After 46 years of work, historic Mount Hood church is open to the public

By Kristian Foden-Vencil (OPB)
Feb. 3, 2024 2 p.m.

The log church was built by Henry Steiner, who made family cabins and churches on and around Mount Hood between 1925 and 1952

Mike Gudge tends the fire at Steiner Log Church, Rhododendron, Ore., Jan. 11, 2024.

Mike Gudge tends the fire at Steiner Log Church, Rhododendron, Ore., Jan. 11, 2024.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB


Mike Gudge was born in the Oregonian mountain community of Rhododendron on Mount Hood in 1946.

“They had two service stations. They had the general store, the liquor store, ice cream store, the Begonia Gardens, the Log Lodge,” he said. “It was quite the thriving community.”

The town also boasted an old church made of Douglas fir logs on the Barlow Road, which snakes up to Mount Hood. The building had fallen into disrepair. So when a plan developed to widen the road for the logging trucks and tourists, the church was moved to the side of the highway with vague plans for a future community center.

“Somebody wanted to take it apart and move it down to California and make a restaurant. Someone else wanted to log it out,” Gudge said. “I wanted to restore it.”

To understand Gudge’s passion for the old church, it’s important to know about the builder, Henry Steiner.

‘Icons on the mountain’

Between 1925 and 1952, Steiner built 100 family cabins and two churches on and around Mount Hood. The other church burned down in the 1950s.

Steiner’s buildings weren’t fancy. He combed the forest for materials like bent trees that could be used as stairway banisters, or bush stumps to carve into door handles.

Historian Mike Westby said the results were beautiful, rustic cottages. He considers Steiner and his 12 children artists.

“The boys did the heavy work while Henry typically explored the forest and found the whimsical pieces of wood and the stones for the fireplace,” Westby said. “While the girls would use draw knives to peel the logs.”

Related: Turns Earned: Saving Mount Hood's Historic Backcountry Ski Cabin

To save money, Steiner drew plans on butcher paper. He crafted the doors and furniture himself, only buying things he couldn’t make, like windows or bathtubs.

People didn’t really expect the buildings to survive because preservatives like paint and oil stains were expensive, and he didn’t use them.

But many did survive.

“They became icons on the mountain,” Gudge said. “Very popular and coveted as years went on.”

A Steiner cottage might have sold for as little as $800 back in the 1930s. A nice riverfront example in Troutdale just changed hands for more than $1 million.


When Gudge started renovating the old church, he sought the help of one of the builder’s sons, John Steiner.

With a grin, Gudge describes him as a stubborn old fellow who was hard to get to know.

“He’d leave me three or four hours of work to do after he left, to have done in the morning. And I busted my butt to get it done to his satisfaction. I never got a favorable comment in the morning,” he said. “But if I didn’t have it done, I’d get a little bit of a growl out of him.”

After 20 years working together, they became close friends.

Related: Timberline Lodge’s hand-forged legacy

When Gudge bought the old church he was an electrician, working on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. But he wanted a base in Rhododendron. So he spent $20,000 to buy the building and a two acre lot a few miles away. He spent another $13,000 to move the church. “That was quite a bit of money in 1976,” he said.

But Gudge loved the old church and wanted to preserve it. The building had no stained glass windows, several logs were rotten, the roof leaked, and there was no plumbing.

“I lived in the church for 20 years,” Gudge said. “And it was pretty much like camping. I never had a kitchen. I had a propane stove and a dishpan. And wood heat only … It was pretty crude. The older I got, the harder it was to be comfortable.”

But gradually, over 46 years, Gudge brought the church back to life. He added electricity, fixed the roof and windows. He added plumbing, a clawfoot tub, and an old toilet that illustrates why such devices used to be called “the pan.”

Gudge scoured classified ads and swap meets for period pieces for the church, sometimes getting sidetracked.

“I have a monitor top refrigerator, probably from the 1930s,” he said. " I had 13 of them at one time.”

Now the building is a delight. Gudge has moved out, so there’s now a wide open church nave with beamed ceilings and log walls. In the middle sits an enormous three-story river rock fireplace that stands where the altar used to be.

The nave of the old Steiner Church, Rhododendron, Ore., Jan. 11, 2024.

The nave of the old Steiner Church, Rhododendron, Ore., Jan. 11, 2024.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

“I had misgivings about changing the originality of (the building,)” he said. “But I wanted a combination lodge and church venue. So I kept the congregation area open. I didn’t divide it into rooms. I have a log man who built an altar that we could move into place if we needed to.”

Gudge filled the rectory at the back with period pieces like the fridge and an oven. There’s even an old bell, which may have come from another church, or school, or old locomotive. Gudge doesn’t know.

While he may be good with his hands, he isn’t sure what comes next. Gudge would like people to start using the old church for weddings and events. He’s also thinking about opening a Henry Steiner Memorial Park.

“I want some notoriety,” Gudge said. “I want people to be aware of it, to come up and visit and enjoy.”

Gudge has enrolled the help of Westby to publicize the old church.

“It is amazing to me how you can travel down a road, and a stone’s throw from the pavement is a place that is absolutely beautiful, absolutely stunning. And you have no idea that it exists,” Westby said.

He points out that Mount Hood has a rich architectural heritage. Timberline Lodge and the Silcox Hut were both built at about the same time as the 1937 Steiner Log Church.

The Mount Hood Cultural Center & Museum puts on an annual Steiner cabin tour, which sells out within minutes every year. So they know there’s interest.

They’re going to start with a big sign, so people can actually tell there’s a Steiner building in Rhododendron. They’re also holding public viewings on the first Saturday of every month.