Since Paradise Cove, the RV park at which we were staying, was only a mile south of Wheeler, we soon took the opportunity to check out this little town, about which we knew exactly nothing. First order of business was mailing a letter. We were immediately charmed by the trapezoidally shaped post office, so built to make best use of the space between two streets coming together at a rather acute angle. In fact, though Wheeler doesn’t have all that many back streets, the few they have show that their builders didn’t seem to care much for straight lines and neat corners. They meander pleasantly along the hillsides of the town, where it’s also clear from exteriors of businesses as well as homes that inhabitants are not only free to express their personalities, but take delight in doing so.
In the abundance of antique and collectible shops, it’s easy to lose yourself in yesteryear. Our favorite was Wheeler Station Antiques, appearing deceivingly small from the outside. Inside, it’s a multi-level antique mall plus snack, ice cream parlor and espresso bar, and visitor center. Not junky or dusty, each section, meticulously maintained by its vendor to the smallest detail, is a feast for the eyes. You think you’ve seen it all, but there’s another short stairway leading you to yet another small space full of potential treasures and nostalgia.
Wheeler Hotel: Walking along the shops on Wheeler’s main street, Highway 101, I was drawn to what appeared to be a small time-warped office, with tomato-red walls and hanging chandeliers. A Civil War era jacket was hanging on the coat tree next to the roll top desk. Had I stumbled onto a museum of sorts? The building itself was the Wheeler Hotel building, and Wheeler Hotel was neatly painted in red on the glass doors at the top of the stairs. No "private" or "keep out" signs to discourage me, and I soon found myself wandering its halls admiring the tasteful and unique décor. My eyes fell on notes clipped next to the doors of some of the rooms, on which was written "Welcome, _____" with keys stuck in the door. Though tempting, that bold I’m not, so I walked on finding what I later learned is the "common room", pictured here.
In the meantime, Bob was chatting with one of the shopkeepers below, and I called him on cell phone, suggesting he might want to come upstairs to see my find. He’d no sooner arrived, than one of the guests emerged in stocking feet to get some ice from the frig. It was her first stay here and she was totally loving it. Views from the common room and every room and suite overlook Nehalem Bay. The guest raved that even her Jacuzzi had a gorgeous view! As we conversed, proprietor Winston came to say hello. He and his wife (and 9-year-old son, I later learned from one of the newspaper articles on the wall) live in the back part of the hotel. This interesting and creative couple (originally from L.A. and New York respectively) was motor-homing around the U.S. when they discovered Wheeler and the then very dilapidated and falling-apart old hotel, and decided to settle down here. The year was 1998. After 2 ½ years of hard work renovating and beautifying, they began taking guests in 2001.
Time flew by, with Winston graciously showing us some of the rooms not yet occupied by guests. Take a look at them yourself; you can view each room on Wheeler Hotel’s website. Nightly peak season rates range from $60-110 and include expanded continental breakfast, free DVDs you can view in your room, and the morning paper delivered on your doorstep. Winston showed us how for larger families and groups, several of the rooms can be connected to form suites of 2 or even 3 rooms, from $125-240 nightly. The hotel has a massage room, courtesy phones, and high-speed internet access as well. Back woods of Oregon? Hardly! More like best of both worlds.
Like many of Oregon coastal towns, Wheeler began as a mill town in 1910, named for its founder, lumberman C. H. Wheeler. When the railroad connected Wheeler with Portland in 1911, growth and commerce thrived. Lumber and shingle mills did excellent business, and finished wood products were transported by rail to Portland. An early arrival to Wheeler was Dr. Harvey Rinehart and his bride in 1913. He was to establish the Rinehart Arthritis Clinic, which became quite well known, attracting patients from far and wide. For some time, the clinic was housed in the old Wheeler Hotel. In the 1940’s, Dr. Rinehart’s son Robert and daughter-in-law Dorothy, both MD’s, joined him in Wheeler to practice medicine. Between 1953 and 1989, Wheeler even had a hospital.
But by 1990, due to geo-economic-political changes, no more physicians were practicing in town. The end of that year, grandson of Dr. Harvey and son of Drs. Robert and Dorothy, Dr. Harry Rinehart, was called up for the Army Reserves during Desert Storm. By 1992, he was working in Wheeler as an employee of Tillamook County General Hospital. In one of those twists of history where things come around full circle, Dr. Harry Rinehart is now the medical director of private non-profit Rinehart Clinic, the third generation of Rineharts to be providing medical care for Wheeler citizens!
The Tillamook Burn is remembered by old-timers in Wheeler and other old lumber towns in Tillamook County. This refers to a big fire, or series of fires actually, between 1933 and 1945. The 1933 fire was the biggest, burning 240,000 acres of forest. Coming during the Depression, it compounded the region’s economic woes. Salvage logging of the burned areas was carried out until as late as 1955. Before then, massive replanting of the Burn with Douglas fir had begun, much of it by ordinary citizens and even school children. The oldest of these replanted forests are now 70 years old. In 1973, the Tillamook Burn became part of Tillamook State Forest, which also includes some unburned old forest. The state has designated up to 85% of the forest as loggable, engendering controversy between logging interests, who are eager to maximize their yield, and conservation groups, who are pushing to have the percentage reduced to 50%, which would have less impact on purity of water and wildlife habitats.