Date of visit: May 26, 2012
Population: 1,291 (2010 Census)
Heppner is a little town with a picturesque creek (Willow Creek) flowing through it. That creek wasn’t so lovely on June 14, 1903. A severe thunderstorm hit the area, producing lightning, rain, and hail. A flash flood raced through town, a wall of water sweeping away homes and businesses. The flood carried along trees and other debris which only made the devastation worse.
Some residents were able to escape to high ground and some were able to climb trees to escape the raging water. But the flood happened so fast that about 250 people were killed. When the water receded two-thirds of the houses in Heppner were gone and all but three businesses were destroyed. The railroad spur line from Lexington was also destroyed, along with the telegraph and telephone lines. Clean-up took weeks.
Willow Creek flooded again in 1948 and 1971, but much less severely than in 1903. In 1983 a $55 million dam was built on Willow Creek just outside of town to help control future flood events.
Welcome to Heppner