St. Helens

Date of visit: October 15, 2011
Population: 12,883 (2010 Census)

Of all the ports on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, St. Helens was the second largest behind Portland in 1852. The Pacific Mail Steamship Company had chosen St. Helens for its main office and built a large wharf designed specifically for steamboats. In October 1853 the company announced that the mail steamer that ran between Portland and San Francisco would now terminate its journey at St. Helens. Passengers and freight leaving from Portland would be shuttled to St. Helens.

Portland businessmen retaliated by inviting any other steamship that would serve Portland to do so. The Peytona was just such a ship, and in December Portland businessmen signed a resolution stating “Whereas, the recent course of the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, in stopping their regular vessels at St. Helens, is antagonistic to the best interests of Portland, be it therefore resolved: that we the merchants and businessmen of Portland, pledge ourselves to encourage and sustain the steamship Peytona, now in port, to continue as a regular packet between this city and San Francisco, by giving her all our freight and influence.”

Now that the Pacific Mail Steamship Company had no Portland freight to transport, they found that they didn’t have enough cargo to carry from St. Helens alone. By February, they had no choice but to reverse their decision, and from then on their mail steamer terminated its trips at Portland. St. Helens became just a stop along the way, and eventually even that stop was eliminated. The expensive dock built at St. Helens was abandoned and later destroyed in a fire.

Welcome to St. Helens

Courthouse
Columbia County Courthouse

Library
St. Helens Library

St. Helens City Hall
City Hall

Columbia Theatre
Columbia Theater

Marina
Marina

Plantation House
Plantation House Brewery & Restaurant

St. Helens
Main Street

Map of St. Helens

Oregon Towns Project

Roseburg

Date of visit: June 9, 2012
Population: 21,181 (2010 Census)

On August 6, 1959 truck drive George Rutherford parked his delivery truck in downtown Roseburg and spent the night at the Umpqua Hotel, prepared to make a delivery first thing in the morning. His truck was loaded with dynamite and ammonium nitrate.

In the early hours of August 7 a fire started at the Gerretsen Building Supply Company. Firemen rush to put out the blaze, but before anyone realized the danger of the truck parked nearby the fire spread and the truck exploded, destroying eight city blocks, damaging 30 blocks, and causing $12 million in damages. 228 buildings were damaged and 72 businesses were destroyed. 14 people were killed and 125 were injured. People who lived 20 blocks away were knocked out of their chairs. The crater created by the explosion measured 50 feet across and 20 feet deep. Burning debris caused several small fires in addition to the initial one at the blast site. It took four hours to bring the fire under control.

It turned out that the owner of the truck, Pacific Powder Company of Washington, had been warned just two days earlier about parking in congested areas. Although they were cleared of criminal charges they paid $1.2 in civil damages in 1962. Roseburg rebuilt and today all the visual evidence that remains is a plaque outside a car dealership.

Welcome to Roseburg

Roseburg City Hall

Roseburg Station

Parrott House

Douglas County Museum

Railroad depot

Old house

Hamilton House

Floed-Lane House

Downtown Roseburg

Roseburg mural

Douglas County Court House

Downtown Roseburg

Plaque

Map of Roseburg

Oregon Towns Project

Oakland

Date of visit: June 8, 2012
Population: 927 (2010 Census)

Oakland was founded in 1852 and had a grist mill, several mercantile stores, a blacksmith shop, a hotel, stables, and a stagecoach stop. The town served as the terminus for the Wells and Fargo line from Portland, but when the Oregon and California RR was built within two miles of town the town was moved to its present location. Several fires in the 1870s and 1890s destroyed buildings in town, many of which were replaced with brick buildings. The Oakland Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Welcome to Oakland

City Hall

Downtown Oakland

Oakland post office

Pretty porch

Oakland Trader

Historic building

Antiques in Oakland

Oakland Museum

Map of Oakland

Oregon Towns Project

Myrtle Creek

Date of visit: June 9, 2012
Population: 3439 (2010 Census)

The town of Myrtle Creek was named for the many Oregon-myrtle trees that grow in the area. (Umbellularia californica is also known as California-laurel.) Botanically, the tree is neither a myrtle nor a laurel. The wood is easily carved and polishes like marble. Numerous gift shops in Oregon sell bowls, spoons, and other items made from myrtlewood. According to the book Trees to Know in Oregon, “finished myrtlewood is the highest priced of western hardwoods.”

