In 1912, Emil Franzetti, a Swiss hotelier, and his wife, Suzette, purchased the town’s only inn. They transformed the chalet-style lodge into a bustling European-style resort serving fine cuisine. After an accident suddenly took her husband’s life, Suzette ran the inn for several years before selling it along with a small portion of the grounds.
In the late 1920s, she subdivided her remaining 140-acre mountainside property and hired Henry Steiner, a German-born wood craftsmen, to build modest cabins on the parcels. Over the course of the next two decades, Henry built approximately 30 rustic, log dwellings comprised of timbers felled onsite, glacial stones, river rock and other local resources.
Today, many of the cabins are used as weekend and summer retreats, whereas others have been converted into year-round homes. Nancy Dougherty, a retired teacher, had never heard of Henry Steiner when she bought one of his enchanting cabins, a three-bedroom model, as her primary residence in 1975.
“I was looking for a quiet place to raise my two sons and was attracted to the riverside setting and mountain views,” she says. “The house was in pretty bad shape, but its hand- hewn logs and handcrafted details really appealed to me.” Three decades later, Nancy is one of the leading experts on the area’s famous Steiner cabins.
“For Mr. Steiner, building cabins was a family affair,” she says. “Almost all of his 13 children contributed to the process in some way.”
Henry’s wife and daughters hand-peeled the logs. His sons cleared the land, cut trees into logs and shaved cedar into shingles.
Since there wasn’t electricity on the mountain, they used only manual tools for construction. Wielding 16-pound sledgehammers, the strongest of his sons turned giant boulders into flat-faced rocks intended for chimneys and massive fireplaces. John and Fred Steiner, the two eldest boys, built cabins and produced replacement logs and shakes until the mid-1960s.
Lloyd Musser, curator of The Mt. Hood Cultural Center and Museum, explains that the Steiners never bought anything they could make. Most of the original multi-paned sliding windows still offer Nancy and her neighbors’ unobstructed views of the magnificent outdoors. Everything was designed or chosen to be practical and sturdy.
The cabins originally featured kerosene lamps, wood stoves and gravity-fed water systems, but like most others, Nancy’s cabin has been updated with electricity, a modern furnace and new plumbing. Despite these improvements, the cabin still looks pretty much the same as it did in 1933 when Suzette put it up for sale.
“Today, the Steiner cabins in Rhododendron are considered extraordinary examples of 20th-century Oregon rustic style,” Nancy says. “But to Henry, they were simply a matter of using what the land provided in the best way he knew how. I’m sure he’d be delighted to know how popular they still are.”