The Hood River History blog recently featured a series that caught my eye: a local family packing up their car for a camping trip to Lost Lake. The images were from a series captured in the 1939s and early 40s by Alva Luman Day, a local photographer whose legacy as a figure in Mount Hood history is only now beginning to emerge.
As happens with most history research, digging a bit deeper into the story of Alva Day’s camping trips to Lost Lake revealed more than a few surprises. This article is the story of how the modern-day highway to Lost Lake came to be, and how the life of Alva Day is intertwined in this story.
Alva Luman Day
Alva Day was born in 1887 in Colorado and moved to Oregon by the early 1900s. Day married Io Stewart in 1908, and they gave birth to their son Carroll Stewart Day in July 1910. Sometime after arriving in Oregon, Alva spent time in Alaska, though it is unclear whether his wife and young son traveled with him. But by 1918, he was back in Hood River to stay, working for Pacific Power and Light until he retired in the 1940s.
The above photo from Hood River History shows a young Alva Day during his Alaska years, posing for his camera during a clam dig near Ketchikan in 1917. He was just shy of 30 years old in this photo, and about to make his permanent move to Oregon.
Alva Day was a skilled and prolific photographer. The History Museum of Hood River has more than a thousand of Day’s images in their collection. The Lost Lake series is typical of his photos, too. He had an eye for detail and composition, but with a journalist’s instinct for storytelling. He often added his own, handwritten notes to the back of his prints, gradually building a rich historic legacy that we are just beginning to appreciate today.
Alva Day’s family trips to Lost Lake by automobile were a relatively new phenomenon in the 1930s. A rough wagon road had been constructed in 1905, but soon fell into disrepair, and was never passable to automobiles. The new Lost Lake Highway had only been completed in the early 20s and was still unpaved when the Day family made their camping treks. In fact, most of the public lands around Mount Hood were still roadless at the time, as commercial logging (and its roads) would not emerge a major focus of the U.S. Forest Service until the 1950s.
Construction of the Lost Lake Highway began in 1919, spurred by construction of the new Mount Hood Loop Highway, and the excitement over the recently completed Columbia River Highway. The Lost Lake Highway was conceived as a joint venture between the U.S. Forest Service and Hood River County, climbing 14 miles from the company mill town of Dee to the lake. Roughly two-thirds the road was on county land, and the upper third inside the Oregon (later renamed Mount Hood) National Forest boundary.
The project got off to a rough start, and endured many setbacks and delays over four years of construction. From the beginning, there were worker shortages, with District Ranger Warren Cooper making trips to Hood River in September 1919 in search of men willing to join the effort:
“We are going to have the road finished for motor traffic by next summer if we can get help. We need ten men now” said Cooper at the time. But by November of that year, snow shut down road construction until the following spring of 1920.
By mid-summer of 1920, Forest Supervisor Thomas H. Sherrard had 12 workers pushing forward on the National Forest portion of the project in order to complete the final two miles to the lake. By September of that year, the Oregonian reported the construction to be “progressing fast” with the “gem of the Cascades to be open to auto travel next year.”
Still more delays followed, with the “finished” road rough and still impassable to most cars by the end of 1921. With the route largely in place, a gravel surface would be added in the summer of 1922, finally making it a truly durable “highway” for auto travel. The Oregonian reported the completion of the clearing and grading phase in the fall of 1921 as follows:
“When the last charge of TNT was exploded, removing the last barrier of boulders and a giant fir stump, members of the 20-man forestry crew paused on the lake’s edge and gave a huzza that echoed and re-echoed through the forest. Then they cleared away the debris, the new road was open, and one of the gems of the Oregon National Forest was made accessible to motorists of the Hood River Valley, or their visitors from Portland, over the Columbia River Highway.
“The forestry crew broke camp today, closing the new dirt grade with a barricade of felled trees as they left the district… It is planned that the new grade of approximately five miles shall be surfaced with crushed rock next summer… The cost of grading the stretch, which penetrates a district of magnificent firs and cedars, was about $18,000.”
It turns out that Alva Day had an important role in the completion of the Lost Lake Highway, too. He was an avid sportsman, and secretary of the Hood River Game Protection Association at the time, one in a series of prominent roles he played over his life advocating for hunting, fishing and wildlife conservation.
The game association was a strong advocate for the project, promoting the idea and leading critical local fund-raising efforts for the county portion of the project in 1919 and 1920 to keep construction on track.
