Memories of Biggs

The Columbia Hotel, Biggs Oregon

I remember my great grandparents Bernard and Lydia WILDER KEENAN. My memory of the old homestead at Biggs is very faint, as I recall the house looks the same shape as that in the photo, except I remember it unpainted. It faced away from the high sand hills in back (west) and toward a small stream in front (east). The old highway was across the stream. Now the wide highway goes right over the top of the old building site, as it goes south from the bridge, up the canyon toward Mora. I have a little better recall of their house in Biggs and their Hotel, The Columbia, near the Columbia river and the depot and the empty Maryhill Mansion on the north bank. (later it became a Museum) The Biggs Hotel was owned by Mr. HECKER, who had a son, Lorne. Both hotels were eventually lost to fire and never rebuilt.

The smell of ivory soap and lemon pies bring back memories of great grandma KEENAN. I mostly see a long black full skirt, tall black high heeled button shoes, dark hair and very dark eyes, working in her hot kitchen with it's huge wood stove preparing the meals. I can picture the dining room (facing north, overlooking the river and the Depot and Mansion) with it's snowy white table cloths, the sugar bowls, salt and peppers, & vinegar cruets. (I believe I gave my daughter Sally one of the cruets, a blue enamel chocolate pot and a blue enamel sassafras pot. Julia, my other daughter, has gr. grandmothers wash stand from the Hotel and a badly fire damaged plate with forget-me-not flowers on it. And young Jack received several of the big coffee mugs used in the old Hotel.). I also remember the bowls of oyster crackers, I was constantly dragging up a chair to reach them and great grandma shooing me away. I can picture her going out to the cold cellar in the back yard for meats, potatoes, or apples. She had little time for playing with or enjoying her great grand daughters, Ella, Bernice and myself, but I still have good feelings about her. She had a huge flower stand (that I loved) it stood in the Hotel Lobby near a room for the guests (mostly railroad men) to freshen up. No one was allowed to eat in her dinning room without freshening up. Railroad men were Lydia's main customers and kept both hotels in business. I remember the Depot, for it was a favorite place to play, and I remember the Arnolds who ran it. I remember going with Grandma Grace Shearer and looking for arrow heads up in the sand dunes, and finding a lot of them. Years later when I returned with my youngsters all we found was a button, it had come off of one of my favorite childhood dresses. I remember looking up into the skies with grandma Grace, on a fall evening and seeing the sky dark with hundreds and hundreds of geese as they flew from the bluffs on the north across the mighty Columbia to the bluffs on the south, and listening to the canyon ring with their honking.

It was called the "Mighty Columbia" back then and I loved every inch of it, that is until it was turned into a series of holding ponds with dams. Grandma Grace was a nature lover, she taught me to see, hear and enjoy nature. It sadden's me to see and realize all that has been destroyed and lost to Oregon in my life time. I and my sister were the innocent destroyer's of a beautiful flower on our hill side. By over picking this flower that should never have been picked in the first place, and by picking it in a way that guaranteed our killing it, the beautiful Rocka-lily is gone.

The very land area in Biggs where the homestead, the Hotel and the Keenan home stood have been for ever destroyed. At first by tons of fill for a new straight highway, for the north & south bridge traffic, and the second by flooding from the back waters of The DALLES (Celilo) Dam. I and my descendants can never see where the Keenan's lived and toiled, for over 18 years. Even the Biggs ferry was lost to progress. This was the place of my early formative years, with loving adults, my great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, even friendly railroad men, with pure air, water, abundant wild life and space us kids (3 girl cousins) ran free and wild until we were about 4 to 5 years of age or about 1924.