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Ernie Lyman's house still stands

It seems like the roof has been falling in forever, but even after 139 years, Ernie Lyman's house refuses to die.

Built of hand-hewn logs in 1871 by Ernie's step-great-grandfather, the house that sits along Highway 234 in Gold Hill is now owned by Beverly Ownby.

"It's true that it's probably too far gone now," she said. "But that's not the important thing. People think that Ernie just wasted away, sitting there all alone for the last 20 years of his life. But that's all wrong."

George Ernest Lyman was born Feb. 18, 1896, in a log cabin just across the road. He hated to be called George, so everyone just called him Ernie.

Although it was three miles to the one-room Sams Valley School and four miles to Gold Hill High, walking never bothered Ernie. In 1967, at nearly 72 years of age, he reportedly became the oldest man to climb Mount Shasta, and he did it nonstop.

One of his earliest memories was the first brass band he ever saw. It was at the 1904 dedication of the Gold Ray Dam, a structure his father had helped build.

He remembered how large and spectacular Halley's Comet had been in 1910, and how disappointed he was at how small it was in 1986.

After high school graduation in 1915, Ernie dedicated himself to the family house and homestead, so it was a big disappointment when he was drafted into the Army for WWI. Not that he was afraid or unpatriotic, but because he was needed at home for the upcoming harvest.

As the troop train traveled north, just across the Rogue River from his home, Ernie could see his uncle working alone in the fields. He wondered how long he'd be gone.

The war was almost over before Ernie got there, and afterward he didn't talk much about it, except for the highlight of his European adventure, his discharge in 1919.

He could finally do what he always wanted to do, just take care of the home he loved. There were apple trees, hazelnuts and fields to plow, and plenty of time to do it.

"He loved his property," said Ownby. "He knew every inch of it."

She and her husband moved nearby in 1967 and became fast friends with Ernie. When the Ownby rental was sold and they had to move, Ernie told them to put a mobile home behind his house and live there rent free. They did, and she still lives there.

A bachelor until age 37, Ernie married Marian McCarthy in 1933. After her death in 1971, Ownby became Ernie's surrogate daughter, driving him wherever he needed to go.

Four years before he died in 1991, he gave Ownby the house.

"I promised Ernie that I would live here until I die," she said. "I wish I could have fixed it up but I can't. I've never had enough money."

She paused a moment and looked out the window. "As long as I see his house I'm happy," she said. "It's getting old and rough, but that house always reminds me of Ernie — and even today, I still miss him."

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at newsmiller@yahoo.com.

Built in 1871, Ernie Lyman’s house has been falling in on itself for years, but it’s still hanging in there. - Bill Miller