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MailTribune.com
  • History in the soles of your shoes

    Table Rock 'airstrip' was built to impress Hollywood; now it's used by hikers
  • When you're trying to impress your socially prominent out-of-town guests, the last thing you want to do is let them fly into a public airport.
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  • When you're trying to impress your socially prominent out-of-town guests, the last thing you want to do is let them fly into a public airport.
    So, if you've got the moolah and own the top of Lower Table Rock, you carve out a ¾-mile-long runway through the solidified lava, vernal pools and fairy shrimp, and charter an airplane or two to give everyone a chance at the most impressive landing of a lifetime.
    You let your visitors admire the view for a few minutes, then take them down on a drive by the river, where you keep them entertained and offer them a chance to purchase some quality real estate.
    The brain behind this operation in 1948 was John Day. For those who don't remember, Day was a popular local rancher, owner of a land development company and an enthusiastic outdoorsman.
    Day and two partners had partitioned some land near the Gold Ray Dam, called it the Table Rock Estates, constructed some luxury houses, and then invited a few Hollywood celebrities and executives to a three-day party.
    Only an adventurous few actually landed on the newly built airstrip on that first weekend in November. The rest felt much safer flying into the well-established 17-year-old Jackson County Airport.
    Ginger Rogers, who had bought a ranch near Shady Cove in 1941, served as hostess to the group, which, according to a Mail Tribune reporter, had left "most of the trappings and artificiality of Hollywood behind."
    It was a chance for these kingpins of Movieland to kick back and play the part of "just plain folks, hiding away under the cliffs of Table Rock."
    Only a few names of the visiting stars that weekend may still be recognized.
    The "Music Man," Robert Preston, and his wife were among the anglers casting their lines into the Rogue River, joined by Ward Bond, who later would lead a "Wagon Train" on one of the most popular TV westerns of the 1950s.
    Dancer Ann Miller enjoyed an afternoon of horseback riding and spent the evening beside the blazing fire pit, comfortably toasting her toes.
    Even for movie fans of 60 years ago, not all of the visitors were household names. Rogers' dance coach, Carlotte Hunter, arrived in a charter plane full of photographers and publicity agents, who eagerly joined in the Friday night barbecue.
    There was an outing back to the top of Table Rock on Saturday so the visitors could watch only the second plane ever to land on the new dirt runway.
    By Sunday afternoon, the party was over and everyone left. The newspaper hadn't been invited, so there was no report of how many homes had been sold or even whether some of the stars decided to risk a takeoff from the Table Rock airstrip.
    Though it's been illegal to land a plane there for nearly 20 years now, the runway hasn't disappeared. Every year, thousands of hikers walk across it, each of them picking up a tiny bit of history in the soles of their shoes.
    Bill Miller is a freelance writer living in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.
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