Submitted By Lisa Batey:

This link is to an Oregonian article from November 1916 when the dance hall burned down. It refers to “Rock Island” as the “Willamette River summer resort”, which is consistent with what I’ve always been told that the older houses in the Island Station neighborhood were either early farmhouses or houses built as summer homes for wealthy Portlanders. After the article are a couple of photos, one that looks like a postcard showing the dance hall on the north end of the island (you can see the railroad trestle behind in the distance). At the end is the County registry of land transfers, which were quite frequent up through the 1920s (among other transfers, it sold in a sheriff’s tax sale in 1899 to the high bid of $9.95). The property apparently went in and out of Kerr family possession a couple of times before being donated to the City of Portland in 1940.http://www.richmorgan.com/Elk%20Rock%20Island%20History.pdf

Despite the fire, various reports show the site continuing to be used, apparently with tents or temporary structures, until two years later the War Department closed it down as a “rendezvous for persons of doubtful moral character and menace to soldiers” — see http://pdxtales.tumblr.com/post/11090889740/friars-club-closed-april-9th-1918-in-which

Although the first link above refers to it as the “Rock Island Clubhouse,” other photos at the Milwaukie Museum refer to it as the Friar’s Clubhouse. Here’s a blogpost on some of that history, when it sounds like much illicit fun was afoot on the island because it fell under neither Milwaukie nor Portland jurisdiction, and the debauchery provoked the ire of one or more governors. http://tinzeroes.blogspot.com/2007/11/club-rock-island.html

More about the history and the hijinks, including interviews with Milwaukie Museum volunteers, on this quite recent 11-minute podcast, which among other things highlights a raid of the Friar’s Club on the orders of Gov. Oswald West: http://soundcloud.com/100-tacks/the-friars-club

The well-to-do Peter Kerr had long owned the property now known as Bishop’s Close (www.elkrockgarden.com), and was apparently tired of the hearing/seeing the hubbub. He bought the island eventually and sought to preserve it as a natural area, donating to the City of Portland. Here’s what Portland Parks’ website has to say about how they acquired the island: http://www.portlandonline.com/parks/finder/index.cfm?PropertyID=113&action=ViewPark and here’s a post on Peter Kerr himself, who lived across the river another 15 years or so, into his mid-90s http://www.oregonencyclopedia.org/entry/view/kerr_peter_1861_1957_/

Alas, the designer of Kerr’s estate, John Olmstead (son of Frederick Law Olmsted, and influential in formation of the National Park Service) wasn’t so fond of Milwaukie, advising Kerr to situate his home further back from the cliff face so as to get the view of the wooded hills and Mt. Hood without seeing the “sordid little houses of the town of Milwaukee” [sic]. See http://cyclotram.blogspot.com/2008/10/elk-rock-island-expedition.html

For the geological history of the island’s volcano (the Waverley Basalt being the oldest rock in the metro area), here’s a pretty interesting 7-minute Oregon Field Guide segment:

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