September in Oregon History: The ABCs of Oregon Places


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Abert Rim
by Ellen Bishop

Abert Rim rises from the desert floor in southern Lake County like a giant, looming wall. It is the most formidable and longest fault scarp in Oregon, extending more than thirty miles from its southern end near Valley Falls north to Alkali Lake. At its greatest height, Abert Rim towers more than 2,500 feet above the salt-ridden Abert Lake, Oregon’s most saline lake and a ghost of the vast great basin and high desert lakes whose shorelines still mark long-abandoned beaches. While on his expedition through Oregon Country in 1843, military explorer John C. Frémont named the rim and the lake for his topographical engineer, Colonel John James Abert. 

  abert rim


by Gregg Smith

Bates was an unincorporated Oregon Lumber Company mill town in Grant County, one mile north of Austin Junction on U.S. Highway 26. In 1906, the company established a small lumber mill in Austin at the new terminus of the Sumpter Valley Railway. The company closed the mill in 1917 and opened a larger mill a mile west of the junction at what would become Bates.

David Christian Eccles, the president of the Oregon Lumber Company, was the eldest son of Utah Mormon entrepreneur David Eccles. One of his partners, Portlandbusinessman Paul Chapman Bates, arranged the purchase of large tracts of timberland for the company, including property in the drainage of the Middle Fork of the John Day River. 

by David Hedges

Canemah, once the bustling terminus of navigation on the upper Willamette River, is located on the river’s east bank just above Willamette Falls. The name is Chinookan for “the canoe place,” descriptive of the sandy beach and natural harbor that attracted thousands of Native Americans, over many millennia, during annual salmon runs.

The site caught the eye of Absalom F. Hedges, who arrived by covered wagon in 1844. A carpenter and former steamboat captain on the Ohio River, he staked his donation land claim there.

Hedges recognized that the area was a natural townsite and shipbuilding center. In 1849, he platted Falls City and headed to New York to purchase steamboat machinery. Within a few years, the name of the town reverted to Canemah through popular usage.



by Nancy Zopf

Dufur, located thirteen miles south of The Dalles on U.S. 197, is a farming community of about 600 people. The name was originally Fifteenmile Crossing, but with the establishment of a post office in 1878, the name was changed to Dufur. The town was named for the DuFour family, who emigrated from France and settled in Wasco County in 1872. A.J. and Enoch DuFour bought land and began raising sheep. The brothers operated Fifteenmile House, and the community grew, with early enterprises focused on stock raising and sawmills. In the 1860s, Horace Rice planted wheat on the uplands; others soon followed, and before long the hills were covered with wheat fields.


by Susan Badger Doyle

The town of Echo, in Umatilla County, is located at the historic crossroads of Indian trails and the Oregon Trail on the Umatilla River. In the early 1840s, some emigrants diverged from the main route of the Oregon Trail near present-day Pendleton and traveled past this site as they followed the Umatilla River to the Columbia River. In 1847, an emigrant party crossed the Umatilla here and opened the Columbia Plateau Route of the Oregon Trail, which became the primary route of the trail. The crossing was known as the Lower Crossing (the Upper Crossing being at the site of Pendleton).

In 1851, Anson Dart, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Oregon, built the Utilla Indian Agency for the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes on the west side of the river, across from the future site of Echo. Indians destroyed the agency in November 1855 during the Yakama Indian War, and the Oregon Mounted Volunteers immediately built Fort Henrietta, a 100 ft. square cottonwood stockade, on the site. It was abandoned a year later.


Fort Rock Cave
by Thomas J. Connolly

Fort Rock Cave is located in a small volcanic butte approximately half a mile west of the Fort Rock volcanic crater in northern Lake County. Near the end of the Pleistocene, a massive lake filled the Fort Rock Basin, and erosion from wind-driven waves carved the cave about seventy-five feet deep into soft rock. The large lake was gone by the time people arrived, but remnant small lakes, ponds, and marshes remained on the basin floor in front of the south-facing cave which provided favorable habitat for game, waterfowl, and edible plants.

