Lots of small towns are known for their looking and feeling like the title of this column. The city of Wheeler had several starts and even moved during it’s formative years. Some of our neighbors just shared photos taken from the air at two different times years ago. Many of the buildings that we are using now are shown in both of those pictures. Some look much the same while others have been altered in one way or another.
The current town of Wheeler is actually a narrow spot in the road and is the only town that I know of with a speed limit of 25 mph. I am sure that it was set several decades ago when the town had a clinic for the treatment for arthritis by the first Dr Rinehart. I’m told that there were a great many elderly folk who came to seek his aid. There are still a few small motels in the town that sprung up to house the patients who came from far and wide to ease the pain of their affliction. I am told he called the shots that he administered “Clam Juice”, but I am sure it was something else that gave them the relief they were seeking. Only a couple of the small motels are still being used as housing units these days.
A newspaper article that was written and published back in the later 1950’s does a good job of telling the history of how the town came to be established and of the huge mill that was touted as the largest west of the Mississippi. The first mill was quite small and then it grew to the large size that had several starts and stops and the only thing left are many pilings along the shore and I spotted some cement slabs and structures that are still on the ground. The land in that area was eventually zoned “Water related industrial” as was another place north of the present city. The northern piece housed a shingle mill that was long gone when I got here 30 years ago. For many reasons there are no industrial companies or facilities on either of those two pieces of ground.
There are still some remnants of those old mills if you know where to look. There is a huge round saw blade mounted on the bulkhead across from the Post Office on Gregory street. There are some other artifacts in the Nehalem Valley Historical Society museum in downtown Manzanita.
The water supply came from a couple streams and some small dams. It was treated with chlorine and served the purpose until government regulations called for more treatment. It is now part of a system that brings water down from some wells several miles up the Nehalem river.
When we first came here the sewer system was in place and that development is a whole other story, but it happened in spite of some disagreements. Wheeler was going to do it themselves and I guess when the engineering was done and the price tag came along it was found that they couldn’t finance it.. They joined in with the larger development that was happening in Manzanita and Nehalem and the areas in between. By connecting in to the plant that was being built, an agreement was made that Wheeler would maintain the ownership of the system but all the money collected would go to the sewer district. The only money Wheeler would ever get would be from new connections. None of those arrangements proved to be practical and eventually by a vote of the entire District, Wheeler was annexed and pays the same rates as all other customers.
There are a lot of other stories about this little place. All of the development has been achieved with very hard to find finances. Some of the bonds will be paid off in a few years and when you take into account the value of money these days. they were real bargains.
Many times when watching the news we see the terrible traffic jams in Portland that happen almost every day, we are reminded how lucky we are to be in a place where it is only a problem now and then during the tourist season.
Finding a wide spot in the road was one of the best things that happened in many of our lives. A beautiful little town with loving caring people enjoying their lives. The flags that fly 24 hours a day at each end of town demonstrate our love for our country. I hope there is a comprehensive history written so those lucky people who come in the future will appreciate the efforts of those who got this all started.