Monday, September 5, 2011

End of an Era

It's the same old story: we keep paving paradise and putting up parking lots. There's no escape, not even in Hilt California. For a town that has already risen and died, recent developments at our beloved Hilt Store feel like the last nail in a coffin.

If you're interested in the history of Hilt, there's a good chronology of the last 160 years here:

Sadly, this site doesn't say anything about the native people who lived here for hundreds of years before the arrival of the Europeans; that's a topic for another day. But, it does give a good overview of recent history.

White men have been logging these forests for profit since the 19th century.

The logging company Fruit Growers Corporation is still an active presence in the area and they have been particularly busy this year, but the nature of that enterprise has changed radically. Jobs that used to require 10-15 men are now done by one man operating a massive machine. At one time the logging industry spawned an insular but thriving community in Hilt. The town had its own church, school, post office and store. It was a company town and, after the mill closed in the 70s, the company literally disassembled the town and shipped it away to parts south. When you drive down the hill from the store and pass the old church and school, you can see front walks leading to nowhere. The daffodils that some homeowner lovingly planted still bloom every spring, but the home is gone. Hilt is a ghost town without the town.

Hilt in the late 60s:

I'm not sure when the Hilt Store was established, but I believe it was early in the 20th century. I imagine it was a busy little outpost back when crossing the Siskiyous took days instead of hours. I found this photograph from the 1950s online:

"Here is a vintage color postcard from the late 1950s featuring a classic roadside view of State Line Service, a Mobil gas station and store on the California-Oregon state line at Hilt, California, located in Siskiyou County, on the sunny side of the Siskiyou Mountains."

For most of us (myself included), the Hilt Store was our only real connection to Hilt's past as an actual town. But, the Hilt Store as we knew it is no more. Earlier this summer, the owners sold it to a liquor chain. In the last few weeks, the liquor chain took out the gas pumps, the historic mining equipment display and the play ground, and they repaved the entire parking lot from the Stateline billboard down to the truck turnaround. Our beloved, funky country store is now a sea of asphalt under harsh sodium lights. They even put a plastic statue of Captain Morgan over the entrance where he stands sentry, leaning on his sword and leering. They took out the lunch counter, the grill, the sundries, and the State of Jefferson tchotckes. They plan to sell nothing but liquor and cigarettes. We won't be able to buy a Pilot Rock Burger or a quart of milk or 5 gallons of gas any more. It's the end of an era.

Everything changes and changes again, but it doesn't always change for the good.