The Story of Rockview
Mill & Area history
Rockview was a bustling community during the days of early settlement in the Methow Valley. It was located between the Weeman Bridge and Big Valley on the north side of the Methow River. This land has been stewarded by the Methow People since time immemorial and still remains unceded.
The exact origins and endings of Rockview remain uncertain, but the community was likely formed soon after homesteads were claimed in the area. A few of the earliest families to homestead in the area were the Ventzkes in 1886, Boesels in 1889, and Wehmeyers in 1893. The early community of Rockview was commonly referred to as "Pasco," as many residents came from that town, in south central WA along the Columbia River. Farming and logging were the main drivers of industry. The demise of Rockview may have occurred with the closing of the last sawmill in the late 1930s, but this is unclear. Despite people still living in the area today, it is no longer referred to as Rockview.
Education in Rockview
Education was important to many early pioneer families. Nearly as soon as the Wehmeyer family settled into the valley they started schooling in their cramped living room. The very first schools were in people's home, Wehmeyer's offered a room in their home as a community classroom, common practice. Later on, the Rockview log schoolhouse was built nearby. Following the consolidation of the Rockview and Winthrop School Districts, a better one-room wood-frame schoolhouse was built. Children learned in this building until around 1927 when buses started transporting students to Winthrop.
What might be the advantages of teaching in such an intimate setting with students of various abilities? Is education exclusive to the classroom setting?
Homesteading was plenty of hard work, but there was always fun to be had as well. Rockview had its own basketball team made up of young men from the area. The Rockview team was the first in the Valley to have their own uniforms. The black and gold uniforms must have been quite the scene as the team was razzed by the Twisp players who called them “spiders from the jungle.”
How did gender roles influence who was allowed to take part in certain activities? How far have we come in this respect?
More fun was to be had at the many dances and social gatherings of Rockview. Dances were a big part of the community, either held in people's homes, schoolhouses, or most notoriously the Rockview dance hall. The dance hall was built as a community building and grange which held more dances than any place else in the valley during the 1920s and 30s, all of which were well attended. If it was a Saturday night with less than a foot of snow on the ground, you could count on a lively dance at Rockview.
Everyone danced until midnight when they would stop to eat supper. At the height of prohibition a dancer could walk outside to find someone selling homemade beer or moonshine in the parking lot.
How has the significance of social gatherings changed throughout the years?
"Folks who brought babies had them all warm and cozy up over the kitchen where their coats also were. When the last dance was over haste was made to return home... wraps were donned, babies were picked up in their warm blankets. As it turned out no one had their own child. Some jokester or jokesters had switched those sleeping babies!"
- Methow Valley Pioneers, p. 867
Sawmills were one of the driving forces behind the community known as Rockview. Sawmills were plentiful in the Methow Valley and often moved around for new access to timber.
The first sawmill in Rockview was set up on Hank Johnsons’ property in 1892. William and Fred Wehmeyer, Hank Johnson, and Charlie McClurkin leased the sawmill from Guy Waring of Winthrop to mill wood for building homes and barns. The mill was moved to Winthrop in 1904.
In 1909 Hazard Ballard and Roma E. Johnson (son of Hank Johnson) purchased a mill from Chelan and moved it to Rockview. This “Rockview Mill” was also on the Johnson Ranch but closer to the river. When the mill first started, it employed 16 men who were mostly paid in logs. Hazard Ballard took over as the sole proprietor when Roma E. Johnson retired in 1911. The unique position of this mill on the Methow River in such close vicinity to great timber led to the success of this mill. Logs from homesteaders clearing land for agriculture near Mazama allowed for great log drives to be sent down the Methow River into the mill pond during high waters. The mill closed when L.B. Stockdill purchased the machinery and moved it up the Twisp River in 1918.
In 1919 George Fender moved his sawmill from Bear Creek to the Rockview area just east of the Weeman Bridge. Shortly after, he bought a box factory and lumber yard in Twisp where the majority of the logs milled at Rockview were sent to be made into apple boxes for the growing orchard industry. Much like the previous Rockview mill, the Fender mill gained success from driving logs down the Methow River. Logging was done in the winter while the sawmill operated in the summer following big log drives.
The mill site was surrounded by many small buildings which served as cook shacks and bunkhouses for mill workers. The mill itself was burnt down and rebuilt twice. In 1929 George Fender opened up a store at the Rockview Fender Mill. In 1934 mill ownership went to Cecil Wetsel when George Fender died. Somewhere along the way Fender Mill went bankrupt and was purchased by Dan Gamble who continued to run the mill at Rockview until 1939, when the Wagner Lumber Company purchased and moved it to Twisp.
Fender Mill 1920s2011.030.132
Fender Mill Site Aug. 2020
Fender Mill 1920s2011.030.124
Fender Mill Site Aug. 2020
Want to experience the historic Fender Mill site In Person?
The site of the old Fender Mill is now owned by the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife, where big game preservation and salmon habitat restoration projects have taken place. Just southwest of the Weeman Bridge, look for the big salmon habitat restoration sign at the pull out of Highway 20. you can hunt for rusty remnants of the mill and get a better sense of what life was like back then.
WA State Discover Pass required.
People of the Rockview community, and Methow Valley as a whole, were deeply reliant on the natural environment to sustain themselves. Exploitation of natural resources brought white pioneers to the valley, and the bounty of the land kept them here.
How feasible would it be for communities in the Methow Valley to sustain themselves today completely with local resources? How is the economy and well being of the Methow Valley reliant on climate and natural resources?
How can this fleeting history of Rockview help us better understand the current state of the Methow Valley and it’s future? Where are we headed?
Despite the absence of stable incomes and safety, the community of Rockview was able to brave the toughest of times through neighborly support. Physical isolation brought families and communities closer together and built resiliency. A balance of work and play along with human connection made life meaningful.
How can you relate to the people of Rockview? What can we learn from them?
Is a strong sense of community still present in the Methow Valley? How is it changing? How can we foster resiliency within the Methow Valley?
The information above has been compiled from a wide variety of sources including:
The Smiling Country by Sally Portman Mazama the Past 125 Years by Doug Devin
Methow Valley Pioneers Methow Valley News
Methow Valley Journal Shafer Museum Archives
Okanogan County Heritage-"Pioneer Bride of the Upper Methow " Fall 1977-"Rockview Sawmill" Spring 2020 by Barry George-"Rockview & M.T. Co. Sawmills" Winter 2013 by Barry George