Valsetz

Shape of the State of Oregon with a marker in the north west area indicating the location of the town of Valsetz.
The Valley and Siletz Railroad
The Valley and Siletz Railroad followed the Luckiamute River to connect the city of Independence along the Willamette River to Valsetz. (Courtesy of Oregon State University, Special Collections and Archives, Gerald W. Williams Collection) Enlarge Image
A 1910 forest fire in the Coast Range set the stage for the logging company town of Valsetz. Created in 1919 to harvest charred trees, early Valsetz was little more than a sawmill and company housing. It built a post office a year later and needed a name. The town was connected to the state by the Valley and Siletz Railroad, supposedly the inspiration for its unusual name.

Valsetz grew fast, and in a few years the town boasted not only dorms for single male loggers and mill workers, but also simple homes for families. Far from a ramshackle town, many buildings were crafted with skill and care. The company headquarters and company store were built in the Tudor Revival style popular at the time. 

Photo of Dorothy Anne Hobson as a young girl with fair hair.
Dorothy Anne Hobson, when she was the editor of The Valsetz Star, in the early 1940s. (Courtesy of Oregon State Library)
Valsetz workers did not live on the jobsite like many others in squalid backwoods logging camps. Instead, company workers commuted into the forest on a narrow-gauge train that ran from the town into the woods.

Valsetz’s most famous resident was its preteen editor of The Valsetz Star newspaper, a girl named Dorothy Anne Hobson. In 1937, nine-year-old Hobson determined she would create a newspaper for the people of Valsetz. She wrote the articles in pencil and handed off scripts to a family friend who then sent them to Portland for publishing. The papers were typed as received – misspellings and all – and printed on eight and a half by fourteen-inch mimeographed pages. 

View a 1938 edition of The Valsetz Star (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) 
View a 1939 White House letter to Hobson (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society)

Single-story wood structure set along 2 parallel train tracks. The sign on the roof of the building says "Valsetz."
The Valsetz Railroad Station in Valsetz in 1958. (Courtesy of Ben Maxwell Collection) Enlarge Image
According to Hobson in 1937, “We want to stand for something, so we had a meeting and we will stand for kindness. Also, we are a Republican paper, but we will not charge Democrats any more for a copy than a Republican…The Republicans are very sensible, but the Democrats are lots of fun.”

Drawing of an elephant holding an American flag it its trunk. Words read "We're Off!! 1940 On to Victory!!"
A 1940 sketch by Dorothy Anne Hobson. (Courtesy of Oregon Historical Society) Enlarge Image
Over a dozen major publications carried excerpts from The Valsetz Star. Some were notable, including the Portland Oregonian, Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, New York Herald-Tribune, and the Washington DC Post. She received mail from celebrities and politicians like Shirley Temple and Herbert Hoover. 

Hobson published The Valsetz Star every month for four years – her final edition was in December of 1941. Afterward she moved with her family to Salem and attended Parrish junior high school. Hobson aimed to “improve her education, take music and vocal lessons, and have her teeth straightened, with no time left for anything except the Parrish Pep Club.”

In the 1950s the town had reached its zenith with 125 loggers, 260 mill employees, and a total population of over 1,000 people. The company town’s slow decline began in the next decade. By the 1970s, timber reserves were cut down and the railroads were abandoned. Officially closed in 1984, Valsetz’s many fine buildings were bulldozed and set ablaze. Decades of history and generations of memories burned along with them.