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About The Dalles chronicle. (The Dalles, OR) 1998-2020 | View Entire Issue (March 7, 2020)
A4 Weekend of March 7-8, 2020
S P E C I A L
S E C T I O N
in the company of excellence
The Balch Hotel
Historic hotel features unique
The Dalles Chronicle
Since purchasing Dufur’s historic Balch Hotel in
2015, Josiah Dean and Claire Sierra have worked to
get people looking farther east than what Columbia
Gorge Tourism Alliance chair Renee Tkach calls
the “walls and falls” section of the Gorge.
“A lot of people don’t realize that the Gorge
goes past Multnomah Falls,” Sierra said.
With Dean on the tourism alliance’s executive
board, the couple helped develop the alliance’s
“East Gorge Food Trail.” Sierra said collaborating
with others towards this goal has been an
“amazing” part of working in the Gorge. “It’s
not like ‘No you can’t have our people!’” Sierra
said. “It’s more like ‘Yeah! Go to the Dalles! Go
to Dufur!” Tkach said the east end of the gorge
offers different experiences for tourists.
“First stop is going to be Multnomah Falls
and then maybe you lose 50 percent and the
next 50 percent goes to Hood River and thinks
that’s where the Gorge ends,” Tkach said.
She said this means many forget about “this
incredible town of The Dalles—which has a whole
different flavor to it—and then Dufur, which is
stepping back in time and is a quieter pace.”
At the Balch, Sierra and Dean have built their
marketing around Dufur’s bucolic pace.
“I think the main thing we have going for us is
this,” Sierra said, gesturing toward the rolling hills
between Dufur and Mt. Hood’s majestic visage.
“We kind of have a whole lot of nothing going on.”
For some, the Balch is worth going
a little out of the way.
“A surprising number of business travelers choose
us that are going to The Dalles,” Dean said. “It’s
like ‘it’s 15 minutes away but I can stay at a Best
Western anywhere. I want to do something unique.’”
For others, it takes some reminding that
Dufur isn’t as out of the way as it seems.
“People see the sign and it says ‘Dufur,Bend’
so they think we’re next to Bend,” Dean
Josiah Dean and Claire Sierra, above and top, are working to draw visitors off
the beaten path.
said. “It’s like, ‘No we’re right here.’”
The Balch has been right there—across Fifteenmile
Creek from Kramer’s Market, the post office and the
rest of downtown Dufur—for well over a century.
Charles Balch was a business partner of the Dufur
brothers when he built the hotel in 1907 from bricks
made at a Dufur brickyard with clay from his ranch,
according to Dufur Historical Society archives.
Dufur Historical Society President Nancy Gibson
said the Balch, Kramer’s market and the adjacent
building were all built with Dufur bricks.
“We’ve just been scanning old pictures of
Dufur and it hasn’t really changed that much,”
Gibson said. “When you look down the picture
or look down the street whether north or south
or whatever, it’s pretty much the same.”
When Charles Balch ran the hotel, his customers
were primarily travelers and salesmen coming
into town on the newly-finished railroad.
In 2019, Dean said, the hotel had guests from 17
different countries. Sierra said she had grown used
to seeing the same guests return multiple times,
becoming friendly with the owners and staff.
“People have been three or four or six or
eight or more times,” Sierra said. “I have to
say, for myself—as someone who travels a lot
—there’s not a lot of places I can say I’ve even
been back to a second time that I liked a lot.”
Sierra referenced one guest who had recently
celebrated a birthday at the Balch for the third time.
“To me, that says something. That does
something for my heart that is not about
bottom line dollars,” Sierra said. “It just shows
that we’re doing something different.”
The Balch was added to the National Register
of Historic Places in 1987 by then-owners Howard
and Patricia Green. The Greens purchased the
hotel with plans to restore it after previous owners
had converted the hotel into a private residence,
according to their National Register application.
The Greens completed most of the structural
repairs to the building and operated the hotel by
appointment, Gibson said. They sold the building
at auction to Hood River natives Samantha and Jeff
Walker Sacon photo
Irwin in 2006 due to increasing age and declining
health, according to a letter they sent to friends.
Under the Irwins’ ownership, finishing touches
were added to the Green’s repairs and the Balch
was once again open for business daily. Gibson
said the Irwins painted and refinished doors and
walls to bring back the interior’s original splendor.
Since purchasing the Balch turnkey from
the Irwins in 2015, “Josiah has just gone
forward from that, trying to get more people
and offering more events,” Gibson said.
Sierra said the Balch has guests that
had come to Hood River before and
wanted to try something different.
“They want to be in the area, but they want to
do something a little bit more quiet or kind of
out of the hustle and bustle so people can still
easily get to hiking or kayaking or rafting or wine
tasting and then they’re not in the fray trying
to fight for parking or whatnot,” Sierra said.
Tkach said Dufur, and the Balch specifically,
make a good base for recreators.
“Not only do you get to spend time in
Dufur, but you can go down and raft and play
on the river or go fishing,” Tkach said.
“It’s got it all except for you don’t have the
total opposite experience of the kind of towns
that have it all—in terms of the rafting—would
be, for me a nightmare, like Bend,” Tkach said.
“Some people love all that going on, but if you just
want that relaxing, friendly, warm town with real
cowboys walking around too, it’s pretty cool.”
Sierra said she thinks Dufur’s agrarian
connection to the land makes the town “a
really grounded, grounding place.”
“It’s not complicated,” Sierra said.
“People here, we’re not complicated.”
“People, when they come here, they’re like
‘Yeah we went to Kramer’s and we met all these
really cool old guys!’” Sierra said. “We’re like, ‘yeah
we know exactly which guys, they’re those guys
that are always there. We know those guys!”