Nearly a decade ago, a Christmas Day fire destroyed two downtown Toledo buildings, effectively closing an antique shop, logging museum, and used book store.

The outlook for the community looked gloomy.

For years after demolition of the buildings, a large concrete elevator shaft from the logging museum stood alone, a silent sentinel commemorating the loss.

But no longer.

Mike and Di Morgan, who along with others formed Vision: Toledo to create a positive future, have invested not only time but their own money into the South Lewis County community.

Toledo now has a Timberland Regional Library kiosk inside an all-volunteer library that operates in a building donated by Pat and Bill Caldwell, former owners of the Toledo Pharmacy. Murals adorn the city’s water tower. Volunteers clean the community once a year. Toledo has a boat launch, gazebo, school gardens, an art gallery, and a farmers’ market that can operate year-round with the construction of Steamboat Landing.

“I like to see something come out of the ash pit,” Marie Oberg, who owned Cowlitz River Antiques and the logging museum in Toledo for seven years, said at the grand opening Sunday. “We’re very excited about it.”

A year ago, over Martin Luther King weekend, Mike Morgan enjoyed a Grandpa Day with his six-year-old granddaughter, Helen. He tried to decide where they should go. The zoo? No, her parents had a membership. The children’s museum? She’s been often. What about Yard Birds?

The visit to the giant yellow-and-black bird proved a winner. While there, Mike started visiting with Bob and Marie Oberg, who still owned the barren property in Toledo’s business district. If he owned the land, he’d erect a building to hold the farmers’ market year-round, he said, and the Obergs, grasping his dream, 

lowered the price.

He and his wife, Di, paid $20,000 for the lot, which was 2,800 square feet at 115 Ramsey Way. They invested more than 10 times that amount to erect a 1,400-square-foot building called Steamboat Landing, named for the place where the steamer Toledo and other vessels plying the nearby Cowlitz River in the 19th century docked. The sign outside the building depicting an old steamship says “Steamboat Landing Est. 1869 Re-est. 2019.”

Di Morgan cited my favorite movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” when discussing why they invested so much money, just like the Bailey Building and Loan did.

“You’ve got to realize you’re investing in your community,” she said, noting they used money inherited from her husband’s parents. “When we started this whole project, we thought it was going to be more like a play shed building, just a warehouse building that the farmers market could use.”

But as they complied with county and city codes, the log building took greater shape.

“We decided that we might as well just bite the bullet, take some of the money out of our retirement savings and build a real building that has real value,” Di said. “Then when we pass our children will inherit something of value and worth.”

Meanwhile, Toledo benefits.

“It’s a lot of money but it’s sitting here,” Mike noted. “It’s not sitting in some stocks or you know, someplace like that. It’s actually a real thing that can be used.”

“It’s never going to be worth less than this,” Di said.

Indeed, it will be used every Thursday afternoon from 2 to 6 p.m. by the Toledo Community Farmers’ Market, which draws anywhere from eight to 17 vendors selling fresh produce, grass-fed beef, honey, raw milk, baked goods, chocolates, jewelry, and other items. The market moved into the building in October after it passed inspections, then closed in mid-December for the holidays. It’ll reopen Feb. 6th. New applications will be made available soon for vendors interested in participating, said Cindy Samco, a volunteer.

The Morgans settled in Toledo in 1973, when Mike was offered a job teaching art at the high school. Di, who taught three years in Chehalis, began teaching Toledo second-graders a year later. She grew up in Edmonds, north of Seattle, and Mike was raised in Hoquiam. They met at Central Washington University and married at the Edmonds Methodist Church in 1970. They graduated in 1971, Di with degrees in early childhood education and home economics, Mike in education and with a broad area art degree.

The Morgans have two adult children, a daughter, Katie, who lives in Tumwater with her husband, Stephen, and a son, Jake, who lives in Toledo with his wife, Emily, and their now seven-year-old daughter, Helen, who attends Toledo Elementary School. Di retired in 2002 after teaching 35 years; Mike retired the following year after 30 years.

A Toledo contractor, Kendall Richardson Construction, broke ground for the building last February. The Morgans also worked with a local plumber, Gallow & Smith, and local electrician, ASE Electric.

The farmers’ market will provide rent.

“We haven’t seen any money yet,” Di said. “When that property tax comes due, we’re going to be asking.”

Maybe they’ll pass the hat like the folks in Bedford Falls did for George Bailey.

The building also can be rented for garage sales, auctions, weddings, dinners, parties, or other events, just as the Morgans already rent the Morgan Arts Centre.

Toledo Mayor Steve Dobosh described Steamboat Landing as “neater than all-get-out.”

He appreciates the Morgans.

“They always come up with good ideas to help our city,” he said. “Great ideas to get people here, and by golly, it’s working.”

The New Year’s Eve Cheese Ball Drop drew a hundred people this year, he said. Eighteen quads adorned with Christmas lights paraded through town. And the mayor hopes to draw the Veterans Day Parade back to town.

Among the newcomers to Toledo are Samco and her husband, Eric Hayes, who bought a home at 221 Second St. in 2018 with a second cinderblock building near the street.

“We love people telling us about what our little building next to our house has been used for,” Hayes said. It’s been a residence, TV repair shop, mechanic’s shop, and garage, among other things.

The couple discovered Toledo on the internet. They left Tigard, a Portland suburb where they had lived 18 years, and write phone apps at home through their business, Brewmium, including “a really good beer app.”

“We’ve been loving it,” Hayes said of Toledo. “We were feeling very disconnected.”

Not now.

“I know more of my neighbors and have done things for and have had things done for me by more of my neighbors here than in 18 years in Tigard,” he said.

Here, he said, everybody knows everybody.

•••

Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at chaptersoflife1999@gmail.com.

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