In 1938, University of Oregon archaeologist Luther Cressman excavated at Fort Rock Cave, where he and his crew found dozens of sandals below a layer of volcanic ash, subsequently determined to have come from the 7,600-year-old eruption of Mount Mazama.

  fort rock

great light way  

Great Light Way
by Dan Haneckow

Portland’s Third Street reinvented itself as The Great Light Way in June 1914 by installing a series of arcaded lights over each intersection from Yamhill to Madison streets.

Third Street merchants were concerned that the commercial center of town was drifting to the west, away from the Willamette River. The Broadway Bridge had opened the year before, routing a new stream of traffic from the east side directly onto Seventh Street, which was renamed Broadway in the hopes of establishing a new downtown theater district. Third Street boosters, who feared becoming part of the rundown “wholesale district” along the river, felt they needed a counterweight to retain retail and entertainment activity. 

by Daniel Sizer

In the early 1900s, the booming economy of Haines earned it the title of the Biggest Little Town in Oregon. Although Astorian expedition leader Wilson Price Hunt and explorer John C. Frémont had traversed the area early in the nineteenth century, it was not until the mid-to-late century that miners and farmers began settling near present-day Haines. Located about twelve miles northwest of Baker City, Haines first became a mining center, and the 1870 county census listed a sizable Chinese population.

The economy began to change in 1884 with the completion of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company (ORNC) line and the subsequent surveying of Haines from 120 acres of land donated by Israel David Haines, a lawyer, farmer, and two-time state senator from Baker City. 



Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District
by Gordon Lyford

The Illinois Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (IVSWCD), established on December 13, 1949, covers the Illinois River watershed in Josephine County. The 75-mile-long Illinois River rises in California, flows northwest through its 628,000-acre watershed (most of it in Oregon), and discharges into the Rogue River.

The watershed supports diverse native plant species, including 20 conifer trees, 29 broadleaved trees, and scores of rare endemic wildflowers. The watershed elevations range from 7,055 feet on Grayback Mountain to 380 feet at the mouth of the Illinois River near Agness.  The valley floor sits at from 1,200 to 1,600 feet, and the average annual precipitation varies from 40 to 160 inches.

Jordan Valley
by Sarah Munro

The town of Jordan Valley stretches along Highway 95 in Oregon’s High Desert. At an elevation of 4,385 feet, the town is on the north side of Jordan Creek, a tributary of the Owyhee River. Located on a volcanic plateau, Jordan Valley was shaped by volcanic eruption about 150,000 years ago. Jordan Craters, about thirty miles to the north, is a volcanic field that exhibits pahoehoe basalt, dark basalt characterized by a smooth, billowy, or ropy surface. Mining and ranching form the economic foundation of the town and the surrounding area. 


  jordan valley


by Greg Walter

Kerbyville was named after James Kerby (or Kirby), who filed his original homestead in 1855. The Kerby post office was established there in September 1856, with James Kerby serving as the first postmaster. Kerbyville was chosen as the county seat in a county election a year later, beating out Grants Pass; but in 1886, as Grants Pass grew and became more accessible by railroad, the county seat was moved there.  

Kerbyville's name was changed to Napoleon in 1856 by the territorial legislature, perhaps because some thought that every Josephine (County) needed her Napoleon. This may have been the influence of a Dr. D.S. Holton, a principal landowner in the area and an enthusiast of Napoleon III and Empress Josephine. But the name was not popular and was changed back to Kerbyville. Eventually, the name was shortened to Kerby, as it is known today.

Long Creek
by William Willingham

The eastern Oregon town of Long Creek, in Grant County, is located in a valley and near a stream of the same name. In the early days of settlement, it was thought that this stream was one of the longest in that section of the state. 

