The Sage Connection

How one local family is keeping its history alive


Since Olympia wasn’t founded until 1853, it’s a safe bet most of our ancestors came from somewhere else in the beginning.

For instance, my education began in 1950 in a one-room schoolhouse in Quincy, Illinois. There were 13 of us from Grades 1 through 8. We sat in the old-fashioned desks all in a row – one row for each grade. There was never anyone in the grade above me. I have fond memories of that school and still remember my teacher’s name – Mrs. Hull.

My friend Darlene Kemery didn’t exactly start off the way I did. She and her family took the little white schoolhouse in Hanh’s Peak, Colorado a step further.

Darlene’s History:

The residents of Hahn’s Peak built their schoolhouse in 1911 and opened it in 1912. The small cabin they had been using as a school was no longer large enough to accommodate the growing number of children whose families had come to the Hahn’s Peak area to homestead.

Darlene’s grandparents, James and Rose Wheeler, arrived in Hahn’s Peak along with their three small children and a dog in 1921. James had been searching for a long time for a place he could raise his family and Hahn’s Peak was one of the last places he could file a homestead.

James built a cabin in a small cove that is currently near one of the boat launches on Steamboat Lake. The only trace you will find now of where the cabin was, is some rhubarb Rose planted in their garden.

As their family grew, they slowly improved on the homestead over the next five years. By then the children were old enough to attend school. The “school bus” at the time was a wagon hitched up to a horse and driven by Earl Bedell, whose family were also homesteaders.

During the winter the wagon was replaced with a sled. Some of the older children skied to school so there would be room for the younger children. The schoolhouse was also used as a gathering place during the winter for Christmas and 4th of July celebrations.

They later moved to a 168-acre ranch that James purchased. The Wheelers stayed on their ranch until 1945.

Slowly, all the other homesteaders left the area and they were the only “homesteaders” left in the valley. WWII had taken the older boys who were drafted and sent off to fight the war. Only the younger boys were left to help with the ranch work.

In the late 1960s, a dam was built on Willow Creek and flooded the valley that included the Wheeler ranch. Rose wrote to the forest service and asked if the graves of her two children would be preserved. The graves are at the top of a hill overlooking the valley. The forest service put up a granite marker on the graves.

The inscription on a granite marker reads as follows:

“The Wheelers, their 3 small children and a dog moved from Sterling, Colorado to the area in 1921. After a week of travel in their model T Ford, they arrived to homestead and live on 243 acres of this land, mostly covered by the water of the lake. The first year was the hardest, with the deep snow and the struggle for food. They survived on snowshoe rabbits and grouse with biscuits and gravy.

“The Wheelers raised their family in the area and gained a wealth of appreciation for the beauty from the surrounding mountains and valleys. Lost at birth and buried here are two of the children of James and Rose Wheeler. A daughter named Ruth June 20, 1928, and a son named Sonny Boy October 6, 1930.”

Several generations later, Darlene was born in Roseburg, Oregon on June 30, 1956. At the age of four, her family bought an old homestead just outside of Gold Hill, Oregon where they lived until she was 10. “We moved to Colorado, where my father was from, in 1966. I lived there until I returned to the northwest in 1977. I lived in Shelton for a brief time before moving to Olympia, to shorten my commute to my work at The Olympian newspaper”. Darlene explained.

Fast forward, almost 100 years later, she took a road trip from her home in Olympia to Hahn’s Peak village with her son and two grandkids to her grandparents’ home. The purpose of the trip was to meet with her sister and cousins to put a new coat of paint on the little schoolhouse.

Darlene also wanted her own grandchildren to see where their family heritage began. With paint and supplies donated by Steamboat Ace Hardware, they went to work. The biggest challenge was figuring out how to paint the top half of the building since it was higher than any of the ladders we had available could reach. It took another trip to Steamboat Springs to borrow a ladder from the LDS church.

One very brave 19-year-old in the group managed to find a way to get up into the bell tower. We kept a safety rope on her and resupplied her paint bucket when she ran out, while also keeping a sharp eye on her should she get stuck trying to get down.

Even Darlene’s 11-year-old grandson helped in the painting without so much as a complaint that he was too tired or hungry. Her granddaughter had a backpack full of first aid supplies in case someone was in need of a Band-Aid. In the evening they all met back at the cabin Darlene had rented and enjoyed a hot meal.

After two days, the job was completed and the Hahn’s Peak Historical Society put together a wonderful feast to thank us for our work.” It had been ten years since the last time we as a family, had gotten together and painted the schoolhouse”, Darlene said.

The family decided they should all make an effort to return in five years. After all, everyone is getting older, and climbing up and down a ladder is getting to be more of a challenge.

Olympia is now their home, but it is Darlene’s hope her children and theirs will remember this is where their family began and in the years that follow, they also come back to keep that part of their history alive.

Maybe someday they, too, will pass on the story and return to put another coat of paint on the little white schoolhouse.

Kathleen Anderson writes this column each week from her home in Olympia.  Contact her at or post your comment below. 


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  • MowJoe

    Great story, thank you.

    Friday, August 13, 2021 Report this