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Cave Echoes

Originally published August 8th, 1963


Mr. and Mrs. Sam Baker stand by the front door of the chateau on their visit Monday to the Oregon Caves. Baker has been president of the Oregon Caves Co. since it was started in 1922. The Bakers, formerly of Grants Pass, now reside in the Rogue Valley Manor at Medford. They had Mr. and Mrs. Bob Evans, also of the Manor, as their guests for an overnight stay. —Photo by Roger Kahle

OREGON CAVES – Sam Baker sat on the davenport in the lobby. He wore a trim sport coat and a warm smile. I found him both affable and modest as he told the story of the Caves. And who could be more qualified to tell its story than Mr. Baker — the first and only president of the Oregon Caves Company.

“The Caves Co. came into being in 1922 when the highway up here was completed. The Grants Pass Chamber of Commerce appointed George Sabin a committee of one to get something so that visitors could get sandwiches while as the Caves. George came to me asking me to chip in 10 dollars or so, explaining that he intended to get many people to subscribe. I told him, ‘Sorry, but I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Everybody’s business is nobody’s business. But you get 10 or so men to put up $300 apiece and I’ll be one of them.’

“Well, that’s what George did. Gradually they wanted more and more things. First we build tent frames for overnight accommodations; then when the chateau was built we issued preferred stock to help with the costs.:

Mr. Baker leaned back on the davenport and continued, “We did it not for money, but because it was an Oregon project. We had faith in Southern Oregon and didn’t care so much about making a profit. In fact, money that we earn today is just pumped back into the business.

“The project has really mushroomed. Gust Liam took care of building everything and I took care of the finances. At our last appraisal the Caves Company’s holdings were worth about $300,000.”

He said with a twinkle in his eye, “You know, the Park Service gets a certain per cent of the gross and what they miss the government gets in taxes!”

There are only three of the original 10 stockholders left — Baker, L.M. Mitchell and Dr. R.W. Stearns of Klamath Falls. Today there are still only about 30 stockholders and the turnover rate is almost nil — stockholders usually change only from one member of a family to another.

Baker has led quite an impressive life though his modesty belies it. He and his wife graduated from Valparaiso University (Indiana) in 1903. When he came to Oregon, he started a bank in Sherman County. In 1930 he moved to Grants Pass and organized Josephine County Bank which was later consolidated with the Grants Pass Bank Company forming the Grants Pass-Josephine Bank. Finally in 1933 they sold out to U.S. National Bank.

During World War 1, Mr. Baker was County Food Commissioner and during the Second World War he served as Chairman of the Ration Board. The Oregon Bankers Association elected him president in 1930. He has been on the board of directors of First Federal Savings and Loan since 1943 — first serving as president and currently as its vice-president. And he has been on the board of governors for the Shrine Hospital in Portland for 20 years.

“I first visited the Caves in 1913,” he said before he exited. “I rented a mule to carry my wife and 4-year-old daughter Connie (now Mrs. Omar “ Slug” Palmer) while I walked. We started out from Grayback Forest Camp, went all the way to up to the Caves, toured them and returned on the same day. You know, all they had then was Dick Rowley and candles to guide you through. It sure has changed a lot since then. Good night!” he said as he headed for his room.

Yes, it has changed a bit since Dick Rowley took them through with candles. And it was far-sighted, public-spirited men like Sam Baker who made the Caves available for its two million visitors. AM ENDE!