Settlers began arriving in Long Creek Valley in the mid-1870s. With abundant water, the valley was a livestock owner's paradise, and early settlers were small-scale homesteaders with herds of cattle and bands of sheep. The settlement suffered a temporary setback during the Bannock Indian War of 1878. As the Indians moved through the valley, with the U.S. Army in pursuit, the settlers built a fort and avoided an attack. By 1880, there was a store, a saloon, and a post office in town, and 150 people lived in the valley.

  long creek


by Gwen Trice

Maxville, in northeast Oregon east of the town of Wallowa, was home to African American loggers at a time when Oregon’s constitution included a provision excluding blacks from the state. Maxville had a population of about 400 residents, 40 to 60 of them African American. It was the largest town in Wallowa County between 1923 and 1933.

The Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company, based in Missouri, recruited experienced loggers from throughout the South and Midwest for the Maxville logging operation, and most of them traveled by rail—in boxcars—to Wallowa County. Initially, Logging Camp #5 housed the loggers near Wallowa. The company built a new town for the loggers and their families, both white and black, at nearby Bishop’s Meadow. Originally named Mac’s Town, after Bowman-Hicks superintendent R.D. MacMillan, the name was changed to Maxville.

North Bend
by Dick and Judy Wagner

The City of North Bend is located on about five square miles at the north bend of the Coos Bay, bounded by the bay and the City of Coos Bay. Before European contact, ancestors of the Coos Indians lived around the temperate bay for nearly ten thousand years. Trappers, traders, and an occasional explorer visited the region until settlement at Empire City (now part of the City of Coos Bay) began in 1853. In 1856, federal troops preemptively removed the peaceful Coos from their lands, fearful that they would join the Rogue River Indian War.

In 1855, Asa M. Simpson, a Maine shipbuilder lured west by California’s gold rush, arrived at the north bend of Coos Bay. Recognizing the value of the region’s coal and timber, he set up a sawmill, established a shipyard, and hired master craftsmen to build ships that would carry lumber products worldwide. Oregon’s only true clipper ship—the Western Shore—was built at North Bend in 1874.

  north bend

oregon caves  

Oregon Caves Chateau
by William Cornett

The Oregon Caves Chateau was constructed between 1931 and 1934 as an overnight lodging in a ravine near the entrance of the Oregon Caves National Monument. Designed by local architect and builder Gust Lium, the gable-roof structure was built of Port Orford cedar and other materials native to Mount Elijah, the site of the caves.

Originally developed at a cost of $50,000 by a group of local investors calling themselves the Oregon Caves Company, the building came under the supervision of the National Parks system. The Chateau's financial success waxed and waned parallel to larger economic trends and Caves attendance over the middle and later decades of the twentieth century. In the 1970s the Oregon Caves Company sold its interests in the Chateau to the Canteen Corporation of Oregon, which was replaced in 2003 by Oregon Caves Outfitters. That company was contracted to run the lodge on behalf of the National Park Service, which now operates the facility. 

The Chateau, its outbuildings, and associated landscape architecture are considered exemplars of the Rustic style favored by the National Park Service. The diversion of Caves Creek and its incorporation into the Chateau helped to ground the structure in its natural surroundings.


by William G. Robbins

A small Willamette Valley community near the Coast Range, Philomath took its name from Philomath College, founded in 1867 by the United Brethren Church. Because of sharply declining enrollment, the college closed during the Great Depression. The name comes from two Greek words meaning “lover of learning.”

Incorporated in 1882, Philomath was a thriving farming and ranching center, shipping agricultural products and wool to nearby Corvallis warehouses and, eventually, to larger urban markets. By the early twentieth century, loggers were making inroads into the lush timberlands surrounding Philomath's hilly backcountry, transforming the town into a major logging and lumbering center. Those activities would remain the mainstay of Philomath's economy well into the twentieth century. 


equitable bldg  

eQuitable Building
by Leland Roth

Designed by Pietro Belluschi, Portland's Equitable Building (also known as the Commonwealth Building and the Equitable Savings & Loan Building) was the first major glass-enclosed modernist office building completed in the country after World War II. Belluschi's design initiated a building type that became synonymous with post-war business recovery and the worldwide influence of American business.

