SEASIDE — In a mix of sporadic rain and even occasional hail Saturday, residents of the Hamlet community picked up cans, bottles and a few abandoned car tires alongside the road.

The cleanup was the first of its kind since the group adopted Hamlet Road with the namesake of their community center and nonprofit group: Hamlet Historical Schoolhouse.

At the start of the road, where it meets Highway 53, their sign marking the adoption was erected last week by Clatsop County.

Four miles of winding road, past forestland, logging roads and creeks, the simple schoolhouse has stood since 1911 and been a focal point for the community ever since.

This summer, the group will host its annual barbecue and celebrate the building’s 100-year anniversary with food, music and games.

On the road

Saturday began with plenty of biscuits and gravy, orange juice and coffee for the volunteer cleanup crew at the schoolhouse. After coming up with a plan to tackle the cleanup of several miles of road, the workers began under rainy circumstances.

The weather didn’t dampen the spirits of the group members who took pride in cleaning up the road that winds past their rural properties. The crew of approximately 25 residents worked for most of the day, catching rides in each other’s truck beds up and down the road, searching for scraps of paper, plastic and shards of glass to dispose of in garbage bags provided by the county.

Elwin Price, who grew up in Seaside, was there with his wife, Jennifer, and their children. Their family lives near the junction with Highway 53 and Price said he was thrilled and amazed they got the land and house they now live in after moving from Tigard.

“Growing up I always wanted to live on the Hamlet route,” he said, adding that the quiet country life appealed to him.

The schoolhouse is an ongoing investment by those who use it as a local community center.

Shelly Painter, the nonprofit group’s treasurer, said that boards underneath the schoolhouse, plagued with dry rot, were recently fixed and two high school seniors decided to scrape and prep the ceiling for painting for their senior project. The roof was recently replaced as well and the outside panels were repainted in 2007.

“It’s been awesome to see a community come together to work on the building,” Painter said.

The schoolhouse is a place for local game nights and other events. Two blackjack tables from the Seaside Elks Lodge are recent additions to the schoolhouse.

A rich history

In his red pickup truck, Bud Painter, Shelly’s father-in-law, drove up and down the road Saturday with cleaners dressed in safety vests and garbage bags in hand hopping in the truck bed for a ride. His dog and country music accompanied the rides from within the truck.

Painter is considered the unofficial mayor of the Hamlet community, one of the oldest remaining residents at the age of 79. But many came before him. The community is said to have developed in the late 1800s, with groups of Finns moving from Astoria and Elsie to settle the rugged and beautiful valley.

“Originally when this settlement happened, most of them were fishermen,” Painter said. “They’d leave their wives up here … and go to the Columbia River.”

After passing the schoolhouse on Hamlet Road, old homestead houses built by the early residents of the community start to pop up among the trees.

The land was discovered as a suitable valley by hunters who told a contingent of the Finnish population, who soon set up homesteads in the area.

The original families are all but gone, with Don Hill, who is 81, the only resident with early settler relatives. Hill almost got a chance to attend school at the Hamlet Schoolhouse, where his mother taught, but the schoolchildren were consolidated into the Seaside School District in 1936.

Along Hamlet Road, the presence of the Painter family, which now spans four generations, didn’t happen until the mid-20th century. But even then the area was a rugged, somewhat isolated community.

“When we first moved here, there was no electricity,” Painter said. “When I was in high school I did my homework by a coal-oil lamp.”

Painter’s father, Clint, had enough of Bakersfield, Calif., and decided to move the family to the rural Hamlet setting. His father logged the forestland, farmed and sold milk to a nearby cheese factory. Painter recalled an early phone line connection that had to be cranked and rural everyday life.

“It was rough, but I would do it over again,” he said. “It didn’t seem rough at the time.”

Annual barbecue

The schoolhouse has been the meeting place for the community since it ceased being used for school instruction in 1936. The community’s annual barbecue grew to grand proportions over the years and even smaller events held at the schoolhouse attracted residents from neighboring communities.

“They’d come to the Hamlet school for a dance,” Painter said. “From Elsie and the Jewell area, then they’d let the horses take them home.”

This summer’s barbecue is slated to include a silent auction, live music and games.

“It’s going to be extra special because we’re celebrating the 100th year of the schoolhouse,” said Shelly Painter.

The schoolhouse still requires time and effort to maintain and the group’s barbecue helps fund the projects that keep up the building, which they hope to keep in original form as much as possible.

Several years ago, there was talk that firefighters might want to use the schoolhouse for training exercises. The Hamlet Volunteer Fire Department building occupies an adjacent plot of land.

But the group quickly stepped in to disourage any such idea.

“A lot of the old-timers wouldn’t allow that,” Bud Painter recalled.

The barbecue has entailed quad racing, a game for kids involving money hidden in haystacks, a pie eating contest and three-legged races. The event also has live music.

The food in the past has included roasted pig cooked in a dugout pit behind the schoolhouse as well as slow-cooked elk and beef.

Members of the group still have fond memories of the succulent meat, and others recalled going to town to pick up kegs of Olympia beer and filling the truck bed with ice to bring it back cold.

But at some point the barbecue got to be too big, with more than 500 people coming to the event from around the neighboring small towns.

This summer, the group hopes to have a large, but not overwhelming, turnout.

      

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