Remembering the Lake at HillsideOur Past - Growing Up Here
A little over three miles up Thatcher Road from the Plaid Pantry is Tom Meier’s Three Mile Museum, a wonderfully elusive and eclectic spot loaded with artifacts of early Oregon. A visual treasure-trove of hardware and electronics from the 1920s and thirties, the barn-like museum also features an extensive collection of grinding stones and arrowheads that were compiled sometime in the early Twentieth Century by a farmer that lived across from Meier’s place, an area known by the locals as Lousignont Lake; The once expansive lake, on what is now Jim Love’s berry farm, sat roughly between Hillside and Kansas City Road, and was a popular recreation area before 1900; 10 feet at its deepest point, the lake was an Edenic locale for anglers and hunters. Like Wapato Lake, it was drained with varying success before World War 2 by Japanese-American farmers, who, after their forced removal from the Hillside area in the early 1940s, lost their farms. And farmers continue to wrestle with the waters today. The spirit of Lousignont Lake is alive and well at places like Meier’s museum and Love’s farm, and stirred this Forest Grover to “dip into” the lake’s history.
The Lousignont area was originally the home of the Cha-Chabit-Manchal, one of thirty bands of the Atfalati (Tualatin) people from the Kalapuyan tribe of Oregon. The Tualatin for the most part spent winters in camps around the regional lakes, such as Wapato Lake at Gaston, and the other bodies of water fed from rivers like the Tualatin, Dairy and McKay. The diminutive arrowheads in Meier’s collection suggest that these Tualatin hunted small game, namely grouse and beaver, and, as in the case of the Wapato Lake Kalapuya, they harvested wapato tubers from the marshy soil, dried them, and made flour for bread. With the arrival and settlement of Americans in the Willamette Valley, the population of Tualatin people encountered new diseases such as malaria, and by the 1830s, were dying by the thousands. Less than a hundred Tualatin were living in 1851, the year the US government relocated them to Grand Ronde Reservation.
It’s not exactly clear how many Tualatins remained at the lakeside camp when John Lousignont and his wife, Delilah Enyart Lousignont arrived in Hillside around 1847, but the visual evidence of seasonal dwellings — which can still be found — must have been striking. The Lousignont’s land claim was surveyed to follow the lake shore line, and their home overlooked the lake. For decades, it remained a hunter’s paradise; on May 21, 1874, the San Francisco Bulletin reported one “Mr. Loosingalt, who lives on the Wapatoo Lake, killed a large fat bear in his neighborhood last week.” The family name was notoriously misspelled in every census record, but the original Huguenot spelling was “Lusignan.” Other families soon claimed land on different sections of the lake: the Poe, Kelly, Armstrong, Pierce and Thatcher families were just a few to settle along the lakeside.
Though not reported on, some draining of Lousignont Lake must have taken place by 1900. The 1909 map of Hillside shows the lake bed divided up into smaller acreage lots and owed by dozens of different families. However, as with Wapato Lake, the lake would reclaim the land from time to time. Remnants of the lake survive as small ponds, Peck’s Pond being one.
In the early 1930s, a few Japanese-American families settled in Hillside, and raised strawberries, among other crops in the nutrient Lousignont lake bed, and according to locals, finished the process of draining the lake. The two families that we have record of –The Inahara and the Uchiyama – were apparently welcomed into the otherwise homogenous community, and their children (Takashi, Yoshio, Toshio, and Kenji Inahara among them), attended the Hillside school in 1932-33. Toshio excelled in high school, and served as class president of the Forest Grove freshmen in 1935; he would eventually become one of the foremost heart surgeons in the country, and inventor of the Inahara Shunt. John Uchiyama was another precocious student, and was editor of the high school newspaper “Moan” during his senior year. His sisters Mitsu and Minnie were also involved in several school clubs, including the Caesar Club, and the school orchestra.
If in fact these families helped to drain Lousignont Lake and prepared the hills for raising strawberries, they were unable to enjoy the revived land’s bounty. After Pearl Harbor was attacked in December 1941, President Roosevelt set in motion the systematic relocation of Japanese-Americans into internment camps. This order inadvertently stripped these citizens of their rights, property and former lives. Some families, like the Inaharas, were able to receive permits to resettle in the Midwest rather than suffer the awful conditions in camps. Regardless, they lost all they had worked for, their farm was taken over, and their lives in Hillside were all but forgotten.
Remember those folks, and all the farmers in Hillside, the next time you’re traveling up Thatcher, and if you have some free time, or plan to be in the area, call Tom Meier, let him know you’re coming, and you’ll be in store for an up-close look into Forest Grove’s history. (503) 357-4173.
About Skip Buhler
I have been interested in Forest Grove's history since moving here ca. 2007 (it was probably 2006, but as I spend most of the time in the nineteenth century, I'm not exactly sure when I arrived). Since then, I have been actively researching the people and places that make this region such a great place. I first got involved with FHFG in 2011 or so, and have served as Board Secretary for many years starting in 2012. I'm an independent art historian, and also have a vinyl record store in town, where my interests in art and history converge.