Myrtle Creek

Main Street

South Umpqua River

Neal Lane Covered Bridge

Citizens State Bank

House

City Hall

Family Fellows Church

House

Myrtle Creek Branch Library

House

Rice Bros. & Adams General Merchandise

Map of Myrtle Creek

Oregon Towns Project

Scappoose

Date of visit: October 15, 2011
Population: 6,592 (2010 Census)

Scappoose has a giant 50-foot-tall candle in the middle of town. You can’t miss it as you’re driving through on Highway 30. This “Peace Candle of the World” was built in 1971 to advertise the Brock Candles factory (which burned down in 1990; how ironic is that?). They covered an old silo with 45,000 pounds of wax and put a large wick on top. The mayor and Governor Tom McCall attended the dedication ceremony, and the wick was lit using a custom-made 60-foot-long match.

The Oregon rain made a real wick impractical in the long-run, so a gas line was installed. But that proved to be too expensive, so the candle now has an electric neon light. It was briefly listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as World’s Largest Candle, but a candle in Europe now has that title. The Scappoose candle is increasingly being hemmed in by development, so who knows how much longer it will stand.

Welcome to Scappoose

Watts Pioneer Museum
Watts Pioneer Museum

Skate park art
Skate park art

Long Fellows Inn
Long Fellows Inn

Church
Church

Scappoose Public Library
Scappoose Public Library

Map of Scappoose

Oregon Towns Project

Irrigon

Date of visit: May 28, 2012
Population: 1,826 (2010 Census)

The little town of Irrigon sits along the Columbia River. When the Bureau of Reclmation began digging reservoirs and canals to attract farmers to the area, a newspaper editor and agriculturalist changed the name from Stokes to Irrigon (a portmanteau of irrigation and oregon). The town wasn’t incorporated until 1957.

Welcome to Irrigon

Irrigon City Hall

Irrigon post office

Columbia River

Julie's Healthier Choice

School

Future library
UPDATE: Two years after my visit this library finally opened in 2014, only to have to shut its doors for nine months (article)

Bend

Date of visit: October 1, 2011
Population: 76,639 (2010 Census)

Incorporated in 1905, Bend is the sixth largest city in Oregon and the largest city east of the Cascades, although as with any big western city it started out as a small frontier village in the 1870s. The name comes from Farewell Bend, which was used to describe a point along the Deschutes River where travelers on the pioneer stage road bade farewell to the river as they journeyed west. Upstream and downstream of this spot the river travels through a canyon where fording is difficult, but the spot where Bend now sits provided an accessible crossing. The Warm Springs name for this fordable spot on the river was “Wychick.”

For awhile in the early years, Bend seemed to suffer an identity crisis. Because the name “Farewell Bend” was already taken by a post office along the Snake River, the community that grew up along the Deschutes River became known as “Bend.” For a short while between January 1903 and March 1904 it was changed to “Deschutes” and then the post office reversed the name back to “Bend.” Other names that were unsuccessfully tried at some point were “Pilot Butte” (the name of the prominent hill in town) and “Statts” (the name of the old stage office).

Bend doesn’t suffer from an identity crisis these days. Although winters are much colder than in the Willamette Valley on the other side of the mountains, Bend gets more than 300 days of sunshine a year (not the same as 300 sunny days, incidentally). It’s close proximity to summer hiking and biking trails and winter skiing makes it a popular vacation destination, and tourism is one of the biggest industries in Bend.

Bend Public Library
The beautiful Bend Public Library

Trinity Episcopal Church
Trinity Episcopal Church

Post Office
Post Office

Tower Theater
The Tower Theater, which was renovated in 2004

Downtown Bend
Downtown Bend

Deschutes Brewery
The Deschutes Brewery, possibly the best beer and food in town

The Fun Farm
The Fun Farm is a wacky private “park” near Bend

Map of Bend

Oregon Towns Project