By CHRIS COLLINS
Of the Baker City Herald
Nancy Williams and her parents, Dean and Gilbert Jones, have seen many changes to their neighborhood in the 1700 block of Baker Street over the years.
In recent months, buildings and brush between their homes at the end of the Baker Street cul-de-sac just east of the Powder River have been removed by property owner, Alex Sackos. The remaining structures will be burned by the Baker City Fire Department in a training exercise beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
While the cleanup has improved the looks of the neighborhood, Williams, 46, said she is saddened by what she sees as the end of an era.
andquot;It is part of history,andquot; she said.
Williams grew up at the house where her parents have lived for 52 years, and she and her husband moved in next door to them 10 years ago.
She recalls her childhood days of playing in the brushy area surrounding the houses that will burn Saturday and getting to know the women who owned the property.
Julia and Otto Huschke owned the houses in the early days. Records at the property indicate that they had been at the site in the early 1900s, Williams said. Otto Huschke was a well-known contractor, Gilbert Jones said.
There are six houses on the property, including an old box car that was converted into living quarters.
andquot;Mrs. Huschke lived here all the time I was a kid,andquot; Williams recalled. andquot;I remember that as younger kids in grade school, Mrs. Huschke would let the neighbor kids play in the fields.andquot; The children would use one house that had only a partial basement as a fort. And in the winter they would sled down a little slope on the property, she said.
Huschke rented the houses until sometime in the 1970s, Williams said.
Her daughter, Helen Pakes, later moved in with her and helped care for her mother until her death. Pakes remained at the site and lived in one of the houses until three years ago when she moved to California to be closer to her children, Williams said.
Williams and her parents helped take care of the two women as their health failed. When Pakes' children made the trip to Baker City from their homes in California they had just a short time to complete the move and left many things behind. Some of the things are being stored until they can make arrangements to come for them, Williams said.
Other items of little value that were left behind will go up in smoke Saturday.
The Fire Department went through the houses earlier this week in preparation for Saturday's training exercise, said Fred Hertel, assistant fire chief.
They discovered treasures such as old newspapers dating back to the 1930s and '40s, personal letters and even a cellar filled with home-canned foods.
The Huschkes owned several apartment buildings in the community, including one that had burned at the corner of Second and Church streets, Jones said. Many of the appliances from those buildings have been stored over the years on the Baker Street property. Several wringer washing machines, about 10 refrigerators and a few stoves are now stacked in a pile at the site.
The buildings also contain bedding, clothing and other household items that will fuel Saturday's training blazes.
To help make the exercise as safe as possible, cellar doors have been blocked and rooftop chimneys have been removed, Hertel said. Pallets of wooden signs provided by the Bureau of Land Management also have been stacked in the buildings to fuel the fires.
andquot;We make sure there are no traps or hidden hazards to limit the chances of people getting hurt,andquot; Hertel said.