When Bill Dodge looks out from his family's cabin at Lake of the Woods, he beholds breathtaking beauty.
He also sees history, lots of it. "The history of the lake goes back to 1870, when Col. Oliver Cromwell Applegate came through and blazed the wagon road," Dodge observed. "He built the first cabin on the lake in 1870.
"My grandfather visited up here from Ashland in 1898," he added. "He built our cabin in 1919."
Dodge, 71, of Klamath Falls, is a member and coordinator of the Lake of the Woods Historical Society, a group of cabin owners on the lake who are dedicated to preserving lake history.
Applegate, a former Ashland Tidings newspaper editor, was the son of Oregon pioneer Lindsay Applegate. Dodge's grandfather was Louis Dodge, son of John Page Dodge, a former Ashland mayor and businessman who owned J.P. Dodge and Sons Furniture and Mortuary in Ashland.
In 2010, Dodge helped forge the group, which is part of the Lake of the Woods Recreational Association.
The association formed in 1922 after a group of cabin owners on the lake met in Ashland to discuss issues concerning their growing lakeside recreational community, he said.
"Our society's mission is essentially to write a book about the history of Lake of the Woods," said Dodge, a retired bookstore manager at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls. "I've been compiling a library about the lake."
Thus far, 166 cabins are represented in the society out of the 218 cabins on the lake, Dodge said, noting the society is open only to cabin owners.
A committee of 22 cabin owners has been researching the lake's history. They have been assisted by members of the U.S. Forest Service, including Jeff LaLande, former archaeologist/historian for the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
After Applegate built his small cabin on the south end of the lake in 1870, it would be nearly half a century before other cabins began popping up around the lake, Dodge said.
"The act that created a residential program on the lake was passed in 1915," he said. "It was surveyed in 1917, so our cabin was one of the first ones."
While the family has done some refurbishing over the years, the bones of their original 1919 cabin are still there, he said. "There are quite a number of fourth-generation folks around the lake," he said, noting that many families have retained the cabins their ancestors built.
"We own the structure, but it is on leased land owned by the Forest Service," he explained. "We pay an annual lease to the Forest Service. The property taxes we pay are for the structures."
With the surface elevation at 4,949 feet above sea level, many of the cabin owners generally visit during the warmer months, he said. "It's primarily a Memorial Day to Labor Day experience for the vast majority of cabin owners," he said. "Most of the cabins are not insulated, and they are small."
The natural, 1,146-acre lake is in the Fremont-Winema National Forest but was originally part of the Cascade Forest Reserve beginning in 1898. Its management was transferred to the Crater National Forest in 1908. The first residential use permit was issued by the Forest Service in 1916.
Lake of the Woods and the adjacent campgrounds were transferred to the Rogue River National Forest in 1932.
During the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps built a Forest Service office, residences and other buildings by the lake.
In 1961, the Forest Service transferred Lake of the Woods and the nearby forest to the newly minted Winema National Forest, which later became part of the administratively combined Fremont-Winema forest.
For more information about the Lake of the Woods Historical Society, contact Dodge at email@example.com.
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.