News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Whispers from the past...Is history slipping through our fingers?

Time was — and not that many years ago — that everyone in Sisters knew everyone else. Many of them were related by birth and/or marriage, making early family trees sometimes difficult to follow. Many shared common first names like George, Sarah, and John, providing more confusion.

One of the goals of the Three Sisters Historical Society and the new Sisters History Museum, is to bring those relationships off the paper and to life through stories, photos, family heirlooms, and everyday items that have been saved and handed down through the generations. Surveying those treasures provides a window into the life and times of early Sisters.

Some of those treasures may have been misplaced or forgotten over the years, making for a delightful surprise when they are re-discovered. One board member of the Three Sisters Historical Society, Jan Hodgers, has a wonderful story of how an old family trunk full of letters, photos, receipts, and IOUs was discovered in the former Stevens Hospital in Prineville as they prepared to tear it down.

The Stevens Hospital was started by Sarah Cobb Stevens, whose husband George was a judge in Prineville. Sarah’s mother, Martha Taylor Cobb Hindman (Hodgers’ great great grandmother), gave the trunk to Sarah for safe keeping and with time it was forgotten.

A woman at the hospital knew Hodgers’ mother, a descendant of the Cobbs, and made sure she received the trunk full of family history. She passed it on to Hodgers who is generously sharing the contents with the museum. What makes it so special is that four of Hodgers’ ancestral families were among the earliest settlers of Sisters.

The Taylors and Stevens (Stevens Canyon north of Indian Ford Road) arrived in Oregon in 1851 coming to Harrisburg on the Oregon Trail and later coming over the mountains to Central Oregon. The Taylors had two daughters. Etta married William Fryrear (Fryrear Road) and Martha married Alfred Cobb (his roadhouse was located east of town on the current Lazy Z property). Martha and Alfred’s daughter, Sarah Frances “Fannie”, married the aforementioned George Stevens (Stevens Hospital).

After Cobb died, Martha married Charlie Hindman who had purchased the former Camp Polk property north of town, welcoming travelers on the Santiam Wagon Road, that ran from the valley to Prineville, and establishing the first post office.

The Thompsons arrived in Oregon in 1852 via the Oregon Trail. Their daughter Sarah Elizabeth married Harrison Stevens while still living in the Willamette Valley. Their son George, the aforementioned judge, married Sarah Cobb, and they lived in Prineville. The Thompson’s daughter Bertha married William Wilson. The Wilson’s son, also named George, married Tillie Davidson (Tillie Wilson, longtime Sisters teacher) and they had a daughter Virginia who married George Wakefield.

All those Georges, Sarahs, and Williams and their intermingled relationships will come to life in the new Sisters Museum on the corner of East Cascade Avenue and North Larch Street when it opens on September 18. The large family tree will be on display at that time with photos from the old trunk.

The new home for the museum couldn’t be more appropriate. It belonged to George and Virginia (Wilson) Wakefield. George served as Sisters first fire chief and the building behind the house was where the ambulance was parked. He also owned Wakefield’s garage, which burned in June 1960. In 1935 he bought land and started the present airport, with the help of Forest Service employees and Civilian Conservation Corps men. It had a grass landing strip. The Wakefield house is located in the same block as the home that belonged to Virginia’s parents, George and Tillie Wilson, the brown house to the east of Suttle Tea.

The board of the historical society would like everyone with Sisters roots to look around their attics, garages, houses, and storage areas to see if they, too, might possess some long-ago photos, letters, or memorabilia that could enrich the story of Sisters history. Donations are most welcome, and they are also pleased to receive items on loan for display in the museum.

If that old trunk had never been discovered before Stevens Hospital was demolished, and passed on to family members, a big chunk of Hodgers’ family history (and Sisters history) would be missing and never shared with the residents of Sisters and their visitors. The museum is focused on not letting Sisters history slip through their fingers. Help them in their search. Look around.

If old buildings are being razed, see if there are any items of historic value. If unsure, contact the museum and ask. All the lands in Sisters have stories to tell and possibly hidden bits of history. If we don’t know the history that is Sisters, it is easy to tear it down or dig it up, with no understanding of what is being lost. Part of the charm that attracts tourists and residents alike, is Sisters’ unique character and values, passed down from the ancestors.

The Sisters Historical Museum is housed in the freshly-painted white house with black trim located at 410 E. Cascade Ave. The phone number is 541-904-0585. They are scheduled to open to the public on Friday, September 18.


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