Unfortunately, there are not many people roaming around Central Oregon today who recognize the Vandervert family name instantly. However, for those who don't readily know the name and the importance of the family to Central Oregon's history, there's a new book out that will bring everyone up to speed: Vandervert, The Hundred Year History of a Central Oregon Ranch, by Ted Haynes and Grace Vandervert McNellis.
This marvelous book is loaded with readable facts, photos, figures, personalities and a rich history of Central Oregon - from the front cover, featuring a hand-drawn map of the Vandervert homestead, to the back cover showing a powerful photo of "Bill" W.P. Vandervert, the man who started it all.
Today, the Vandervert place is the site of a snazzy golf course and fine homes, midway between Sunriver and LaPine, three miles west of Highway 97 on Vandervert Road.
What makes this book so warm, friendly and a joy to read are the personal anecdotes of Grace Vandervert McNellis, whose memories and experiences are set in such a way that the reader can't help but be caught up in the rich history and excitement of Bend and the surrounding countryside of the early 1900s.
Admittedly, I'm biased. I get a sense of personal enjoyment when the authors take us along the trail of what the Vanderverts achieved in their struggle to make a living and keep the family fed in what, at times, were very hostile conditions in the late 1800s and into the days beyond the Great Depression.
I had the pleasure of living with one of the characters featured in the book: Dean Hollinshead of Bend, the man for which Hollinshead park is named. When I rolled into Bend in 1952 astride my faithful 1949 Harley, I met Dean and his lovely wife, Lily, while I was searching for a place to rent and found it in the form of the original George A. Jones house located on the lower part of the Timberlane Ranch, the name Lily gave their place on Jones Road.
One of the first stories I heard from Dean about his pioneering days of living in Rosland (which evolved into the La Pine we know today) was his dealings with the Vanderverts. On page 70, you will see a photo and read about the brand-spanking-new 1910 footbridge across the Little Deschutes River that Bill and Claude Vandervert built for ease of getting to the western property of the homestead.
You will probably enjoy the story about Dean and his brothers, Chet and Cecile, who were driving a raft of lumber from the sawmill in Rosland under said footbridge, and then, through no fault of Dean's, tore the bridge down. What you won't read is "the rest of the story" Dean shared with me on one of the trips we took to visit his old family homestead located near Dorrance Meadow.
The Hollinshead brothers had to drive the lumber raft under the Vandervert footbridge - there was no other route - and Dean realized that going under the Vandervert footbridge was all his responsibility. But even with his care and talent, Murphy's Law was always a factor. On the first trip under the footbridge, the raft clipped the supports and raised the ire of Claude Vandervert, who informed Dean of what might happen to him if he did that again.
In the story, there's a long pole Dean used to keep the raft under control - an open invitation for Murphy to join the party. In spite of all good intentions, the pole did not behave as planned, and ultimately destroyed the bridge and dumped both Bill and Claude, who were standing on the bridge to make sure Dean and his crew stayed away from the supports, unceremoniously into the river.
To give you some idea of the magnitude of that unfortunate incident, in 1971, when Dean and I went to visit Claude at the homestead, Dean took me aside and cautioned, "Please, Jimmy, don't say anything or bring up that that footbridge wreck I had with the lumber raft. Claude still feels a little jittery about it."
The Vandervert Family made our home country what it is today. Go to your local bookstore and get yourself a copy of this wonderful work and share it with your family on the next reading night you have with the children, or with your book club. It will enrich your lives and make you aware of the significance and contributions of the many pioneer families who utilized and, helped to preserve, the natural beauty of our land.