Before his death in 2018 , Cannon Beach resident Alfred Aya Jr. left a curious note in his estate.
The note read “La Pine” and included a combination code to a safe in a storage unit. The 94-year-old Aya, who never married or had children, left charge of his affairs and the note to his best friend’s son, George Hawley, an attorney in Los Angeles.
Hawley traveled to Cannon Beach, opened the safe and found hundreds of files, photos and letters that detailed the founding of La Pine. The materials belonged to Alfred Aya Sr., who was one of the founders of La Pine and is credited with naming the city for its abundance of pine trees.
“I came across what is obviously a treasure trove of records in a safe,” Hawley said, “and I sent them off to the museum.”
The rare documents were an unexpected surprise for the staff at the Deschutes Historical Museum in Bend.
Kelly Cannon-Miller, director of the museum, said the materials are the first official proof of how La Pine was founded. The collection includes articles of incorporation for the La Pine Townsite Co., the business that came in and created the town in 1910.
The museum doesn’t have any immediate plans to put the items on display, but anyone interested in La Pine history is welcome to sift through the materials, Cannon-Miller said.
Previously, the museum was relying on old newspaper clippings and oral histories to tell the story of La Pine, she said.
“Most of the history was developed just from the memories of the pioneer families,” she said. “This is the first archival evidence we have of the formation of the La Pine Townsite Co.”
The old documents show how Aya Sr., a Portland attorney, and a half-dozen other stakeholders planned to develop the town and sell off plats of land. They envisioned building railroads, warehouses, mills, factories, churches, schools and hotels in the new town.
In a document dated March 27, 1911, the stakeholders agree to pave the streets and plant trees as a way to beautify the town and make it attractive for new residents.
“You have to make it pretty if you want people to move there,” Cannon-Miller said.
Among all the official documents are more than a hundred love letters written to Aya Sr. from his wife, Grace, who was living in Portland while he was starting the town of La Pine.
Grace would sometimes write to Aya Sr. four times a day and express how much she missed him.
“I thought I would write you a few lines before going to bed just to let you know I’m still thinking of you,” Grace wrote in one letter. “You see you are continually on my mind Antony, dear. I missed you tonight like everything but reread your letter which helped a little bit.”
Rebekah Averette, registrar for the museum, said the love letters help paint a more personal picture of Aya Sr. and what life was like for him and his wife.
“A lot of times you think of romances 100 years ago and they seem very stiff,” Averette said. “But these are just so mushy and adorable.”
Aya Sr. and Grace were married June 22, 1914, and lived in the new town created by the La Pine Townsite Co. More than 600 people lived in the town at the time.
The town did not grow as expected, in part because a railroad never came through.
In December 1933, the La Pine Townsite Co. dissolved. But the town remained an unincorporated part of Deschutes County until it was incorporated as a city in 2006.
Aya Sr. and his wife moved back to Portland in 1918, and he worked for his wife’s family company, Honeyman Hardware Co.
The Ayas raised three children, Alfred Jr., Roderick and Barbara.
Aya Jr., who served 25 years in the U.S. Army, spent his life in San Francisco working for a phone company until he retired to Cannon Beach in 1984. In his retirement, Aya Jr. spearheaded the design and installation of Cannon Beach’s famous “mooing” tsunami warning sirens.
Hawley, who considers Aya Jr. an uncle, visited him in Cannon Beach several times as a child and later as an adult. Hawley remembers helping with the installation of the tsunami warning system.
Through the years, Hawley learned all about Aya Jr.’s life, but never heard much about his connection to La Pine.
He was perplexed when he saw the note with the words, “La Pine,” and a combination to the safe.
“I had no idea what would be in that safe,” Hawley said. “It was all these beautifully kept records.”