Conceived in design and completed in 1948, before either Mies van der Rohe’s Lakeshore Drive apartment building (Chicago, 1948-1951) or Skidmore, Owings & Merrill’s Lever House office building (New York City, 1948-1951), the Equitable Building was lauded in the architectural press. Before long, however, it faded from attention, and its pioneering achievements were generally forgotten by East Coast architectural critics and historians. Nevertheless, the Equitable Building incorporated important new design and mechanical innovations that would become widely admired and emulated.

Rogue River National Forest
by Jeff LaLande

For over a century, the Rogue River National Forest has filled an important role in the economic development, watershed management, and recreational uses of southwestern Oregon. The forest, which in 2003 consisted of about 632,000 acres, embraces most of the higher-elevation lands of the upper Rogue River watershed.

The land base of the Rogue River National Forest includes almost 420,000 acres in Jackson County; the remainder is distributed among adjacent counties, including 51,000 acres in Siskiyou County in California. The forest is separated into two distinct mountainous sections by the Rogue River/Bear Creek valley. The east section runs the length of the Cascade Range from near Crater Lake south to the volcanic plateau between Ashland and Klamath Falls. 

  rogue river

sparta ditch  

Sparta Ditch
by Jodi Varon

The Sparta Ditch, a thirty-two-mile-long irrigation ditch straddling the Union-Baker County line, was built in 1871 to facilitate gold mining in that area. The ditch begins on the U.S. Forest Service Pine Ranger District, eight miles northwest of the unincorporated town of Sparta. It is a tangible example of the contribution made by Chinese laborers in northeastern Oregon whose ditch systems, flumes, and tunnels supplied water for local mining concerns.

In October 1871, five months after the ditch project began, a crew of three hundred Chinese miners, recruited from the China Companies’ labor pool in Baker City, diverted water from the snowpacked peaks and high mountain valleys of what is now the Eagle Cap Wilderness Area. Using Eagle Creek, they diverted water to the Thorn Gulch mines in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

by Jan Wright

Once called Wagner Creek, Talent is located in southwestern Oregon between Ashland and Medford. Situated near the confluences of Wagner and Anderson Creeks with Bear Creek, the town sits astride important travel routes, including the California Trail, the Applegate Trail, the California-Oregon stage road, the Southern Pacific Railroad, the Old Pacific Highway, and Highway 99.

Jacob Wagner filed the first Donation Land Claim along Wagner Creek in 1852. During the Rogue River War of 1853, Fort Wagner, a temporary fortification constructed on Wagner’s land by U.S. Army troops, provided shelter for a group of emigrants traveling on the Applegate Trail. 


union peak  

Union Peak and Union Creek
by Jeff LaLande

Union Peak, rising to an elevation of 7,709 feet, dominates the southwest corner of Crater Lake National Park. It is situated about six miles from the nearest portion of Mount Mazama's caldera, which holds Crater Lake. From places within the Rogue River Valley, Union Peak's unmistakable steep-sided, pyramid profile is visible along the skyline of the Cascade Range some sixty miles to the northeast, projecting well above Llao Rock and other high points that form the rim of the lake.

Union Creek originates from the snow that accumulates on the mountain's northwestern flank. Its frigid, crystal-clear waters, which drain westward about a dozen miles to join the main fork of the upper-most Rogue River, vary little in volume and temperature over the course of a year. Union Creek forms an important contributor to the superb water quality of the Upper Rogue River, a congressionally designated Wild and Scenic River.

