Once-Thriving Oregon Town Is Lost Forever, Thanks To Dam

LAURELHURST, Ore. - Bob Weiss remembers when his mother would turn the family station wagon down the gravel road that dropped to the upper Rogue River near Rogue's Roost, a rustic lodge built in the 1920s with a deck overlooking the river. Nearby was another landmark, the Flounce Rock Ranch.

Weiss, now 38 and a Medford resident, was born in Los Angeles and came to the tiny town of Laurelhurst with his parents every summer. His grandparents had started Casey's Auto Park in 1929. It was a rustic resort that featured cabins, an outhouse, home cooking and the antics of a soda-pop-drinking bear named Jerry.

"I remember the feeling of remoteness, seclusion, and I always felt a sense of awe when we arrived at the entrance to Rogue's Roost," he said.

"Laurelhurst, Lost Community of the Upper Rogue," a new book by Weiss, tells the town's story.

It was a wild and beautiful section of river then, with excellent fishing riffles and deep holes. There were Class 3 riffles called Stairsteps and Tucker Plunge. There was a famous steelhead hole at Tucker. Below that, the river changed its narrow character and opened up. Salmon spawned in the gravel beds.

Once a thriving community of about 200 souls, Laurelhurst was dismantled and inundated with the arrival of Lost Creek Dam on the upper Rogue River in 1977.

One piece of the past that's still there is a piece of the old Laurelhurst Road that begins near Crowfoot Road and Highway 62 near Casey State Park. The McLeod Bridge used to cross the river there. It was named for Bill McLeod, a Forest Service cook who opened a stopping place for tourists that took his name in about 1912. The bridge became a connecting road for the Laurelhurst Road and the later Crowfoot Road until it was wiped out in the flood of 1964.

The main road to Prospect used to start there.

The old gravel road runs along toward the Cole Rivers Fish Hatchery before it disappears in a spot overlooking the river.

A remnant of the old road several miles farther up the canyon is marked for a road sign along Highway 62. The road winds past farms before it dies out. You can see where it used to dive down through the trees to the town.

There are a few other signs of the past.

In Stewart State Park, you can still see pear trees in the campgrounds where Stewart Weeks' pear orchard once stood.

If you follow the Laurelhurst sign from Highway 62, you pass Frank Ditsworth's old strawberry fields and the site of Zella Tullis' catfish pond before the road ends.

Laurelhurst boasted a bridge even before McLeod came on the scene. Peyton Covered Bridge was built in 1899. It linked the eastern end of Laurelhurst Road with Fort Military Road, a forerunner of Highway 62, on the west side of the river. The area around the bridge became Laurelhurst State Park.

Laurelhurst's history goes back to 1867, when William and Frances Rumley settled the first homestead near the Rogue River close to what would become the lower end of Laurelhurst Road.

There was controversy over the dam, and Weiss says some of the longtime residents had hard feelings.

"It was a hard thing to see," he says. "We used to float there. All your memories are gone. They didn't even leave the park. It's not even in the state's computer any more."