A dynamite blast, by a man named James Murphy, blew a hole in the bottom of a lake and turned it into a sea of grass. - Bill Miller

Dynamite stole the lake, but history stole the tale

There's nothing more frustrating for a history nut than the smell of a good story that gets lost in a puddle of grass.

Over the border, just 33 miles into California, is the Grass Lake Auto Rest Stop. If the average motorist stops at all, they don't stop for long, and odds are history's the last thing on their mind.

It's the curious folk, some would say nosey, who always are looking for that slice of humanity that's often hidden away by the side of the road, just a couple of steps farther down the sidewalk.

The interpretive sign says, "From Lake to Wetland." Not particularly interesting until you read on.

Once, this was a full-time lake and a whole lot deeper. But early last century, some guy set off some dynamite and blew a hole in the bottom of the lake. What looked like bedrock wasn't and the porous volcanic rock sucked the lake dry. The water drained away like a Saturday-night bath and ruined the 32-room hotel-resort that sat on its shore.

The little water that shows up now in the spring and fall is just enough to attract some honking geese and their chirping feathery friends as they take a pit-stop on their biannual commutes along the Pacific Flyway.

Surely there has to be more to this story. You'd think that a dynamite blast that completely drained a lake and drove a hotel to ruin would be big news somewhere. With a little research, it should be pretty easy to dig up, right?

Well, the long answer to that question is, not necessarily.

Abner Weed built the three-story hotel in 1903 at about the same time he was building a hotel in Dunsmuir. Weed was a wealthy man who gave his name to the California town where he built his lumber mill along the Southern Pacific rail line.

From 1903 to 1905, the Weed Lumber Company extended its railroad through a series of logging camps running from Weed's mill to the Grass Lake resort hotel, which then became a stagecoach stop and train depot.

A further fragment of the story says the dynamite was set off by a man named James Murphy, either as an "experiment" or "part of a construction project," but it doesn't say who Murphy was, or when he did the dirty deed.

There is a James Murphy in the area, who shows up as a cook at a railroad camp in the 1910 census and as a farmer in 1920, but there's no way to be sure if he's the right Murphy.

The last unsatisfying piece of the puzzle conclusively says the hotel "fell into disuse" and was torn down in the 1930s — or, then again, maybe it was the 1940s.

And that's it. That's where the trail goes cold.

But there's still hope. Every history nut understands there's always someone somewhere who knows, or thinks they know, a little bit more of the story. If so, there's little doubt we'll be hearing from them very, very soon.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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