By the mid-1920s, thousands of cars were streaming up the dusty, gravel road to Lost Lake, and Alva Day was undoubtedly among the visitors. Responding to this instant popularity, the Forest Service gave the green light to several summer cabins and a small resort in the years that followed, and later constructed the beautiful campground we know today. Lost Lake was now a major tourism destination, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year to its postcard shoreline views of Mount Hood, framed by ancient cedars.
Day Family Trips to Lost Lake
Alva Day’s involvement in the conception and completion of the Lost Lake Highway adds new meaning to the series of photos he captured on family outings to Lost Lake in the 1930s and 40s. He loved the lake, and according to Hood River History accounts, made these annual camping excursions every summer.
The Hood River History series of Lost Lake images begins with the above photo, captured in front of the Day family home in Hood River at 420 June Street. According to the Hood River History blog discussion, the house still stands. Note the hefty trailer behind the car — as subsequent photos in the series show, this is industrial camping!
Looking at the first image in a bit more detail, we see Alva Day on the left and Io Day on the right. The Hood River History blog discussion speculates that the two young women were the Day’s daughters (Helen and Emma) and the older man next to Io Day was her father. However, I wasn’t able to confirm this in any formal records.
Instead, official records show that Alva and Io Day had just one child, their son Carroll. Carroll married a Helen Colby in 1931, so the “Helen” speculated in this photo could be his wife. Sadly, Helen (Colby) Day died just nine years later, in 1947 (Carroll Day married again in 1948 to Aline Andrew, and both lived into the 1990s).
The next image in the Hood River History series is from an earlier trip, taken in 1933, but I’ve included it here because it wouldn’t have been unusual for early summer campers to encounter snowdrifts on the way to Lost Lake. On this earlier trip, it’s possible that Alva Day (on the left) and Io (center) were simply heading up for some early summer fishing, and not on a camping trip.
The Hood River History blog clearly identifies the man on the left in both of the previous photos as Alva Day, which raises a question: did he shoot these as self-portraits using a timer, or was someone else behind the camera? More on that in a moment…
A closer look at the 1933 photo clearly shows Io Day to be the same person as that pictured in the 1938 camping trip series. But the young woman next to her in the 1933 photo (above) also seems to be the same person standing near the stove (below) in this detailed look at the next photo in the series, captured in 1938:
The similarity between these images, and lack of documentation on Alva and Io Day having more than one child leads me to speculate that we’re looking at Helen (Colby) Day, first wife of Alva and Io’s son Carroll. There is no birth date available for Helen (Colby) Day, but assuming she was roughly Carroll Day’s age, they would both have been in their mid-20s when these images were captured.
A wider view of the campsite scene (below) shows the rest of the family, and the impressive array of gear that filled up that trailer behind the family car! You can see still more detail on the original Historic Hood River image, but some of the intriguing highlights include the cook stove, wooden table, what appears to be a wood pantry or food box, and of course a canvas tent in the background.
Sharp-eyed viewers of this photo in the Hood River History blog also spotted bratwurst in one of the frying pans, a pile of discarded tin cans behind the stove (did they pack them out?) and a swimsuit and towels hanging to dry on the clothes line. Alva’s boat is tied up at the lakeshore, just beyond the table.
In this wider view, Alva Day is seated to the left, and next to him a young man that I will speculate is Carroll Day. The woman toward the back is clearly Io Day, with another unidentified young woman seated next to her. If the young man in the above photo is, indeed, Carroll Day, then I will also speculate that he was behind the camera in the previous two images, as well.
The next camping image is actually from 1941, but also fits the theme. In this view, Io Day is relaxing at the base of a large cedar tree, looking quite comfortable and content. On this outing, the wood stove is still there, and a wood picnic table has appeared. Were these provided by the Forest Service? Most interesting, of course, is the portable radio sitting on the table:
A closer look (below) shows the radio in a bit more detail — likely a portable “farm radio” of the era, designed to run on batteries at a time when many rural areas were still without electricity, but within reach of radio broadcasts. Could they pick up Portland broadcasts at Lost Lake? Or possibly KODL 1440 in The Dalles, which began broadcasting in 1940?
Whatever the station, they would have been listening to popular suspense programs of the day like “The Whistler” and “The Shadow”, made all the more spooky by firelight in the middle of the forest!
Next in the series is another image from the 1938 outing that shows Alva Day in his unique paddleboat. The unidentified women from the previous campsite image is steering the boat and Alva is cranking the paddles. Mount Hood rises in the hazy background in this scene:
A closer look at the boat (below) shows the crank mechanism Alva is using to turn the paddles — an ingenious, if odd design!
