The curious case of Wabooson Lodge
August 21, 2012
For 78 years, the rough hewn logs of Wabooson Lodge have served as sentinels to life in the Fraser Valley.The Wabooson, as its generations of friends call it, is a unique historic treasure in the Fraser Valley. Despite its renown, the Wabooson’s origin is shrouded in some degree of mystery. The following provides new insights into the curious origins of the Wabooson Lodge and recounts noteworthy events involving the Wabooson since its 1934 inception. Industrial rootsThe story of the Wabooson Lodge is linked with the Fraser operations of Koppers Industries of Pittsburgh that owned 7,000 acres of forest along St. Louis Creek and Church Park. In the Spring of 1934, according to letters of Morris Long, the man who built Wabooson Lodge, a few potential clients of Koppers visited the Fraser site. Koppers Industries milled electric poles, fence posts, railroad ties, and logs from the growth of spruce, lodgepole and other trees. Workers cut trees and loaded them behind horses – called skidding. They loaded the logs into flumes built into the St. Louis Creek that floated them for nationwide export to the lumber yard, located by the Fraser railroad depot.’A small cabin’After a most unpleasant stay in Fraser’s only hotel, the businessmen asked Morris Long if he “could build them a small cabin” with plumbing so they might enjoy future visits. As manager of the Fraser Koppers operations which was bustling with orders, Long “was plenty put out” at having to build a cabin for visiting officials. According to Long, “we picked out a location on the pole yard close to St. Louis Creek,” but as the cabin idea grew into a lodge, the location was moved to its present location on a bluff overlooking the creek. The Wabooson’s construction involved a certain degree of “creative” record keeping, or more accurately, a lack thereof, which accounts for much of the mystery surrounding its origin.”There are no official records of Wabooson being built because I had no official permission to build it,” remembers Long, writing some 50 years later. He hid the construction costs in Koppers overall operations.Long put a crew together and they cut dry, standing lodgepole for the “cabin.” He paid the workers 35 cents per hour. Long realized that his bosses were agreeable to the “cabin” when officials from Koppers’ Pittsburgh headquarters happily arrived for one of Wabooson’s first parties.As Morris Long explains: “A typical party was for about 30 purchasing agents from the railroads and other customers. Supplies piled in all week including many cases of beverages, a chef from the Denver & Rio Grand dining car service arrived, I assigned a couple of young men to act as gofers, waiters, bartenders, etc. Their reward for good work and staying strictly sober was a generous gift of Johnny Walker scotch bottles after all guests were gone.” POW campFrom books, articles, and even a 1994 exhibit at the Colorado History Museum, Morris Long is widely known as the supervisor of Fraser’s World War II POW camp. In 1944, with the local men fighting in Europe, a group of 200 men, mostly German, with Austrian, French, Swiss, Italian and Czech prisoners, was placed in Fraser to help the vital work of Koppers lumber production.Since POWs were not permitted to work machinery, all tasks were accomplished manually. The prisoners worked hard, ate well, and carved wood objects and musical instruments (see the POW display at Grand County Pioneer Village Museum in Hot Sulphur Springs, and at Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser). Long befriended the prisoners, frequently ate with them, and even encouraged the prisoners to form a camp orchestra. Morris was proud of his camp, which he ran as “a very smooth operation.”The POWs played important roles at Wabooson Lodge. Long writes of one particularly boisterous affair held there:”In 1945 I had a party for everyone of importance in Grand County with a few company folks from our Denver office. …The party was in December so I had prisoners at the lodge a week in advance keeping fires in the huge fireplace and the kitchen range. I turned over all arrangements to the prisoners and gave them anything they wanted in the way of supplies including a couple of quarters of black market beef. They made all of the seating arrangements, cooked and served an excellent meal and had their camp orchestra playing up on one of the balconies. Of course most everyone got gloriously lit, including the attending prisoners, and the party is still