Chapter 1: Big River, Big Building, Big Business
The building now called Skamakowa Landing, built in 1911, once was a center of community life. Large stern wheel steamboats visited daily on trips between Portland and Astoria, Oregon, serving Skamakowa’s active life as a lumber town and trading center. The building housed a general store, theater and dance hall, and warehouse areas. Without roads to outside areas, the community depended on river transportation for freight and passenger movement. The historic town of Skamokawa, listed on the National Register, once was one of the largest towns (population about 500) in Washington Territory when the Columbia River was the only highway.
Chapter 2: The Owl Sanctuary
The river traffic came to a sudden end in the early 1930’s when Skamakowa was connected to the state highway system. The town’s population declined. The waterfront business district literally became “road kill” as people began to travel and transport their goods on pavement. Humans moved out; owls and other undomesticated creatures moved in. The adjacent hotel, shingle mill, other neighboring buildings and the large docks deteriorated. Only this building and some pilings remained on the once-bustling waterfront. When heirs of the pioneering founders listed the property for sale in the 1960’s, it had endured thirty years at the mercy of weather and wildlife. Who would buy a 12,000 square foot fixer-upper in a remote and relatively unpopulated area? Even the expansive river view, the property’s best feature, was hidden in overgrown brush and trees.
Chapter 3: A Face Only an Engineer Could Love
By chance two partners in a Seattle construction business took notice. When they approached the building through the surrounding vegetation they looked past gaping windows and peeled paint to the superior craftsmanship and materials, largely old-growth Douglas fir. The building retained a remarkable degree of structural integrity. The men had engineering backgrounds as well as construction experience. They knew they could save the building, but only if they started soon. As to why they wanted to save it…well, some people want to climb mountains.
Chapter 4: Big River, Big Building, Big Views
Immediately after acquiring the property the new owners did only what was essential to preserve the structure and prevent further ravages by time and the elements. For another twenty years it stood vacant. In 1986 one of the partners acquired sole ownership of the building and undertook its restoration as a retirement project. Now designated as Skamokawa Landing, once again it is a building of multiple uses. The new life of Skamakowa Landing is quieter. Still commanding its beautiful setting, it appeals to us today because the bustling commerce of its early days has retreated, and nature is in the foreground.