Oregon Caves
Cultural Landscape Report



Oregon Caves, discovered in 1874, was administered by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) from its establishment as one of the country's first national monuments in 1909 until its transfer to the National Park Service (NPS) in 1933. Under authority of the 1906 Antiqulties Act, a survey of the site was completed in 1908 and 480 acres were set aside as the national monument in 1909. Although potential as a tourist attraction was the driving force behind this designation, the caves were considered a "natural monument" set aside to preserve a "scientific object." [1] The amount of acreage reserved was considered the smallest area compatible with preservation of the resource while allowing lumbering activity in the surrounding forest to continue.

cave entrance
Cave entrance, c.1920. USFS ORCA Album

The remote location of Oregon Caves precluded permanent site design and development until 1922, the year the road from Grants Pass reached the cave entrance. However, hotel accommodations for visitors at Oregon Caves were proposed as early as 1891 and resort development plans began to take shape in 1912 when the road reached Holland, approximately 15 miles west of the cave. By 1915, when Congress passed general legislation to authorize the lease of land for recreational development in national forests, a collection of tent houses and small campgrounds had appeared at the monument. A 1917 Forest Service plan, drafted by E. H. MacDaniels, called for a number of small rustic style cottages to be sited 700 feet below the cave entrance, electrical lighting and steel ladders in the cave, roads and trails, and the Lake Mountain and Big Tree trails.

monument parking area
Parking area at the monument, c.1922. USFS ORCA Album

In 1923, while advertising for a concessioner for the site, the Forest Service amended the plan to include concession responsibility for operation of a guide service, cave tour equipment, meals and limited lodging. A group of Grants Pass business men were awarded a permit to build the "Oregon Caves Resort." The group hired Arthur L. Peck, a faculty member of the Oregon Agricultural College, to assist with the development of a site plan and scheme for a visitor service building which included a lunchroom, office, lodging, and employee dormitory. The Special Use permit issued by the USFS stated that "All buildings and structures shall be of the same general style and of an accepted type of rustic architecture." [2] Peck called for a gable-roofed Chalet of an "alpine type" to be located 100 feet east of the cave entrance on a flat area within a dry ravine. He recommended Port Orford-cedar bark sheathing on all structures, and designed most of what became the present system of roads and trails. Peck envisioned a porch extending beyond the Chalet" from which a view of the entire lower valley could be obtained," and an open archway connecting the two parts of the Chalet from which trail access to the cave entrance and up the dry ravine would begin. [3] In addition, the trail would be routed to reach several mountain lakes near the monument, and provide the setting for "one or more small buildings as on an irregular street" behind the Chalet. [4] Overall, the scheme would be "suitable to high elevations and surroundings of mountains and big timber." Peck's simple architectural scheme of brackets in the gables and shakes added interest to the roofs. Up to this point, landscape work at the cave entrance had been limited. Dick Rowley of the concessioner's staff directed construction of dry laid retaining walls forming the Chalet courtyard and a rectangular pond below the cave entrance m 1929. Native flora was transplanted around buildings, with particular emphasis on ferns which would compliment the stonework that had been placed in the cave entrance area as part of the Forest Service trail system.

It is unclear who designed the old Chalet, but Peck's recommendations affected its construction. In 1926, the concession commissioned a local architect/contractor, Gust Lium, to design and construct seven cottages and the "Kiddy Kave," a structure used as a nursery. The rectangular duplexes had shake roofs and cedar bark sheathing, differing only by the entry design of hips, peaks, or dormers. [5] Built behind the Chalet and "Kiddy Kave" on the south side of the ravine, the cottages were accessed by short, steep paths with switchbacks from the main trail. Lium also located a Guide Dormitory north and slightly upslope of the Chalet instead of west of the cave entrance as Peck had suggested.

In 1931 construction began on the Oregon Caves Chateau which had been planned since 1929. Construction coincided with completion of the cave exit tunnel and work to pave the Oregon Caves Highway. Lium sited the structure below the cave entrance without constricting the view from the Chalet. It was "Fitted into the local scenery in such a way that will add to the natural beauty of the canyon and towering trees." [6] Peck supported the proposed site plan of the Chateau; however, his participation in the new development plan is unclear. Peck further advised the removal of concession tent houses to widen the path to the cave entrance for a "public concourse area." [7] The Chateau was completed in 1934, spanning the gorge below the main entrance. Part of Cave Creek was diverted into a basement conduit, appearing as a stream running through the dining room. The early 1930s also saw the placement of a marble monument to Elijah Davidson, the discoverer of the caves, and construction of a rustic filling station on the south edge of the lower parking lot near the site where a public comfort station was built in 1933.

roadway to Chalet
Roadway to the Chalet, c.1924. USFS ORCA Album

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Last Updated: 05-Feb-2002