For as long as I can remember, a cascading Bourbon Rose grew at the corner of our hand-hewn log cabin. Built by Tom Porter and his hunting companion, Robert Kerr, on Tom’s timber claim in the early 1880s, it stood on Sauk River bottom land about a mile east of the river’s confluence with the Skagit River, west of Rockport, Washington. The claim is about two miles south of Rockport Bridge.

    Mima Kerr, a young schoolteacher from New Brunswick who was keeping house for her brother, married Tom on Christmas Eve 1891. Legend has it that she planted this rose that she brought west with her by the cabin.

       My parents rented the claim from the Porter family in 1939, purchasing it in 1945. Before they sold in 1969 and gave the cabin to the county for their new Howard Miller Steelhead Park, Dad dug up the rose.

       My wife and I transplanted it into our Bellingham garden in 1987. On Valentine’s Day, ten years latter, my brother and I transplanted a division of it in soil from the claim at the same corner of the cabin, now a historic site, where Mrs. Porter had planted it so many years before. To my knowledge the “Old Rose” continues to grow in Bellingham, at my brother’s home near Concrete, at homes near its original site, and at my cousin’s home in southern California. 

    
    
“Old Rose” is dedicated to Mima and Tom Porter.

    I wrote “Old Rose” in 1993. It was originally published in The Storytellers, ed. Mary G. Hamilton (Bellingham, WA: SunPorch Productions, 1994). It was published in the April, 2010 Puget Sound Mail of the Skagit River Web-Journal (www.skagitriverjournal.com, Noel V. Bourasaw, editor.)

 

                                           Old Rose

 

I see you through my kitchen window,

Wine-red canes reaching above an ivy skirt,

Entwining a garden lattice,

In contrast to winter snow.

 

With spring, your foliage will cover

Our garden portal with a canopy of green.

By summer solstice, you will greet admirers

With bouquets of cerise and raspberry scent.

 

A century has passed since you journeyed west,

A slip in a schoolteacher’s satchel,
To be rooted by her homestead cabin
In a meadow where the river once ran.

 

The bridal hands that nurtured you now reside

In the earth beside those who adored your bloom.

Others who lived in your cabin have gone their way

To find life’s fortune where they will.

 

Your cabin now rests in a park,

For the curious to view.

Few remember, traveling the road nearby,

That you grew where cattle now graze.

 

Survivor of flood and sorrow,

How often I ponder your life,

And the generations you watched

Spring forth, prosper, and wane.

 

Do you pause to recall seasons past?

Is it always the coming springs

And summers we share,

Or is it the winters of our reflection?

 

Do you laugh at our attempts,

Ludicrous and egotistic,

To command the universe and control nature

With hand, saw, and plow?

 

Old Rose, neglected and uprooted,

Origin obscure and name unknown,

Each spring you return,

A heritage rose, vibrant and new.

Richard Lee Dick Harris

The Porter Place

Tom Porter Cabin

    In 1880, Tom Porter filed on a 160-acre pre-emption claim about two miles south of Rockport near an abandoned channel of the Sauk River. The western acreage of the claim was on the river bottom through which a backwash flowed in a shallow depression less than 100 feet from the site Porter chose for a cabin.

     Porter and his friend Robert Kerr felled two western red cedars next to the site in 1884 and built a hunting cabin. They split planks, hewed them to dimension with a broadax and fitted them together with double dovetails (no nails). Rafters, beams, shakes, and window casements were hand-split. Beams and casements were finished with a drawknife. The chimney was hand-poured.

    The cabin, built in the eastern style only had windows on the west and south walls untill Dad cut windows in the north end in 1946. The only daylight in the loft until Dad cut one in the north end at the same time was through a small window cut at the south end so a hunter could lie prone and shoot game. The original window glass was wavy, blue-tinged single pane. The ropes tied to the counterweights of the lower half of the two west-facing windows had long since broken from age and use and the frames pain-sealed to the casements with layers of paint.

    Frequently, the windows would ice up during winter nights and icicles to form on the inside sills.

    Early in the cabin=s history, a board-and-batten lean-to a second chimney was constructed on the east side. This had been variously used as kitchen, sleeping quarters, or storage. Single-wall construction and single-layer boards over decaying 2”x6” joists for a floor made heating impossible.

    A single layer of hand-split shakes with moss-chinked cracks was all that separated the loft from summer heat and winter cold. I remember sleeping naked in the summer, sweat pouring off my body; and, in the winter, slipping my school clothes on over my long-handled underwear that doubled as pajamas, while huddled under a pile of quilts.

    A stoop sheltered the west-facing front door.

    One-half of the 16´x 24´ interior was kitchen- living area and one-half was divided into two rooms. Enclosed stairs ran along the east side to the loft. The space under the stairs was the closet. A three-shelf box attached to one wall was the cupboard.

    Cracks between the planks were chinked with moss and plaster from the outside and pasted over with newspapers on the inside. Readable copies of the 1891 Sauk City Star and The Post Intelligencer (Seattle) biweekly were uncovered under layers of wallpaper in the 1940s and again in the 1980s.

    Water was hand-pumped from dug well near the house that was initially encased with cedar planks and served as a cooler. Heating was by a wood-fired cook stove and lighting by kerosene lamps. A privy stood less than 100 feet from the front door.

    The cabin became the family home on December 24, 1891, when Tom married Mimi Kerr, a young schoolteacher from New Brunswick, and twelfth of thirteen children in an Irish immigrant family, who had come west to keep house for her brother. Six of the Porter=s seven children were born in the cabin. Their eldest son died here. Mrs. Porter died at home giving birth to a daughter in 1904. Daughters Bessie and Lillian and son Frank continued to live in the cabin with their father until he died in 1927.

    The Porters relied on their garden, livestock, and wild game for food. When they began housekeeping, the nearest store of any size was at Bug (Sedro Woolley), 35 miles down river. All provisions, furnishings, equipment, and implements were ferried up the rivers in dugout canoes. Cooking and food processing was done on the wood-fired cook stove. Milk, homemade butter and cheese, and cooked food were kept fresh on the shelves in the well cribbing and accessed by a ladder.

    Porter worked as carpenter, logger, and other outside jobs to support his family. He and his sons logged the homestead and raised a small herd of dairy and beef cattle. In 1902, he was named a director for the first school in Rockport.

    During a flood in the fall of 1897, the Porters and a neighboring family spent three days in the loft as three feet of water swirled through the cabin. When the rivers subsided in the spring, Tom built a raft and floated the four adults and seven children and remaining possessions to Lyman, where they lived for three years. Several times, the Porters dug silt out as high as the windowsills after floods in the early 20th century.

    Dad learned, no doubt from Frank Porter that the first course of planks had rotted from sitting on the ground and been replaced.

     In 1967, Dad gave the cabin to the county and moved it to their new public park being built at the old ferry landing in Rockport.

    Dad concluded his remarks at its dedication on June 15, 1968, with “Old house, your working days are over and we are moving you to a resting place beside the river where you will stand in peace and dignity, where generations may gaze upon your aging timbers and know that they have seen a true pioneer.”