Monday’s Meander: Menucha’s Rustic Charms

I went to the Menucha Retreat and Conference Center during early spring, and the serenity of the grounds was strong enough to linger several years.

The land was homesteaded in 1874 by John Painter, an English sailor. Situated above the Columbia Gorge with its namesake river, the property was bought in 1914 by Julius Meier, a wealthy businessman (Meier and Frank department stores) who later was a Governor of Oregon. The estate became well known following the first family residence being built in 1927. The property was a country retreat for family and friends, and political figures visited, including Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The Meiers mostly took up residence in warmer months.

The home and land were originally reachable only by the river where Native American culture thrived (and salmon was abundant). Then the first Northwest highway was carved out of the Cascade Mountain Range in 1913. It runs 75 miles through the Columbia Gorge and past Menucha.

In 1950, the First Presbyterian Church of Portland purchased it with the family’s blessing. The estate was named by the Meiers, and since “Menucha” roughly means “still” or “peaceful” in Hebrew, the church kept it. The ecumenical center serves as retreat for about 400 Judeo-Christian groups (thought it serves not only these groups) per year. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (though the original home was destroyed by carpenter ants). Not grand but more rustic, the structures are sturdily designed in the Pacific Northwest style developing during that time. The primary retreat center’s interior is attractive but it is the outdoors that draws me. The grounds are rolling and green and forests encircle it. And it’s well kept with a small front garden; the land is 700 feet above the river.

In early spring Marc and I wandered around the grounds following an Easter week dinner and other events. The wind blew fiercely at times but steady sunshine warmed us. We were pleased to have finally visited a place we had only ogled from the car for years. Though not now attending the church we did then, anyone can book a room for their individual restful retreat. Perhaps when the pandmeic is well addressed we’ll look into that. Weddings are also held there, as well as conferences for nonprofits, family reunions and arts workshops.

In addition to this great fireplace where meals can be made–and hot dogs and marshmallows roasted– and served at nearby tables, there is a well maintained pool overlooking the Gorge.

There is an old stone labyrinth that we walked.

Some of John Painter’s fruit trees live on.

It is a good spot for meditation and restoration, as its name indicates. We finally bade farewell to Menucha–until another day.