Want to know Douglas County a little better? Here are 10 events, facts and personalities that are distinct to the area.
No. 1 The Roseburg Blast
No event in Roseburg’s history is annually remembered like The Blast.
The explosion on Aug. 7, 1959, killed 14 people, injured 125 and destroyed or damaged more than 100 buildings.
A bizarre chain of events led to The Blast, and the key link was truck driver George Rutherford’s choice of a parking space for the night.
Rutherford, a driver for the Pacific Powder Co., parked a truck loaded with 2 tons of dynamite and 4.5 tons of blasting agent near the intersection of Oak and Pine streets.
Rutherford left to spend the night at the Umpqua Hotel, and his safety lapse might have gone unnoticed if a fire hadn’t broken out at the Gerretsen Building Supply Co.
As firefighters rushed to the scene, the flames spread to the truck. The rest is history.
No. 2 World’s Timber Capital
Douglas County once boasted of being the Timber Capital of the World, with good reason.
The post-World War II building boom spurred logging. Timber harvests in Douglas County topped 1 billion board feet in 1948, dipped slightly under that mark the following year and then remained over 1 billion board feet per year for three decades. Production peaked at 1.96 billion board feet in 1955, according to the Oregon Department of Forestry.
The only Oregon county close to Douglas in timber production was Lane County, but Lane produced more timber than Douglas for only a handful of years in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
Douglas and Lane counties are still Oregon’s top timber counties, but at far lower levels of production.
Douglas County’s timber production sank to 384 million board feet in 2009, the lowest since the Great Depression. Production rose in 2011 to 469 million board feet, about one-third of a typical year when Douglas County could rightly claim to be the Timber Capital of the World.
No. 3 On the cover of Time
The Northwest debate over the northern spotted owl received national exposure when Time magazine pictured an owl on its June 25, 1990, cover and asked, “Who Gives a Hoot?”
The story appeared two days after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the spotted owl as a threatened species. The article began with a description of a logger in the Umpqua National Forest cutting into the “flesh” of a Douglas fir.
The report looked at the future of the spotted owl, timber industry and Southern Oregon. The story explored themes such as whether saving the spotted owl would mean killing off Douglas County communities.
More than two decades later, Roseburg still stands, but the spotted owl has declined and so has the timber industry. Some stubborn questions have yet to be resolved.
No. 4 Not the windy city
From Wikipedia we learn the origin of Roseburg’s name (it has nothing to do with flowers but rather with the man Aaron Rose), the history of The Blast and various facts and figures about the city’s residents. We also read this simple declarative sentence: “Roseburg is known for its extremely low wind velocity.”
Weather records support the claim. Roseburg’s average wind speed is well below the national average and averages a mere 2 mph in early November. Even at its windiest, late June, Roseburg’s average wind speed of 5 mph puts it among the calmest cities in the United States.
No. 5 Where rivers collide
Other places boast rivers that flow together, but the North Umpqua River and Little River crash head-on.
The smash-up in Glide truly merits its name, Colliding Rivers.
The Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers famously intersect in Pittsburgh. The Rhone and Arve rivers sidle up to each other in Geneva, Switzerland.
But they aren’t like the collision that happens when the deep North Umpqua rushes down a chute and meets the Little River rapids.
No. 6 Gateway to Crater Lake
The huge Mount Mazama blast 7,700 years ago left a hole in the ground that fills up with crystal-clear water, creating the deepest lake in the United States.
Crater Lake National Park was created in 1902. Roseburg is 106 miles from the park. The drive takes about 1 hour and 40 minutes, and the destination isn’t the only reason to make the trip.
Travelers who make Roseburg their jumping-off point take the Rogue-Umpqua Scenic Byway.
The byway leads into eastern Douglas County and through the Umpqua National Forest. Travelers pass Colliding Rivers, the Swiftwater Recreation Area, Susan Creek Recreation Area, the historic Steamboat (Mott) arch bridge, Boulder Creek Wilderness, Old Man Rock, Toketee Falls, Watson Falls, Mount Thielsen, Diamond Lake and other natural wonders.
Then, they see deep-blue, crystal-clear Crater Lake.
No. 7 Determined pathfinder
Migrating from Missouri to Oregon in 1843, Jesse Applegate’s son and nephew drowned in the Columbia River. Jesse Applegate and his brother, Lindsay, resolved to find a safer route for westward pioneers.
Several years later, their efforts resulted in the Applegate Trail across Northern California and up into Southern Oregon to the Umpqua River.
For this and other accomplishments, Jesse and Lindsay and a third brother, Charles Applegate, were among Oregon’s most influential pioneers.
Jesse Applegate settled in the Umpqua Valley in 1849 and was responsible for naming Yoncalla. He represented Umpqua County, the eastern half of which became Douglas County, at the Oregon constitutional convention in 1857.
His brothers also lived in the Umpqua Valley. The 1852 Applegate House in Yoncalla, overseen now by a nonprofit organization, was built by Charles Applegate.
No. 8 Douglas County’s river
The entire length of the Umpqua River system, an angler’s paradise, is contained within Douglas County, from its source in the Cascades to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean.
The North Umpqua River springs from Maidu Lake in the Mount Thielsen Wilderness Area and flows past Idleyld Park and Glide. The South Umpqua River begins on the slopes of the Rogue-Umpqua Divide and passes Canyonville, Myrtle Creek, Winston and Roseburg.
After about 100 miles, the rivers connect at River Forks Park six miles northwest of Roseburg. The Umpqua River flows for 110 miles before emptying into the ocean at Winchester Bay.
In 2010, The News-Review asked readers to pick the greatest thing about Douglas County. Nothing could top the Umpqua River.
North Douglas High School in Drain holds a national basketball record that will never be broken. The school holds the distinction of winning the lowest-scoring game in history.
Then known as Drain High School, it defeated Wilbur High 1-0 in 1927, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
A single free throw was the only basket made during the game.
Two Illinois teams matched the fete, in 1929 and 1930. No other teams have duplicated the unbreakable record since.
No. 10 Troy’s hair
The Douglas High School Trojans lost its first football game of the 1995 season to Sutherlin, 24-6. Far down in a story about the game, The News-Review reported that, “Freshman Troy Polamalu, playing his first high school game, led the Trojans with 27 yards on seven carries.” After that, his legend grew, and so did his hair.
The talented and intense all-around athlete went from Douglas High to the University of Southern California to the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he became one of the NFL’s marquee players for A) his superb play and B) his outstanding hair.
He sported a crew cut in high school, but long wavy locks eventually flowed from under his helmet, a tribute to his Samoan heritage. He stars in Head & Shoulders commercials, and the shampoo company has insured Polamalu’s hair for $1 million with Lloyd’s of London, which once covered Tina Turner’s legs and Jimmy Durante’s nose. Polamalu retired in 2014.