles upriver to the current unincorporated town.
Layng Road connects Row River and Mosby Creek Roads with a covered bridge on each end. On the north end of the road is the red and white Currin Covered Bridge, named after an early pioneer family. It was closed to vehicular traffic in 1979. Layng Road honors George Layng, the first homesteader in the nearby community of Disston. He and neighbor Ben Pitcher often packed into the Bohemia area in search of gold.
Mosby Creek & Covered Bridge: David Mosby was born in Kentucky in 1822 and traversed the Oregon Trail with his pack mule arriving here in 1852. He and his wife Isabel built a log cabin and raised their family along the creek that today bears their name. Built in 1920, it is the oldest wooden bridge in Lane County -- and one you can still drive through!
Row River: The beautiful Row River begins as a trickle high in the Bohemia Mining District southeast of town and tumbles its way to the Willamette Valley floor. The tale of this familiar name is a bitter one. Originally called the East Fork of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River, the name was changed between 1866 and 1888, after a long-running dispute between two pioneer families over sheep and cattle grazing rights ended in murder. One version tells of two boys of one family meeting the elder man from the other family north of the original Dorena School, which now lies at the bottom of the lake. The older man was mortally wounded with one rifle shot and from that day on the river was called Row (to rhyme with cow).
Sharps Creek: The creek and road honor Joseph H. “Bohemia” Sharp, a civil engineer who built the first road into the Bohemia Mining District for $1,500, which Lane County promised reimbursement but never paid. Oddly, there are two different obituaries for him. They conflict on his birthplace (Tennessee or Ohio). One says to avoid fighting in the Civil War, he headed for Oregon in 1862 and served as Eugene’s first postmaster and then as Cottage Grove’s postmaster. He left the postal service and purchased claims in the new Bohemia Mining District. He came from a wealthy family before the war. His uncle invented the Sharp’s rifle used in the war. The other obituary says he was a pioneer merchant, preacher, and physician and makes no mention of his civil engineering or postal service work. Regardless of the discrepancies, his road remains.
Bohemia Mining District Roads: In 1858, Dr. W.W. Ogelsby finds gold in Sharps Creek. In 1867, the Bohemia Trail was built from Oakland. Joseph Knott wins a claim in 1867 and completes the first wagon road (The Knott Trail) in 1874, where he sets up the first stamp mill. The Noonday Company of Chicago purchased the Annie Mine from Dr. Ogelsby and turned the Annie Trail into the Noonday Road, the first true road into the mining district. In 1899, Hardscrabble Road, up Sharps Creek, was constructed by Lane County and became the first public road into the district. In 1902, construction began on the Champion Creek Road leading to the Champion Mine. It was completed in 1926 by the U.S. Forest Service.
And now you know the rest of the story! However, if you’re still craving more history on The Mosbys, Bohemia Sharp, and the Row River Feud, don’t miss the Bohemia City Players’ performances on the Heritage Stage during the festival.
Performance times: Thursday: 6:30 p.m.; Friday & Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m.
Heartfelt thanks to members of the Cottage Grove Genealogical Society, the Cottage Grove Historical Society, the Bohemia Gold Mining Museum, and the Cottage Grove Museum for researching and contributing information for this article.