Historic photographs saved during Eagle Creek Fire will be displ - KPTV - FOX 12

Historic photographs saved during Eagle Creek Fire will be displayed in new museum

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COLUMBIA RIVER GORGE, OR (KPTV) -

It's been more than six months since the Eagle Creek Fire spread through the Columbia River Gorge. Those who live in the small Gorge towns were forced to leave their homes, not knowing if their homes would still be standing when they returned.

One man had a special mission: Save his collection of historic photographs and artifacts destined for a new Gorge museum.

FOX 12 first met Steve Lehl in Sept. 2017 at the Red Cross Shelter at Mt. Hood Community College. His home in Latourell was under an evacuation order.

"That night when we were there and the east wind was still blowing, we were told that the fire had now gone up the slopes and hit Vista House," said Lehl.

Lehl didn't think the fire would spare his home. So while he figured he couldn't save his house, he could save his 40-year-old collection of Gorge keepsakes and souvenirs.

30,000 items in all. It took Lehl 10 hours to pack everything up.

"A neighbor came up and was helping me. Popping pictures off the wall, nails were flying," he said.

Now six months later, everything is back in its place.

Lehl did not just save his collection for himself, he saved it for the rest of the locals too. Everything will be donated to a museum that the Crown Point Country Historical Society is set to build in the Gorge.

Some of the items are kitschy, like souvenirs once sold at Vista House and the Multnomah Falls Lodge, or the chinaware painted with Gorge scenery, which was sold at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Exposition.

But the heart of the collection are the photographs, which show what the Gorge has meant to generations of Pacific Northwesterners.

Perhaps the oldest and rarest and first photographs of the Gorge were taken in the 1860's by western photographer Carleton Watkins.

Lehl's collection of 15,000 postcards gives a glimpse of the build-up of the commercial side of the Gorge.

Lehl says he still gets upset when he thinks about the Eagle Creek Fire and what it did to the Gorge.

"It's different, it's sad. There are places in the Gorge I'll never, I'm too old to ever see again," said Lehl. "They won't be ready. They won't be ready and I'll be too old."

The new museum will be built on a property across the street from the firehouse in Corbett. Groundbreaking is set for April 2018.

 Anyone who would like more information about the new museum or would like to donate to it, go to this link: http://crownpointcountrymuseum.org/

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