I'm going to republish this image because I think the subject deserves a more complete history. Since I usually walk the Second Street stairs a couple of times a day I have had plenty of time to study the details and ponder the history. Prepare for a "deep dive" into history.
The stairs first appear in the 1902 Sanborn map as a set of crosshatching running south from State Street. It is unclear how far they go up the hill. The 1905 Sanborn map indicates stairs next to the water supply line which was installed to carry water from the Joe Wilson's reservoir to the industrial uses alongside the railroad tracks. You can still see a portion of that line next to the steel stairs just above Sherman Street. The steel pipe sticks out of the hillside a few feet east of the stairs. The rest of it remains buried. You can read about its construction and purpose in The Hood River Glacier from November 24, 1904. It not only powered industry but also city hydrants. This article shows the same water power ran the presses at The Hood River Glacier.
In the same era the first houses were built in the neighborhood at the top of the stairs. I am not sure if the stairs were built during the pipeline construction, as they share a right-of-way, or if they were built to provide access to the cluster of new homes. In any case, the original stairs were wood, as you can see in this circa 1912 photograph.
By January 1913 Heights residents had grander plans. This article appeared in The Hood River Glacier:
Heights Wants Railway
The citizens of the Heights portion of the city, wearying of the exercise of climbing the long flight of stairs or winding around the Serpentine road have begun agitation to secure a tramway or electric line from the business district to the Heights residence district. At a meeting of the citizens of the district at the home of Dr. E. L. Scobee, W. L. Smith, A. L. Day and A. F. Howe were appointed on a committee to investigate such propositions in other places and report back their findings.
The tramway was never built, but at some point the wooden stairs were replaced with concrete. The Hood River history "Aakki-Daakki to Zoomorphic" surmised the concrete stairs were constructed in the 1940s because they first appeared in city records in 1945. I have found an article in The Hood River Glacier hinting they might have been built much earlier. On February 18, 1918 they reported:
New Steps Completed
W. T. Price, who has been in charge of the work, reports the completion of construction of two long flights of stairs, one flight on Ninth street and the other on Second street, providing short cuts for pedestrian traffic between the upper and lower towns. The old stairs, which the new work replaces, were becoming dangerous.
The Second street stairs, more than 500 feet long, make perhaps one of the longest flights in the state.
The question is, were these the current concrete stairs? If so, we're just a year away from an important centennial, and who doesn't like an anniversary party?
I dropped by city hall to check the city council minutes from 1918. January 1918 council minutes indicate the council heard a report on the sorry state of the stairs and authorized the superintendent to perform needed repairs. It seems odd to refer to a new set of concrete stairs as "needed repairs" and it seems unlikely the project was completed in 3 weeks in February. Can concrete even cure properly in February?
I searched the city council's payment authorizations hoping for a more descriptive line item authorizing cutting a check to a vendor, but could not find one. Lots of horse shoes, horse feed, coal and other quaint items, but no check to "Ebenezer Smith's Concrete Stair Fabricators." For now, the date of the concrete stairs remains a mystery. I hope to resolve it before the possible centennial in February 2018.
There are two more modern sections of concrete stairs: a stretch just north of Hazel was modified to meet the new Hazel Street grade circa 1992 and another at the base which was modified during the construction of Overlook Memorial Park.
In 1989 the city named the stairs "Gil's Stairs" in honor of Gil Jubitz, a partner in Franz Hardware, who used the stairs daily to travel between work and home, frequently sweeping them and shoveling snow in the winter. At that time there were 413 stairs, though I believe the two construction projects altered the number slightly. Our city manager tells me he has counted 417, including curb step-ups. I have tried to count them myself many times, but I always run into someone I know and lose count. If you've counted the stairs, let us know what you've found.
Category: [Downtown Hood River]
We always used the stairs to go from Moore Electric or "Grandma" Moore's house on E. Eugene to get up to the swimming pool in the summer. Yes, it was along hike.
Charlott on 13th February 2017 @ 7:22am
Makes the name "The Heights" understandable.
Thanks for the fascinating research. Also thank you for making it possible to use the Hood River Glacier for research.
