See a cross-shaped church on Mount Hood’s annual Steiner Log Cabin Tour: ‘People are in awe’ – Here Oregon
Mike Judge was 30 when he saved the old Mount Hood Church from being torn down by valuable Douglas fir logs. At the time, he was an engineer on a limited budget and was often away at work, but he considered the old church home.
It had no plumbing, barely any electricity, and a leaky roof and porous walls served as the upstairs parsonage where he set up his bedroom so cold he could see his breath. He says the electric blanket was a lifesaver.
Now, 77 years old, Gudge invites people to the restored Lincoln-wood structure built by self-taught craftsman Henry Steiner and his family. The former church, which was decommissioned by the Catholic Diocese decades ago and converted by Judge into a gathering place, will be one of seven stops on Mount Hood Steiner’s annual Rhododendron Cabin Tour on Aug. 12.
Tickets ($50) for the fundraising tour for the Mount Hood Cultural Center and Museum will go on sale at 8 a.m. July 1 at mthoodmuseum.org. In past years, the 300 tickets sold out within a few hours.
Tour-goers will hear the fascinating story of the resourceful Steiner family of carpenters and masons who, with little money and no electricity, were prolific in constructing storybook cabins made of wood, foraged stone, and a few store-bought items during The Great Depression is behind us. Today’s 100 Steiner cabins are highly regarded for their durability, artistry, and Oregon country character.
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Historians believe that Henry Steiner, with the help of the eldest of his eleven children, including his son John, built only two churches. One burned down, and the other, the Roman Catholic Church of St. John the Evangelist, completed in 1937 and moved twice, was saved by Goodge.
“Steiner Church is an architectural and craftsmanship masterpiece,” says Lloyd Moser, tour organizer and curator at the Mount Hood Museum and Cultural Center.
“Those who attended the church between 1937 and 1967 will be especially happy to see it today,” Moser says. “We routinely receive inquiries from people who remember attending a log church as children or people who were married in this church and who would like to renew their vows there.”
The church was designed by Henry Steiner in the shape of a cross, and is 75 feet long and 28 feet wide, with a cross section spanning about 20 feet. Peeled logs are manually stacked horizontally to the roof. Each new fireplace in the former altar contains crystallized mica stone It was selected for its color and cut to fit a column that rose three stories inside, then through the roof another four feet to the chimney cap.
The original steps were made of semicircular logs, flat side up, and screwed into the walls. Formed from naturally curving roots and branches, the balustrades are peeled posts, as described by historians who successfully nominated the church for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
“People who walk in are in awe,” says Judge, “This is the largest building the Steiners have ever built.”
The church was built 86 years ago near the confluence of the Winding and Sandy Rivers on the north side of U.S. Highway 26. Meanwhile, Henry Steiner and his sons John and Fred, along with other local craftsmen, were hired by a business advance company. Administration to build the Timberline Inn in 1936, which is also on the National Historic Register.
In the late 1960s, the diocese decommissioned the church, removing the stained glass windows, confessional stalls and sacred objects. The structure was considered abandoned from 1968 to 1972 as the highway was ready for expansion. Historians say that all the windows were either taken out for reuse by the church or smashed by vandals.
In 1972, the Mount Hood Players and the local women’s club moved the building to the nearby Hoodland Park entertainment area. But more than just a volunteer effort was needed to bring the building up to code. Someone offered to sign out. The other offer was to dismantle it, move it to California and use it as a new restaurant.
Instead, Gudge bought it in 1976 and moved it less than a mile west of its original location to a scenic wooded plot. Over time, the wing of the former church became a bath house. The cupboard is a kitchen.
Judge, who grew up in the Mount Hood area, was a friend of John Steiner, who worked with his father, Henry, and brother, Fred, on the 1937 St. John’s Church as well as the 1938 log house, called “Vogelbo,” in Southwest Portland. The Garden Home District, also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Gudge hired John Steiner to work with him to restore the structure. “John showed me how to build a church from top to bottom,” Judge told the Mount Hood newsletter Beneath Wy’East. “We literally lifted the walls and measured, scored, notched, and reinstalled the new timbers into place at the bottom of the wall.”
Over the course of more than 20 years, until John Steiner’s death in 2012, at the age of 99, the two slowly repaired and replaced the church’s logs and built Gudge a new residence and lumber shop. “It was a pay-as-you-go project,” says Judge.
Since then, other craftsmen have added to the structure until Gudge finally announced the restoration work was complete in 2022. In addition to other improvements, the timber builder built an interior bridge from the former choir loft to the front of the church.
“I have been fortunate to work with talented people who are dedicated to preserving the Steiners family business,” says Judge. “This church has not been updated with drywall. I didn’t want to do anything that would detract from the original architecture and intent of the Steiners.
The large open structure is heated by a wood stove. Judge went to great lengths to remove the furnace that had been installed before he purchased the old church. He and John Steiner repaired holes made in the wooden walls and removed exposed pipes.
Unlike the Steiner family, who used trees from the surrounding forest for their projects, the interior bridge was made from trees purchased from a mill near Sandy and the pine used for the bridge’s railing came from eastern Oregon.
However, like the Steiners, the wood was chosen for its character, knots and all, no square joints. Each handrail is shaped and contoured to fit the post cleanly.
John Steiner would be proud.
Mount Hood Cultural Center and Museum in 88900 Government camp episode in the government camp Open 9am-5pm daily (except Thanksgiving and Christmas). The nonprofit museum has interpretive exhibits, educational programs, and lectures explaining early exploration, pioneer history, and the “remarkable individuals who helped.” Shaping the history of the mountain“, according to the museum’s website. There are also historic happy hours and other social events.
Museum members can buy Hood Steiner Mountain Cabin Tour Tickets are $40 ($10 less than the price for the public). Museum membership, which includes many benefits, can be purchased while purchasing tour tickets.
For more information, call the Mount Hood Cultural Center and Museum at 503-272-3301 or visit mthoodmuseum.org.
—Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072
firstname.lastname@example.org | @Janet Eastman
More about Steiner cabins
• Tickets for Mount Hood’s famous Steiner cabin tour will sell out fast: ‘Every piece in every cabin is unique’
• Restoring Mount Hood’s unique Steiner log cabins takes time, talent and hand tools
• Step into a one-of-a-kind log home designed by craftsmen from the legendary Steiner family of Southwest Portland
• A 1947 log home on the Sandy River in Troutdale is on the market for the first time.
• Open the twisted tree doorknob and step into Steiner Cabins: An Oregon Country-Style Tour
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• John Steiner, the master craftsman who worked on the famous Steiner cabins, has died at age 99.