recalled by many of the Grand County old times.”The menu included German strudel and cakes. In 1946, while the POWs returned to their war-ravaged towns in Europe, Koppers Industries welcomed home the Fraser heroes.Eisenhower connectionAbout the same time, the famous American General and World War II hero, Dwight David Eisenhower, learned of the fine fishing in the Fraser Valley. Aksel Nielsen, a close family friend of Mamie Doud Eisenhower in Denver, invited Ike to his Byers Peak Ranch along the St. Louis Creek. As Eisenhower writes, “In the Fraser area, which I started to visit just after World War II, Aksel and I liked to stay for several days at a time. The gatherings were always a small group of men.” Eisenhower strategized his 1952 presidential campaign from the Fraser Valley, even bringing his vice presidential candidate, Richard Nixon, to Byers Peak Ranch. After the 1952 election and until 1955, now President Eisenhower continued to visit the Fraser Valley. In addition to conducting official business at Byers Peak Ranch, Ike always made time to pursue his cherished pastimes of fly fishing, cooking and painting. On these trips, a large contingent of security, Secret Service men, and weapons accompanied the president. The forces were usually housed in the nearby Wabooson Lodge. Eisenhower recalls that, as president, “our simple fishing expeditions became as elaborate as troop movements.”A guest of the Wabooson Lodge remembers: “When Eisenhower was president he often stayed at the Axel Neilson (sic) ranch directly across the road. We could sit on that wonderful porch and watch all the comings and goings. When the Lodge was not occupied, it housed the Secret Service. Eisenhower wrote a wonderful thank you letter which was framed and hung by the fireplace. At some point it disappeared!” It is said that Ike’s favorite fishing spot was right below the Wabooson.”My own choice is to go over the Berthoud Pass to Fraser,” wrote Eisenhower. “The altitude of my friend’s little ranch there is under nine thousand feet. There is a small stream on which we catch ten and twelve inchers, and of course there is always the chance for the occasional big fellow … It is a grand place to loaf … The little stream has many pools that can be fished easily from the bank.” After his 1955 heart attack when he recuperated in Denver, doctors did not allow President Eisenhower to ever travel to the high, thin air of Fraser again.According to his grandson in his book Going Home to Glory: “Eisenhower once said that being in Fraser was a religious experience. The mountains brought him closer to the mysteries and intangibles in life more than anywhere else.”(Cozens Ranch Museum in Fraser features an “Ike” Exhibit with letters, articles and photographs, along with Eisenhower’s landscape oil painting of Byers Peak.)Stress reliefWabooson Lodge remained a vital resource for Koppers Industries as a place to host dignitaries, business partners and reward staff with vacations in the high country. One guest recalls: “I remember being completely stressed out before we left for Colorado … I remember walking in the back door of the lodge into the kitchen and feeling the stress just slip away, and for the week we were there, I just basked in that wonderful peace. I remember that we would get up every morning and fire up the wood burning stove in the kitchen and cook something on that griddle every day.”Changes in Koppers Industries leadership resulted in the decision to sell the Wabooson Lodge. In 1991, the Betsy deVries family purchased the rustic Wabooson Lodge to realize their dream of making the grand log structure their family home. Now, with years of polish and restoration, from chinking the logs to preserving its natural charm, the Wabooson Lodge again resonates with the integrity, joy and warmth accumulated from its 78 years overlooking St. Louis Creek in the Fraser Valley.Would you like to step back in time at the Wabooson Lodge? Join Grand County Historical Association for:A Taste of HistoryChampagne Brunch & Social on the lawn at historic Wabooson LodgeA benefit for Cozens Ranch Museum10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8Live auction of art and fly fishing excursions”catch a glimpse of Ike fly fishing the St. Louis Creek”Live Music with Alpine Classic Trio$50 per person, $40 GCHA MemberKindly call for tickets, directions, and information: 970-726-5488, or email us at email@example.comThank you to Peggy Smith, Mayor of Fraser, and Betsy and Gary deVries for research materials for this article.