Rich Kaestner finishes using a stencil Monday to paint the words “Hootenanny” on the roof of his house along the Alsea River while partner Rachael Babcock enjoys the shade of the front porch steps. (Photo by Quinton Smith/YachatsNews.com)

WALDPORT — The Hootenanny House has a new lease on life. And a new roof. And a new interior. And a new porch. And electricity.

The landmark hunting and fishing house along the Alsea River — and for some, a party place — has been painstakingly brought back to life by Rachael Babcock and Rich Kaestner of Philomath.

On Monday they neared the end of their two-year restoration by again painting “Hootenanny” on the roof of the iconic little cabin near milepost 15 on Oregon Highway 34.

“This is a labor of love,” says Kaestner. “It’s basically done, but there’s always details. It’ll probably never be finished.”

But they’re getting close.

The main living area is 500 square feet. It has two tiny bedrooms, a small kitchen, dining area and living room. An addition with a bathroom and storage area adds another 160 square feet to the house. There is an outhouse (not used anymore) just to the east.

A front porch facing Highway 34 runs the full length of the house. It has a new tongue-and-groove ceiling, wooden rails and custom steel panels depicting forest and animal scenes. Oh, and two rocking chairs.

Rachael Babcock holds a photo of Gladys Spiker and her Alsea River salmon to compare it to a drawing of one in the kitchen. (Photo by Quinton Smith/YachatsNews.com)

The history

A complete title search going back to 1924 shows the property passing through nine families starting with the state selling the property to Frank E. Counsil, whose family sold it to Harold and Jeannie Thissell in 1926.

The cabin was built from material from a former school near Mike Bauer Wayside and Schoolhouse Creek.

The Thissells sold it to A.R. and Rose Huckins in 1929 and it remained in their family until 1946 when they sold it to G.E. and Florence Hall. The Halls sold it to K.W. and Dorothy Gray in 1950. The Huckins bought it back in 1952.

Babcock said she was told the Huckins used it for family events and were the first to paint “Hootenanny” on the roof. There were four bedrooms and a kitchen/eating area.

In 1957, the Huckins sold it to Lloyd and Gladys Spiker of Albany, who used it as a hunting and fishing cabin. Babcock has a picture of Gladys Spiker holding a salmon pulled from the Alsea; photos of both Spikers were shown in numerous newspaper advertisements for Hot Shot lures.

The property passed down to Bill (also known as Charlie) and Shirley Spiker of Vancouver, Washington, who sold it to Kaestner in December 2019. Bill died soon after the sale.

Some 50 years ago Shirley Spiker bought some redwood trees and one sequoia in northern California and planted them on the property near the spring that feeds the water system. There is a now giant dogwood tree behind the house planted by Gladys Spiker, whose ashes were scattered on the property after she died.

Babcock is aware that the house and property is symbolic for residents along the Alsea River and in Waldport.

“There are so many people who have talked to me about the cabin and the area,” she said. “It’s been a very popular area for generations.”

On Monday, they were visited by Joan Andersen-Wells of Aloha, who has a vacation home just east of Waldport. Gladys Spiker was her aunt.

An insulated, corrugated metal roof, new floors and wrapped beams highlight the living room of the Hootenanny House along the Alsea River. (Photo by Quinton Smith/YachatsNews.com)

Anderson-Wells grew up in Portland as one of seven children. Her father would bring two or three of them down at a time to the house.

“We just played around,” she said. “My dad took us fishing and swimming. I’ve caught fish down there. Always good memories.”

On trips years later to Waldport they would drive by “and if the flag was up, we knew someone was here” and stop in to say hello, she said while sitting on the front porch with Babcock retracing the family and house’s history.

“I’m glad you bought it, because you love it,” Andersen-Wells told Babcock.

The renovation

Babcock, 52, grew up in Waldport and worked for the Lincoln County School District for seven years and then another eight as a real estate agent. Her three children live in the area.

Growing up, she was mostly familiar with the popular swimming area across Highway 34 from the house.

“Lots of people came up here to go swimming,” she said.

Babcock and Kaestner have been together in Philomath for four years. They were driving to Waldport in December 2019 when Babcock spotted a “for sale” sign on the property.

“Rich, we have to buy this,” Babcock said.

And he did — $125,000 for the house and 3.4 acres that includes a spring for water and 600 feet of Alsea River frontage.

And then the real work began.

“It was obvious no one had been in here for years,” Babcock said recently as she showed off two years of renovations, “but I could see through the mess.”

Rich Kaestner and Rachael Babcock of Philomath have spent the past two years cleaning up, repairing and remodeling the Hootenanny House along the Alsea River east of Waldport. (Photo by Quinton Smith/YachatsNews.com)

The past two years Babcock and Kaestner have come from Philomath twice a week to work on the place. It took a few months to clean out the house, then Kaestner started attacking the roof.

There was “Hootenanny” painted on two layers of shingles, he said.

Next came insulation, a metal corrugated ceiling, work on the foundation and floors — and a security system. They kept the original windows, wrapped the beams, and rebuilt the kitchen.

“She’s only allowed one idea a month,” laughs Kaestner.

There’s no electricity or telephone lines in the area, so the house is totally off the grid.

There’s a propane-fired generator that charges a battery system that can provide 4-5 days of electricity before the generator automatically fires up again. Water comes from a hillside spring, running into a settling pond then to a 110-gallon storage tank.

Kaestner, 78, is a retired IBM employee who now volunteers for Habitat for Humanity in Benton County. He estimates they’ve spent $35,000 in materials — including $10,000 for the electrical system — to fix up the house and “will hit $40,000 before we’re done.”

“This is a labor of love,” he said.

“It’s a vacation home for us and our families,” Babcock said. “I’ll never sell it.”


Quinton Smith, a longtime Oregon journalist, is the founder and editor of YachatsNews.com and can be reached at YachatsNews@gmail.com