Snuggled in the most southern section of Clackamas county sits Whiskey Hill. It’s not considered a town, it isn’t even on maps. “It’s just an area, almost a nickname, given to an actual hill where, legend has it, there was a still built during Prohibition— some people say there are still remnants in the woods,” says Amy Lenhardt.
It’s an area seeing change, too, like wineries and vineyards popping up, but for the most part has stayed the same throughout its history.
One placemark that most locals know is the Whiskey Hill Store, recently a convenience store. To say it nicely, the place was rundown, and it turns out, in foreclosure. The building itself has a great history. It was built in the mid-1920s as a school, then it became a community center, a grocery store, and finally the convenience store.
“My father-in-law went to school in the building,” says Amy. “There are four people alive from his class. I think they’re the oldest people alive who actually went to school in that building.”
Amy knows a lot about the building and its past.
Because she and her husband Darryl purchased it and are revitalizing it.
They both grew up on Whiskey Hill, meeting at Zion Mennonite Kindergarten. Grown up and leaving Whiskey Hill, they went on their separate ways and led separate lives for decades, reconnected, and married four years ago.
On the hunt for an older building
That’s when they started another journey —finding an older building to fix up and even better, finding one on Whiskey Hill. Enter the battered, old convenience store they recently bought.
After the papers were signed, the first step they made was to reach out to the community. “We just put up a little sign that said we’re having a community meeting at the school,” says Amy. “We thought a few people would come but 50 people came and we were shocked.”
At the meeting the couple introduced themselves, offered up a questionnaire, and shared their vision.
Then the real fun began.
Years of neglect
Like lots of older buildings, the Whiskey Hill Store had been neglected. In the back sits a residence on its own, a crumbling foundation and a very unsexy septic, added in the 1950s, and of course failing.
There were other surprises—some good, like discovering the original windows on the north wall (“they’d been covered for decades,” says Amy). The bad? Nineteen-seventies wood paneling, a staircase smack dab in the middle of the building, and a 30-foot cooler that was installed directly on the wood floor. (Use your imagination on what happened to that floor.)
An evolving plan
Once rebuilt the couple’s intention is to return the schoolhouse to as much of the original look as possible. The couple also plans on rebuilding the residence in the back and living on the property, then dive deep into the store portion, with a vision still up in the air. Maybe a meeting place for the community? Coffee shop? Small store?
“It’s going to evolve over time and we’re probably going to have to do some experimenting,” says Amy.
As far as a customer base, it might be already in place. Add locals, then folks visiting the Tulip Festival, nearby wineries, wedding venues, and the (hyper) local airport traffic.
It’ll be fun to watch their journey and embrace another forgotten Oregon building that will get new life.
“When I was handed the keys, I realized that we don’t own that building,” Amy adds. “We are the stewards and will cherish it and display it so everyone can enjoy it as much as we do.”