The cedar branch in the upper corner shows this image was taken from shore — perhaps by Carroll Day… or Io? Setting up a timed self-portrait for this view would have been quite a feat, even for Alva Day.
The final image (above) in the Historic Hood River series shows Alva Day’s sportsman side: an even dozen trout, presumably caught while camping at Lost Lake. A fitting finale to the Lost Lake camping series!
Alva Day’s Legacy
Alva Day’s role in the creation of the Lost Lake Highway is a mostly forgotten part of his legacy. But his roles in advocating for wildlife and in photographing the unfolding history of the Hood River region are only now being rediscovered and appreciated.
For more than three decades, Alva Day was a local leader for wildlife conservation in Hood River, and later was active in the formation of the Oregon Wildlife Federation and the Western Federated Sportsmen. During this period, he was also a contributor to The Oregon Sportsman, the monthly journal of the Oregon Game Commission.
It’s easy to forget how dire the need for wildlife conservation was at the time, and especially the role that hunters and fishermen played in the movement. For a century, the developing Northwest been dumping raw sewage into its rivers, filling the air with smoke, clearing the forests, scouring mountain streams with logging “splash dam” floods and overharvesting many species of game and fish. While we are still struggling to restore our native habitats and wildlife in our time, we have come a long way, already, thanks to the pioneering efforts of people like Alva Day.
Alva Day’s photographic story of the Hood River area is perhaps his greatest contribution, and in time, is likely to be his most enduring legacy. The History Museum has hundreds of his prints in their collection, documenting everything from simple scenes of daily life to historic events, like the June 1927 flood that ravaged the town of Arlington, or the shameful day in May 1942, when hundreds Japanese Americans from the Hood River Valley were loaded onto trains and sent to World War II internment camps
This Hood River History blog project is now in the process of scanning many of Alva Day’s images, and using the blog to build an oral history for each image. This work allows all of us to have a window into the past and contribute to the continued documentation of our region’s history.
A Trip to Idlewild Cemetery
The Idlewild Cemetery in Hood River was established in 1894, and with more than 7,000 graves, is a treasure trove of local history. You can find Alva Day’s family here, too.
Alva and Io Day were both born in 1887, and both died in 1955, after nearly 47 years of marriage. Io died in early January of that year, and Alva Day followed on November 15, 1955. Both are buried at the Idlewild, along with their son Carroll Day, whose ashes joined the family plot at the age of 81 in January 1991. Carroll’s second wife, Aline Day, died in 1995, and her ashes were also placed with Carroll and his parents at Idlewild.
Alva Day’s parents, Emma and Charles Eugene Day, are buried at Idlewild Cemetery, too. Emma Day died in 1905 and Charles Day on May 17, 1908 — the same year that Alva and Io Day were married.
You can visit the Day family plot in Block 9, Lot 24. Idlewild Cemetery is on Tucker Road at Brookside Drive, and though located on a commercial strip, the back of the cemetery abuts orchards, so it makes for a pleasant and interesting afternoon of exploring.
Postscript: Supporting Hood River History
Over the past couple of years, the History Museum of Hood River County has issued a series of terrific images in their Historic Hood River blog series. The history blog comes to us through the generous work of volunteers Arthur Babitz, Bill Pattison and Sally Donovan, and we are truly indebted to their efforts.
By creating this online archive of historic photos, the museum is providing an invaluable resource, free to the public. If you love history and the Mount Hood region, consider supporting the museum for their efforts. While the modest $5 museum admission fee helps support the museum, consider becoming a member to help provide ongoing support for their fine work as stewards of Hood River history.
The History Museum graciously granted permission to showcase the images included in this article, and I’m hopeful it will send a few visitors and donations in their direction.
The museum is now open after a year or major renovations. You can find it on East Port Marina Drive, accessed via Exit 64 on Interstate-84. The museum is located on the banks of the Hood River, near the prominent suspension footbridge visible from the freeway, and well worth the visit!
Postscript: More on Alva Day from Hood River History
Arthur Babitz writes to say: “We actually have 2500 of his images, indicating an annual summer trip to Lost Lake for much of his adult life. There is an extended series showing construction of the bridge near the lodge building. He also participated in and photographed the Legion climbs of Mt. Hood for many years. We have hundreds of images he shot on those climbs. You’ll be seeing many more of them on the HHR blog.”
Thanks for all your fine work in bringing the Day photos back to life, Arthur!