I guess a big thank you goes to those early newspaper editors who struggled to make a go of it while documenting life in those days.
L.E. on 13th February 2017 @ 7:49am
Several years ago I saw a picture of the steps where someone has numbered the steps in chalk going up on one side and going down on the other side. By adding the two numbers together you could get the total count of the steps. Wonder where that picture is now.
Norma on 13th February 2017 @ 8:08am
Did not know the stairs were named in honor of Norma's father. That will temper my feelings for those damn stairs and running them in football uniforms to get in shape. Absolutely amazing history Arthur....water line, possible tram, et all.
Arlen Sheldrake on 13th February 2017 @ 9:17am
Anyone remember the "King of the Stairs" race 5 or 10 years ago? Seems like a good event to rerun if we have a centennial soon. And Norma can put chalk numbers to encourage/discourage the runners.
Arthur on 13th February 2017 @ 11:01am
A few months ago, with friends visiting us from Leavenworth WA, I challenged their 8 year old son to count them from top to bottom as we descended. I secretly did the same, so I'd have some idea what the "right" answer was. He and I both counted exactly 419, without discussing it. So the exact count probably depends on how you treat a few of those transitions, I think, but 417-419 is pretty much the range.
Kyle on 13th February 2017 @ 12:52pm
I didn't know the stairs had been named for Gilbert. But I am very pleased to learn that. He was a fine representative of the warmth and graciousness of Hood River.
Bill Seaton on 13th February 2017 @ 12:54pm
As a stairs freak, I mean fan, I remember riding the Amtrak Cascade to Hood River and back just to climb the steps. Also at that time did all the outdoor stairs in Portland, about 100 of them, by following a published book on the subject. I believe the longest one, on the north side of Mt Tabor, is short of HR's by about 100 steps.
Kenn on 13th February 2017 @ 3:45pm
Yes, Arlen, Dick used to speak, not too fondly about running those stairs during football season.
charlott on 14th February 2017 @ 7:05am
Several years ago I saw a booklet that gave Hood River facts. One of those facts was that at that time the steps in Hood River were the longest in the United States. Pretty good for a small town.
Norma on 14th February 2017 @ 8:35am
The railway committee might very well have consulted with Dubuque, Iowa about its Fenelon Place elevator, AKA as the Funicular, which was built there in 1882 and is still running today partially as a tourist attraction. It's described as the world's shortest, steepest scenic railway. It's 296 ft in lentgth and elevates passengers 189 feet. Anyone know how that would compare to what might have built here? Road that little train as a small girl. Dubuque was my Mom's home town and I was born there. Check it out at www.fenelonplaceelevator.com.
Ellen on 15th February 2017 @ 12:31am
I can add a few facts I found in city archives: I found records indicating the city contracted for concrete stairs from Serpentine to Montello (top half of the stairs) in the summer of 1945. I still haven't found when the bottom half wood stairs were replaced with concrete, but it's a start. That gives us a 75th anniversary in 3 years.
Arthur on 15th February 2017 @ 10:50am
Very early Stair Master! Boy I bet everyone who used and uses them still are in great shape. I have gone up and down them a few times myself - I was sent to "run the stairs" as a little girl to keep me from being underfoot I think. I remember your father Norma - you were neighbors of my grandfather A.W. Peters. Gil and your mother were lovely people. Glad the steps are named for him.
Jill Stanford on 15th February 2017 @ 2:01pm
As luck would have it the folks at the museum rediscovered the photographer's notes for the Davidson collection this week and passed them along to me. The first note I saw mentioned this photo of the stairs, and verified a date of 1912. That was a pretty good guess!
Arthur on 24th February 2017 @ 4:30pm
This website says Hood River is second on the list in America.
Tad Johnston on 27th February 2017 @ 10:12pm
White Salmon also had a stairway which supposedly had 652 steps.
There are photos and history at this link.
In the winter they probably lost the snow quicker than the HR staircase, but I bet it was a hot climb in the summer time with rattle snakes taking a snooze on the steps.
L.E. on 28th February 2017 @ 6:44am