Extraordinary wildfires last month devastated thousands of Oregon homes and properties, including Willamette’s Thetford Lodge.
For many decades, staff, students and faculty regularly flocked to the beloved lodge for retreats, class gatherings and even weddings, but above all, they sought refuge in its gorgeous location along the Little North Fork of the Santiam River, 35 miles east of campus in the foothills of the Cascades.
Built in 1948 and designed by famed Portland architect Pietro Belluschi, the split-level lodge held four bedrooms, two bathrooms, vaulted ceilings, a full kitchen, a large fireplace and a wrap around porch that overlooked the river. Guests provided their own food, firewood and other amenities while the lodge had electricity and well water.
Thetford was owned by former Oregon Gov. Charles Sprague, a Willamette trustee, who used it as his private mountain retreat. According to The Collegian, the name “Thetford” held historical and sentimental significance to the family — they named the lodge after the town of Thetford, Vermont, as a paternal ancestor of Sprague’s wife founded the town.
In 1963, the family donated the lodge to the university for use as an educational and recreational facility. An article in The Statesman Journal celebrating the gift proclaimed “Willamette University isn’t the largest school in the land, nor the richest, but it’s among the best. And it’s now to have just about the most idyllic retreat any university ever had.”
Sprague, who was also editor and publisher of The Statesman Journal, had strong ties to Willamette. He served on several committees and the university honored outstanding Collegian reporters with “The Charles A. Sprague Award,” a nod to Sprague’s decorated history in Oregon and Washington journalism, according to The Collegian.
Willamette has decided not to rebuild Thetford. In the upcoming year, the university will likely clean the site and work on next steps with the Bureau of Land Management, which owns the property, said Vice President for Finance and Treasurer Dan Valles.
Director of Campus Safety Ross Stout '85 MM'93, who led renovation of the lodge in 2000, said it’s a “huge cultural loss for the university.
“For employees who either visited a few times or many times, to professors who took their classes up there, it was a shared experience many people had,” he said. “When you talked about it, people knew about it and would comment about what a marvelous experience it was.”