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Museum makeover

TRAIL — Russ Underwood's grandmother started a small tavern and lunch spot in the 1930s at 144 Old Highway 62 — she dubbed it Last To Lunch — for loggers working the forests of the upper Rogue area. 

For the past two decades, the building has served as the Trail Creek Tavern Museum, filled with photographs and memorabilia from times gone by. Now Underwood has a vision of something more.

He's been hard at work there lately, cleaning, refurbishing and slowly expanding the museum's offerings, with an eye on two nearby buildings with their own stories to tell.

"This was, at one time, a thriving timber town," says Underwood, a Shady Cove resident who serves on the Upper Rogue Historical Society board. "And like all timber towns, small timber towns, it's dying out, or dead, and we're just trying to save that little bit of history here."

His mission seems to be working out so far. Stand in the middle of the yard, close your eyes and point in any direction, and you'll probably be looking a historic piece. Maybe it's the whale-sized length of water pipe hewn from redwood. Perhaps it's the hand-cranked Mack truck from the early 1900s that helped dig the Panama Canal. The past is everywhere, and Underwood wants to share it with as many people as he can.

He's tied to the property personally, and not just because his grandmother started and maintained the property until the historic flood of 1964 forced her to sell. Underwood spent summers there, living most of the year in Southern California. The business changed hands several times until the mid-'90s, when it closed down for a year and was purchased by Jim Collier, who then sold it to the Upper Rogue Historical Society.

The renovation mission began about three years ago, Underwood says. Historical Society member Jack Vaughn had put in a request for a grant to repair a log wagon once pulled by oxen to the Joe Phillips Sawmill, which used to stand near what is Lost Creek Lake.

"We got a $2,000 grant and learned very quickly we couldn't afford a restoration carpenter," Underwood says. "So I said, 'Let's move it under this lean-to, and I'll get my neighbor, who's an artist, to see if they'll paint a mural."

After that, Underwood was motivated to keep going. So far, renovations have included painting and an exhibit of historical logging photos that hang outside the museum entrance. Vaughn tends to landscaping and a small garden of colorful flowers that sit between the tavern and post office buildings. Following the first round of improvements, Historical Society members began to notice more people stopping by.

"They're glad to see it doing something, and not just being here," Vaughn says.

The old post office building next door to the tavern is his current project. He's painted the exterior and plans to renovate the interior. He wants to hang more historical photos, along with some old letters he has from his mother and grandmother. Like with the Tavern Museum, he wants to tell the building's story, how it began in the now-extinct town of Etna — which was located just outside Shady Cove — and its move to Trail.

"I have all that documentation I'd like to post in here," Underwood says. "Try to make it look like the post office of the era."

The plans don't stop there. Another building on the property once served as Shady Cove City Hall, and Underwood hopes to restore that, too. He'd like to fill it with historical displays, photos and news clippings, all related to Shady Cove. Plans for an old blacksmith shop out back are also starting to take shape.

"I would like to have an active blacksmith shop in there," Underwood says.

Ambitious plans all, but Underwood is driven to get it done.

"We want to continue to grow," he says.

— Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.

A whale-sized redwood water pipe is one of the displays Russ Underwood has helped bring to the Trail Creek Tavern Museum. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]
Russ Underwood is restoring the Trail Creek Tavern into a permanent museum honoring the history of Trail and surrounding logging communities in Southern Oregon. [Mail Tribune / Denise Baratta]