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Old West

Western towns take you back to yesteryear

By CARY ORDWAY

If you're the type who enjoys a good western on television or in the movies, then you're sure to enjoy a visit to one of the Pacific Northwest's many Western theme towns. With some of them down right looking like movie sets, they all have plenty to interest the entire family.

Winthrop

There's a lot of "pioneer" spirit in Winthrop, Washington — not just the flavor and ambiance that comes from a town full of elaborate western storefronts, but also the kind of spirit that put this theme town together in the first place.

Today's "pioneers" in Winthrop are those local businessmen and civic boosters who had the foresight to see back in 1969 that a Western theme town would be a popular addition to North Central Washington's already considerable tourist attractions — a boon for business that is fun for visitors as well.

Business has boomed, all right, and Winthrop continues to draw throngs of tourists who enjoy the added bonus of a scenic drive over the North Cascades Highway, possibly the most scenic roadway in all of Washington.

Back in the late 1960's Winthrop was a sleepy community set in a picturesque location just at the edge of the Cascade Mountains. Business was generally slow and, with the North Cascades Highway yet to be completed, there was little to entice tourists to drive the 90 miles north from Wenatchee.

It was then that Kay Wagner, owner of the Wagner Sawmill, set in motion the renovation that has resulted in the state's first authentic Western theme town. She and her late husband, Otto, had dreamed of restoring Winthrop to an 1890s version of a frontier town and, following her husband's death, Kay hired an rchitect to redesign Winthrop. With financial incentives, local businessmen joined the effort and, within three years, all 20 storefronts of old town Winthrop had been rebuilt.

A city ordinance now requires all new structures to meet the standards of the era spanning the years 1850-1900. Because of the Wagner's dream, visitors to Winthrop find hitching posts instead of parking meters, watering troughs, false-fronted buildings and a rough-cut boardwalk. There aren't any cement sidewalks or neon signs.

The town was founded by Guy Waring and, on the hill above town, his original log home still stands. Today, however, it has become the Shafer Museum and every corner is filled with mementos of western history. There are spurs, branding irons and six-shooters; outside sheds house farming and mining tools along with other artifacts too bulky for the cabin's interior.

Winthrop has an abundance of gift shops, restaurants and overnight accommodations, and merchandise offered here has a decidedly western influence.

Several festivals are held in Winthrop throughout the year, so check ahead with the Chamber of Commerce for details. During summer, shoot-outs and other demonstrations are conducted by Winthrop residents and merchants wearing authentic western attire.

Winthrop has also become quite popular in winter as a cross-country skiing destination. An excellent trail system and numerous accommodations make it an excellent choice for a winter sports weekend.

For more information call 888-463-8460 or visit their website at www.winthropwashington.com.

Barkerville

A number of other towns throughout the Northwest recreate the mid-to late 1800s, in some cases right down to the dress and occupation of the residents.

Barkerville, British Columbia, has an operating 1870s school, a stagecoach ready to drive you through town, and a general store stocked with Old West specialty items. This was a typical gold rush town that sprang up overnight in the early 1860s. Many of the original buildings still stand today.

From mid-May through September, Barkerville offers daily tours and demonstrations. Costumed residents lead tours of the town and describe both the buildings and the colorful characters who once resided within. Bakeries, saloons and restaurants are plentiful, while demonstrations include dressmaking, a blacksmith shop, cabinet-maker and more.

If you're planning a trip in the fall, the weather is still favorable and the crowds are much smaller. There are no live demonstrations, but you can peruse the historical buildings at your own pace.

Barkerville is approximately 500 miles from Seattle, and 450 miles from Vancouver. There are a limited number of lodgings in Barkerville, but many more available in Wells, just five miles away.

Jacksonville

Just a short drive west of Medford, Oregon, Jacksonville is an 1850s gold rush town with more than 100 of the town's original buildings on The National Register of Historic Places. These structures were built with bricks and local stone and have been carefully preserved.

Today, Jacksonville has about 2,200 residents. Antique stores and art galleries are located along California Street — the setting for a number of movies.

The Jackson County Courthouse, built in 1883, now houses the town's historical museum. Homes, hotels, churches and banks all represent the variety of mid-1800 architecture from Victorian mansions to simple bungalows.

And, like many Old West towns, Jacksonville has a fascinating cemetery. Headstones here date back to 1859.

For additional information call 541-899-8118, or visit www.jacksonvilleoregon.org.

Photos, from top: Winthrop, Jacksonville in lower two photos

OTHER DESTINATIONS: If you're looking for other Northwest travel ideas, be sure to check out other Northwest Travel Advisor articles on Northwest zoos, Northwest water vacations, Port Townsend and Seattle attractions.

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