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Monday, April 07, 2014

#2173 - Red Fir Inn, Yacolt, WA - 5/19/2013

Yacolt, Washington is a small town of many ghosts. The first ones you notice are the ghosts of old businesses, like the Tall Man's Saloon, layers of dust accruing after the Mt. St. Helens eruption or the 2008 recession slowly drove the places under. Later you read the stories -- residents seeing a man with red eyes staring at them in their bed, laughing children on the stairs, being followed by "little witches." You learn about the "Yacolt Burn," still the largest fire in state history, which burned 238,000 acres and killed 38 people in 1902, leaving residents standing in the Lewis River with every other form of non-flying animal, only to return to a blackened moonscape.  When the small economic boom from salvaging the burned lumber started dying out, the town started to die with it. The general manager of the Clark County Timber Company said, "At Yacolt we have two or three worn out buildings, all vacant and without any perceptible value whatever, these including an old warehouse, a residence formerly occupied by our logging Superintendent, a hospital building, which has been robbed of much of its equipment, and one or two very small buildings of no value, in fact none of them have any value today for Yacolt is absolutely dead with no promise for a future life" (historylink)

And finally there's the very name of the place. "Yacolt" is an Indian term meaning "haunted place" or "place of evil spirits." The name is said to have come from the Klickitats, based on a time when their children went out to pick berries and were snatched away forever by evil spirits. Or maybe it was from a time the Klickitats massacred a group of Wilamie in the berry fields, letting just one Wilamie girl escape, and then being haunted for generations by a female voice singing the Wilamie death song.

It was in this area that Dave Ayers was working graveyard shifts as a millright, then having breakfast at the Red Fir.  The population of Yacolt had been picking up for several years, as it shifted to a bedroom community where people enjoyed the relaxed, natural setting after driving home from jobs in nearby towns. After "28 years and 2 days" in that career, Dave told me with evident specificity, the lady who owned the Red Fir asked him if he wanted to buy the place. He said he agreed, chucked his wristwatch into the parking lot that day, never got another one, and won't touch a computer.

That was 8 or 9 years ago, and now Dave is looking to sell the place -- which the sign out front claims is now "world famous" -- and retire. It's a pleasant, relaxed place, at least on afternoons like the one when I walked in, with Dave and Ernest the cook and bartender happy to tell you about the joint, while locals file in with their own pool cues. Dave added a pizza oven, so they serve those in addition to the standard bar food and some fairly good beer selections.

The Red Fir has been around since 1963, and you really hope Dave finds a good buyer. Nick's up the road in Amboy, the oldest bar in the area, closed not too long after this visit to the area. And it would be a damned shame to see the Red Fir become just another Yacolt ghost.


303 N Amboy Ave, Yacolt, WA 98675 - (360) 686-8222
Est. 1963
Reviews: thereflector - columbian - yelp - urbanspoon

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