Date of visit: September 17, 2011
Population: 8,920 (2010 Census)

White people first settled in the Fairview area around 1850 because of the good farmland. Early residents liked the name “Fairview” but a town on the coast already had that name, so they called their town Cleone until the coastal town’s post office closed in 1914.

The native population had been greatly reduced by disease, but there were a few left living the area as white settlers began moving in. Old John, or Indian John, was a well-known Native American in the area. He was about 14 or 15 years old when Lewis & Clark passed through on their epic trek. He once showed a Fairview resident a silver spoon that had been given to him by Lewis & Clark. The Oregon Historical Society has a three-legged cast-iron camp skillet that used to belong to Old John and which is believed to have originated with the Lewis & Clark expedition.

He tanned hides, fished, helped take care of neighbor’s cattle, hoed potato fields, and acted as caretaker when families were away. His wife died from diphtheria in the 1850s and as he grew older his neighbors watched out for him and made sure he was getting enough to eat. At one point he was robbed of his life savings, $80, by a white man. Fairview residents tried to find the thief and bring him to justice, but were unsuccessful. Eventually Indian John ended up at the County Poor Farm and died in 1893. His exact age was unknown, but he was over 100 and by some accounts he was over 125 years old.

Welcome to Fairview

Fairview Community Park
Beautifully carved sign at Fairview Community Park.

Fairview jail
Fairview City Jail, built in 1915 and seldom used.

Heslin House
The Heslin House, built in 1893 and now a museum.

Fairview Library
Fairview Library.

Fairview City Hall
Fairview City Hall.

Presbyterian Church
Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church.

Map of Fairview

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: September 4, 2011
Population: 4,989 (2010 Census)

Warrenton sits on land that was originally occupied by the Clatsop Indians, but in 1851 they ceded 90% of their land to the U.S. Government. They were the only Oregon tribe that wasn’t moved to a reservation after giving up their land.

Daniel Knight Warren, who emigrated to Oregon from New York via the Oregon Trail in 1852, bought 160 acres here in 1870 and started recruiting people to come settle the area. He built a dike along the Skipanon River to protect against flooding and laid out a town with tree-lined streets. He offered bonuses and free lots to people who built houses in his new town. Warren built his own house here in 1885, a beautiful house that is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today Warrenton is a quiet bedroom community of Astoria and serves as the gateway to nearby Fort Stevens State Park.

Welcome to Warrenton

D.K. Warren House
The house that Daniel Warren built in 1885

Lighthouse Park

Municipal Center
Warrenton Municipal Center

Map of Warrenton

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: September 4, 2011
Population: 9,477 (2010 Census)

“We are all wet and disagreeable” – William Clark’s Journal

Lewis & Clark arrived at the Pacific Ocean near present-day Astoria in December 1805, more than a year and a half after they left Illinois on the most epic road trip ever. They built a fort in which to spend the winter and they named it Fort Clatsop, after the Clatsop tribe that lived in the area. During the 106 days that the expedition spent in the area, it rained all but 12 of those days, which is unusually wet even by Pacific Northwest standards. They left in March and were probably glad to be hightailing it out of there.

The town of Astoria didn’t exist yet, of course, but a few years later in 1811 John Jacob Astor sent men from his Pacific Fur Company to build a fur trading post here. The fort passed into British hands in 1813 and then back into American hands in 1846. The first post office west of the Rockies was opened here in 1847, and by that time emigrants were arriving in the area after traveling halfway across the continent via the Oregon Trail. Today Astoria is a thriving tourist destination with a thriving art scene and when I visited in 2011 it was celebrating its bicentennial.

Welcome to Astoria

Josephson's Smoked Fish
Josephson’s Smoked Fish, where I bought some excellent smoked salmon.

Flavel House
The beautiful Flavel House, built in 1886 and now a museum.

Liberty Theater
The Liberty Theatre was built in 1925.

Customs house
A replica of the Customs House that was built in Astoria in 1852.

Pilot Boat
The Peacock, a decommissioned pilot boat now on display at the Columbia River Maritime Museum.

Astoria-Megler Bridge
The Astoria-Megler Bridge stretches four miles across the Columbia River from Oregon to Washington. Before it opened in 1966 there was a ferry that traveled back and forth across the river.

Heritage Museum
Built in 1904 as Astoria’s City Hall, this is now the museum for the Clatsop County Historical Society.

Map of Astoria

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 30, 2011
Population: 586 (2010 Census)

Originally named Alkali when it was first settled, the town’s named changed to Arlington when it was incorporated in 1885. 71 years later, in 1956, the residents of the little riverside community had to decide if they wanted to abandon their town or relocate it. Arlington lies along the Columbia River and the John Day Dam was scheduled to be constructed downstream. Once that happened the downtown business section would be under 30 feet of water. 80% of the residents voted to relocate the town to higher ground, so that’s what happened.

On October 22, 1960 they held a farewell party and started the arduous process of moving the town. The new business district on higher ground had to be prepared, which included laying down 60,000 cubic yards of dirt. Water, sewer, and utility lines had to be located and removed. 40 businesses and 85 homes in the flood zone had to be relocated. Buildings were torn down or burned; the last of the buildings were burned on March 3 and 4, 1966. The John Day Dam was completed in 1971 and Lake Umatilla formed behind the dam, drowning the now empty space where downtown Arlington used to be. When all was said and done, the Army Corps of Engineers spent $5 million to relocate the town.

