Museum Musings: March 2013


“Neither rain nor sleet nor snow or dark of night shall keep these couriers from their appointed rounds.” This is the motto of our postal employees. I suppose this still applies, unless you live in the Columbia River Gorge, where winter driving can be hazardous; or if Saturday mail delivery is cancelled this coming September. Many changes have taken place in our area in the past 100 years. There is no longer the penny post card or the 3-cent stamp.

There was once a post office at Cook, WA. The late Carl Nielson told an interesting story about the spelling of Cook or Cooks. According to Carl, it originally was called “Cooks Landing.” The name was thought to have originated when a river boat stopped there to let off a cook, who had purchased a land claim nearby.

Later, the railroad reached this spot and mail service became available. A group met in an upstairs room one evening to decide on a name for their new post office. They were not sure if the name of the railroad depot was Cook or Cooks. Jake Brock felt it was Cook. Rather lighting a lantern and walking down to the depot to see for sure, they went ahead and wrote a letter to the US Postal Department stating that the name was “Cook.” Thus, even today, the sign along the railway reads “Cooks” and the post office sign at the time read “Cook.”

Later on, I read an account that differed from Carl’s. This story said that in September of 1915, Mrs. Christina L. Cook sold a parcel of land to B.M. Hawley. The article asked, “Was this the wife of Charles Cook, after whom the Cook, WA post office was named?” Various people, including the railroad, added and S to the name, thus making it Cooks.

The following quotation is from page 45 of The History of Clark County, Volume 5, that states, “The first post office to be established in Skamania County came to be as a direct result of the building of the SP&S Railroad. It was named after Charles Cook, a purser on the Columbia River steamer, the DS Baker.

Now you have two versions of the “Cook” vs. “Cooks” name. Both sound good so take your pick.

The history of mail delivery in the Little White Salmon Valley is fascinating. According to Nielson, there were once unofficial postal drops at Willard, Moss Creek Park and at Chenoweth. One of the early mail carriers was a Native American, Joe Ellick. He picked up the mail at Hood River and carried it on horseback to Mitchell Point, on the south shore of the Columbia. He crossed the river by rowboat to the foot of Chenoweth Hill. From there he packed the mail on his back to Willard. Sometimes he could ride his horse all the way – when the river was frozen over.

In later years, mailmen and mailwomen sometimes delivered groceries along with the mail. Walt Hockinson had a grocery store in Carson. If you called ahead, he would deliver eggs or milk or whatever, along with the daily mail. The carrier at Underwood would also deposit groceries from the Underwood store in containers left alongside the row of post office boxes.

In 1935, Loree Jackman delivered mail to residents from the Cook Post Office to Willard. She was the mail carrier on this route for 32 years. Today the address for residents in the Mill A, Cook, and Willard communities is Cook-Underwood Road, 98605. However, Bingen is the main post office for these residents.

The Stevenson Post Office also provides service to North Bonneville, Home Valley and Skamania.

Postage has gone up. The telephone, email and texting have taken over the once popular hand-written letter. Mixed in among the mail that just advertises or asks for money for charities, you may sometimes find a letter; a real letter from a dear friend. Cherish it. It may soon be a thing of the past.

Located in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, the Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum brings to life the human stories and natural history of one of our nation’s most compelling landscapes.