New life for Summit lodge

North Clark County historian put to work family connections to buy, restore, expand the iconic structure and its property

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 
photo

RIDGEFIELD -- Margaret Colf Hepola grew up listening to rain patter on a doomed roof.

Her childhood home eventually stood in the way of plans for a new reservoir, and her father frequently foretold the house's demise. Rain on the roof always sounded ominous to young Margaret -- and then, in 1931, when she was 12, the family finally had to move, as dams got built and the rising waters of Lake Merwin really did drown the past.

The result: "My main interest is in saving things. I just don't like change. It makes me sad," said the celebrated North County historian, philanthropist and civic leader, who's now 95.

So as Hepola witnessed the deterioration of North County's iconic Summit Grove Lodge, she mused: "I just need to make sure the roof is OK."

OK, it was more than the roof. Hepola put to work her family connections with developer Genteel Investments and builder Colf Construction to buy and restore the place. The updated Summit Grove Lodge at 30810 Timmen Road now boasts thousands of additional feet of interior space, exterior landscaping, modern kitchen facilities -- and a grand historical look that harkens to the place's storied past, providing an unforgettable setting for weddings, meetings, retreats and banquets.

"It was a special place to come to when we were kids," said Hepola, who used to attend school dances and other events here. "There were lots of happy events. I want to save that."

Old and new

Stroll around the grounds, and you can't miss the careful blend of what's saved and what's new.

The building itself has grown. Colf added an entrance foyer and business office, plus his and

hers restrooms, all totaling 1,500 square feet. The main meeting area, the heart of the historical lodge, is almost exactly what it used to be -- approximately 2,300 square feet of rustic open space. Features include the original cedar-log walls, a rough-cut stone fireplace, a refinished cedar floor and exposed cedar roof beams supporting a 20-foot vaulted ceiling.

The grand main bar and a state-of-the-art audiovisual system are new. Off of the main room is a new caterer's kitchen and bar. There's also a new bar and wine cellar in the basement.

"It's never going to be a restaurant," said Hepola's son Dick Colf, who supervised the renovation, "but we've provided a nice facility for people who want to bring in their own chef."

Upstairs is 1,025 square feet of new, too. A grand staircase rises to a bride's sitting room, complete with wide-screen television, a lavish bathroom and a balcony overlooking the courtyard. The balcony leads to a pedestrian bridge you can follow over to the top of a rocky outcropping designed by Colf landscape supervisor Kelly Punteney, who also is known locally as a parks and trails activist.

Several such rocky outcroppings surround the main courtyard area, which has Astro Turf underfoot and capacity for 200 people, as well as a shelter, gas-fed torches and a fire pit, waterfalls and ponds, pathways and plantings.

The place isn't exactly open for business yet -- when The Columbian visited a couple times in June and July, workers were hustling around adding what Colf called "finishing touches" -- but it has already hosted two events. The first was a year ago, when Beaches Restaurant and Bar hosted a fundraiser for Boys & Girls Clubs; the second was in May, when author William Least Heat-Moon spoke during a Clark County Historical Society banquet.

Historical Society director Susan Tissot said she brought Heat-Moon to the Summit Grove Lodge, because his celebrated book "Blue Highways" explores America's local roads -- the ones that linked town to town long before freeways came along. The Summit Grove Lodge owes its existence to Timmen Road, a link in what used to be called the Old Pacific Highway.

Pacific Highway

The story begins with the 1840 purchase of 25 acres of land by a man named Tom Headley, who set his sawmill abuzz and built what was known as Headley's Camp, a way station that provided wagon repair, feed sales for livestock and meals for weary travelers barging across the Lewis River nearby.

In 1900, a family named Curtis purchased 15 of Headley's 25 original acres and opened its Fountain and Barbeque; eventually, the name was changed Boston Barbeque and Weinberg's Maid o' Beverages. As cars became king on the what was then called the Pacific Highway, the Curtis family embraced newfangled technology and installed a single gasoline pump by the side of the road.

The place was considered one of the very first restaurants in Washington state; a huge selling point was its boast of a luxurious eight places to sit.

William and Mary Marshall of Vancouver, who'd had their eye on the place for years, bought it in 1924 and immediately set about realizing their Marshall Plan: 15 acres of parkland complete with bandstands, picnic areas and gardens, plus the main lodge. Historical accounts vary, but there were either eight or 10 cabins, some with running water, fireplaces and stoves. "Fine dining" became the place's reputation, thanks to Mary Marshall's chicken cutlets. Also fine was the addition of a second gas pump to what was now a busy hotel, restaurant and Shell filling station.

How busy? On one hand, Mary Marshall is quoted as saying there "wasn't much traffic"; on the other, the guest list through the years reportedly included actors Shirley Temple, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Jack Benny and Roy Rogers, notorious bank robber John Dillinger, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, crooner Frank Sinatra and industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt -- who was quite generous with $1 tips, Mary Marshall remembered.

The Columbus Day storm of 1962 severely damaged the place, and the cabins were left to deteriorate while repairs were made to the main lodge. It was a "nightmare" to Mary Marshall, according to one press report, to see years of work destroyed in moments.

Families named Gardner and Griffin bought and sold the place, tweaking the amenities and the name -- Summit Grove Inn, Summit Grove Chalet -- until a fire in 1982 stopped the business cold. Former owners began restoration in 1998, and the place was listed on the Clark County Historic Register in 2003. Genteel Investments LLC, guided by Hepola, bought Summit Grove Lodge in 2009 and prolonged remodeling began.

Lifetime of giving

Hepola, 95, stopped by the site of her youthful revels one morning in early July to explore the remodeling project, and share a notebook of information and clippings about the place. She's got hundreds such notebooks on hundreds of local topics, she said, and plenty to say about the hard work of preserving a past that's always receding.

"Tired," she said.

That hasn't stopped her. Hepola has been instrumental in efforts to establish or save Woodland's Cedar Creek Grist Mill, the La Center library, the Amboy Historical Museum and more. Decades of dedicated philanthropy earned her an inaugural Lifetime of Giving award from the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington earlier this year.

Hepola is an elected official, too: she's commissioner of the Hayes Cemetery District in north Clark County. It's a position she's held for about 50 years -- and throughout that time, she said, it's earned her a whopping $300.

Hepola's current elected term began this year and ends in 2017.