Union Peak is an inner-core remnant of a volcano that developed between about seven and two million years ago, making it substantially older than nearby Mount Mazama. Over about two million years during the Pleistocene (Ice Age), the mountain was shaped by repeated glacial erosion, leaving the rugged, somewhat Matterhorn-like point that exists today. Herds of elk reside seasonally at the base of the mountain, and tiny pikas make their home in its scree slopes.

by Kaitlyn Kohlenberg

Vernonia lies in the upper Nehalem Valley of northwestern Oregon. With roughly 2,300 people, the town occupies about 1.5 square miles of land bisected by the Nehalem River.

The earliest white settler in the area, Clark Parker, arrived in 1874, followed by the Van Blaricom family in 1875. A year later, Ozias Cherrington joined them with his cousin Judson Weed and suggested that they name the town Vernona after his eight-year-old daughter, who was in Ohio. His fellow settlers agreed, but an error during incorporation led to the insertion of an extra letter, making it Vernonia.



by Greg Walter

Located just south of Cave Junction and a few miles north of the California state line, the town of Waldo grew out of a large gold-mining settlement first known as Sailor's Diggings. The area was settled in 1852 by sailors who jumped ship in Crescent City, California, and discovered gold on their way to the goldfields in Jacksonville. By 1854, an eleven-mile ditch (constructed by a consortium called Sailors Diggings Water, Mining, and Milling Company) was bringing water to several gulches in the area, and mining activities expanded.

Sailor's Diggings was named the first county seat of Josephine County in 1856. The town was later named Waldo in honor of William Waldo, the Whig Party candidate for governor of California. In 1853, Waldo had campaigned in Sailor's Diggings, mistakenly believing the town to be part of California. 

X-Ray Cafe
by Sarah Mirk

The X-Ray Cafe was a premiere hole-in-the-wall, all-ages music venue that helped shaped Portland's early 1990s music scene. Benjamin Arthur Ellis and Tres Shannon founded the X-Ray in 1990 at 214 West Burnside Street, a corner formerly occupied by UFO Pizza. The duo scrounged up money for rent from their grandmothers and a day job at Kinkos, and decorated the X-Ray with dumpster finds, including many velvet paintings.

The X-Ray's stage was open to anyone who wanted to perform, fostering an inclusive counterculture and becoming a destination for local artists, teens, and national bands who were considered too wild for more commercial venues. Famous and not-at-all famous grunge and alternative acts performed there, including Bikini Kill, Green Day, Elliott Smith, Quasi, Smegma, Nation of Ulysses, Dead Moon, and Rancid Vats. 

  xray cafe

owyhee canyon  

owYhee Canyonlands
by Alan St. John

Situated in the far southeastern corner of Oregon, the Owyhee Canyonlands is one of the wildest regions in the contiguous United States. This scenically stunning stone labyrinth of chasms and furrowed badlands was created over eons by the erosive actions of the Owyhee River. The waters flow northward in Oregon through remote canyons, hard against the Idaho state line, emptying into the Snake River south of Ontario.

Geologically, as in most of eastern Oregon, the many volcanic features include hot springs, lava beds, craters, and cinder cones. The picturesque brick-red and golden-yellow cliffs are composed of volcanic tuff and rhyolite.

Zimmerman Heritage Farm
by Richard Engeman

The Zimmerman Heritage Farm in Gresham consists of an 1874 farmhouse on 5.98 acres, the remnant of a large dairy farm operated by the family of Jacob (1816-1899) and Lena (1827-1887) Zimmerman and their descendants. The Fairview-Rockwood Wilkes Historical Society operates the site as a historic house museum.

Both Jacob and Lena Zimmerman were born in Germany; they married in Philadelphia in 1845. With two children, they emigrated from Ohio to Oregon in 1851. In 1869, they purchased the donation land claim of Robert P. Wilmot and built a house there in 1874. By 1881, their son George (1852-1915) was running the farm. George married Jessie McCall in 1883; the couple had four daughters.