Wapinitia is a tiny ranch community about 15 miles from Simnasho and a few miles from Hwy 216. We’ve ridden through here so many times, and always been intrigued by glimpses of old buildings through the trees. After our ride through here last weekend, I told Mike I wanted a closer look, so we gathered our buddy Steve and headed out.
First stop was the beautiful old church at Simnasho.
This Presbyterian Mission has not been in use since the mid-1960’s. After walking around and trying to avoid the standing water, I realized what I thought was an old downed fence line was actually an ancient boardwalk. Seeing how muddy and swampy the ground is right now, that boardwalk probably came in pretty handy!
Next stop is 15 miles down the road, Wapinitia. We asked a local, and found out we’ve been saying it wrong all along, it’s Wapa-nee-t-siha.
This town was founded in the mid 1800’s, with a post office opening on March 21, 1878 (closed on Feb 8, 1935). The Wapinitia post office was established as the southern terminal for The Dalles to Wapinitia stage line, 47 miles southeast of The Dalles on Wapinitia or Juniper Flat. The original location was about 1 mile west of where Wapinitia stands now. It was moved to its present location at some point before the 1880, to the junction with the Warm Springs Indian Reservation road so as to better serve the people from both localities.
At this time, the creek running through town (see map below) was the divide between the reservation and the flats (the reservation property now stops much closer to Simnasho) which may have been another reason for the location of the town.
Earlier in the week, I found a 1920’s map of this town, showing the location of buildings and a cemetery. I printed it off and we had it with us. Below is the map, colored in with green for the sites we found, red for the buildings the locals said were definitely no longer standing. The rest we are unsure of.
The first building we visit (#32 on the map) is what we thought was a grange hall when we were riding through before, but it’s actually the “new” school’s gymnasium. It’s currently called Wapinitia Hall, and is sometimes used by a theater group, the Town and Country Players.
In front of this is the cement foundation for the “new” school, which had burned down sometime after 1930.
And, unfortunately, what it looks like today:
Next, we wanted to try and find the old cemetery. The map showed it pretty much directly behind the school at #34, and sure enough, there is was.
This tiny cemetery held few graves, but they are in remarkable shape. I took photos of most, but forgot to note the engravings on some.
HT and CE Corum
Nov 25 1886
JA and EJ Noble
Oct 27 1888
Aged 4 years, 5 mos & 4 ds
Died Nov. 27, 1916
Age 7 Mos.
Darling We Love Thee
Dec 23, 1890
Aged 21 Y’s, 9 mo’s, ? Da’s
I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh
Tomas or Thomas T. Woodruff
?? 12, 1889
Gone but not forgotten
Eliza H. Davis
Dec ??, 1844
?? 19, 1904
?? Mo.s 7 Days
Aug 28, 1843
Apr. 12, 1909
Jan. 4, 1895
Mike is not a big fan of cemeteries, so I was happy he was willing to pause here for a few minutes. I love anything that gives me perspective on how short our time here is, and old cemeteries certainly do that. To see even marble begin to crumble and fail after 100 years, and know how little of who we were will be around in 500 or 1,000 years, makes me wonder if anything but love and family are really worth spending time on.
Sobered and quiet, we headed down the road a bit, towards what was the Barzee hotel (#19). The building is now for sale, and has had some extensive (and relatively odd) renovations over the years.
I can’t find any information about the Barzee family, other than knowing they owned the hotel we were currently touring!
Inside we found our very own Mystery House. With the lack of level surfaces, a walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night could be quite the “trippy” experience here.
- Oh rats, back to normal.
So, our question was why there were two hotels in this town so far away from the railway? From online research, I found that there was a Dalles to Wapinitia Concord Stage Coach line which was started sometime in the 1880’s, and continued at least to 1897. Mr. Ortley owned many of the town’s stores and one hotel (I don’t know if this was the Barzee or the Harphram). Ortley took on a Mr. Davis as partner of the store and hotel in 1882. In 1885 Mr. Davis acquired ownership of The Dalles to Wapinitia stage line which he operated, with the help of his sons William and Edward until his death in 1897.
Our next stop is a church on the hill (#21). Still standing, but in pretty sorry shape. I’m glad we took the time to walk up hill and see this gem hidden in the juniper trees.
After a quick stop to say hello to some friendly locals of the hoofed variety,
We head down the road towards a road marked “Road” on the map (descriptive, ain’t it?). Every time we ride through here, I love seeing this little old shed with its bowed out sides – looks like someone has completely overstuffed the thing until it’s ready to burst.
Walking down the road towards what we think are #8 and #9 on the map, we are greeted by a dad, mom, and their three kids.
This family is living on the same property where the husband’s granparents grew up. This sweet little homestead is still healthy and liveable. We especially appreciate the gingerbread and three-sided window at the back of the house.
A few more minutes goofing around with some signs laying on the ground,
it’s time to get back on the bikes and find some grub in Maupin.
More history on this area is available through the wonderful Wasco County history website.
Here’s some information condensed from that site:
First school was opened sometime in the early 1880’s
Hiram Cormn had a store in the early 1880’s
The very early post offices was one mile west of Wapinitia. A plot was donated by the Corums,early storekeepers at Wapinitia There 3 infant daughters was buried there,the 1st in nov.of 1885.
Two hotels, a livery stable, a blacksmith shop, and the ever present saloon or “gallon house” all existed in the 1800’s.
E.M. Hartman and son Earnest. built a general merchandise store of approximately 10,000 square feet of space in 1900, including groceries, apparel, household items, school supplies and machinery.
In1912-13 a modern two room school was built that provided education for grades 1-10.
In about 1910 a church was built through community effort;There was a resident minister and a active congregation.
By 1915 there were two general stores, a blacksmith shop, a post office located within one of the stores, a pool hall, and still one gallon house.
In 1915 there was a three year high school and still grade school. 1918-19 the high school was standardized and had 4 grades.
In addition to the Wapinitia school on the flat were Pine Grove, Oak Grove, Victor, Batty, Derthick,and Fairview which had grade schools only, so they attended the Wapinitia high school.
The Commercial Club was very active, with a good brass band.
Water was scarce, there were few wells; majority of households had to haul water in long wagons, storing it in cisterns. People who had seep wells were very fortunate. Irrigation was still a dream, as it had been since the 1800’s. Water from the mountains for irrigation came to Juniper Flat around 1920.
Roads were unimproved, inches deep in dust in summer and hub deep in mud in winter. The first improvement in roads was when the market road from Wapinitia to the lower end of the Flat was built in 1922 or 23. That was gravel, not paved. Pavement started in 1927.
The 1930’s saw the gradual change from horses to tractors for farming.
REA brought a welcome change in the lives of all in 1927 — electicity.
History, maps, and other information gratefully gleaned from the following sites:
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