Welcome to Arlington

Town by the river
Looking down on the business district of town from the hills above.

Town on a hill
Looking down from the hills on the other side.

Earl Snell Memorial Park
The backwaters of the John Day Dam formed this lagoon in the depression of land where the business district used to be. Now Arlington has a nice waterfront park.

Another Caboose
A caboose at the park which has historical exhibits inside.

One of Arlington’s churches

Map of Arlington

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 30, 2011
Population: 682 (2010 Census)

Condon was established in the late 1800s. Originally named Summit Springs because of a nearby spring, its name was changed when the first postmaster suggested that the town be named after Harvey C. Condon, an attorney from Arlington who had agreed to not charge a fee to process the necessary paperwork for establishing the post office. (If you’ve ever heard of Thomas Condon, the geologist, Harvey was related to him.) By 1900 the population was 230 people, but the town experienced a big boom when a railroad line was finished in 1905. There were banks and a daily newspaper. A new flour mill and brick yard were built, a new city water works completed, and two wheat storage warehouses were constructed. The population was over 1,000. By 1908 Condon was the largest shipping point for wheat in the country.

But the depression hit the area hard. Condon recovered somewhat during the prosperous war years and when an air force base was built nearby. But the base closed in 1970, and one of the two rail lines was abandoned in 1976. As with many agricultural towns, Condon has never returned to its more prosperous times. The population was 759 in 2000 and 682 in 2010. But in 1990 the downtown area was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Condon Commercial Historic District, and hopefully the area will see an increase in tourism.

Welcome to Condon

Main Street
The main drag of Condon. See that flower show on the right? They have a soda fountain where I bought a peach smoothie. BEST. SMOOTHIE.EVER.

And old building that looked abandoned.

Tiny library
The tiny library next door to an HVAC place.

Old truck
An old truck out at the museum.

Grain elevator
I believe this is a grain elevator.

Map of Condon

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 30, 2011
Population: 473 (2010 Census)

The town of Fossil is near the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, which is composed of three different units spread out over nearly 14,000 acres. In addition to encompassing some crazy and beautiful geological features, the three units of the monument are the site of many well-preserved plant and animal fossils from a 40-million-year period. Paleontologists have found fossils of nuts, fruits, roots, branches, and seeds as well as more than 100 species of mammals, including rhinoceroses, mastodons, dogs, cats, horses, camels, and rodents.

The public is not allowed to collect fossils in the monument, but in the town of Fossil, anyone can pay a $5 fee and dig for fossils behind Wheeler High School. The rocks there used to be at the bottom of a shallow lake some 33 million years ago and were exposed during the leveling of the baseball field in 1949. Most of the fossils found here are leaves and branches, ancestors of modern sycamore, maples, oaks, rose, and alder. You won’t find fossils of the larger animals that would have roamed that ancient lake shore, but sometimes salamanders and small fish have been found. How cool is it that you can find fossilized plants by digging around in rocks that are millions of years old, that used to be mud in the bottom of a lake?

Welcome to Fossil

Oregon Paleo Lands Institute
Oregon Paleo Lands Institute

Once beautiful
A once-beautiful house, now falling into disrepair

Wheeler County Courthouse
The Wheeler County Courthouse, sporting some interesting and unusual decor

Bridge Creek Flora Inn
The Bridge Creek Flora Inn was a B&B that appears to have closed since I visited in May

Main Street in Fossil
Main Street

Versatile building
I couldn’t believe that this small building was home to the library, city hall, AND the fire department!

Big Timber Family Restaurant
Big Timber Family Restaurant

Map of Fossil

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 29, 2011
Population: 149

A little northwest of Dayville is a unique feature called Picture Gorge. Early settlers traveled through the gorge along a rough trail which crossed the river several times. Obviously this was only possible by foot or horseback, not by wagon. A proper road through the gorge was constructed in the 1920s then paved and realigned in the 1930s. The steep walls of the gorge rise on one side of the highway and the John Day River rushes along just feet away on the other side. I’m sure it must have been quite the engineering feat to squeeze that road in there, but I wasn’t able to find anything about the construction of the highway.

Picture Gorge is not just remarkable because of the highway running through it. In 1931 Professor Michael Mueller, an amateur paleontologist, discovered complete skeletons of long-extinct animals in the walls of the gorge, including a saber-toothed tiger, a rhinoceros, a turtle, and two three-toed horses. The skeletons had been buried by lava flows but the erosion caused by the John Day River over the centuries had slowly unearthed them. Scientists have also discovered petrified logs and stumps. In Picture Gorge there is about 10,000 feet of strata revealed, comprising at least eight geological formations. Not only that, but the gorge is also the site of some Native American pictographs which depict humans, animals, and geographic designs and which are centuries old. The gorge got its name from this pictographs.

Of course, as you’re driving through Picture Gorge it’s hard to see any of this. All your concentration is focused on the narrow winding road. But south of the gorge is the Mascall Overlook which has a great view of the gorge from a distance. I highly recommend stopping there if you’re ever driving through.

Welcome to Dayville

Dayville Mercantile
Dayville Mercantile

Trading Post
Bead Trapper Trading Post

Pony Express Depot
Pony Express Depot, aka the post office

Rundown house
All the little towns around her have at least one long-abandoned house in the downtown area

2 Rivers Ranch
Cool old barn right on the main drag

Picture Gorge
Picture Gorge

Map of Dayville

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 29, 2011
Population: unknown

When I drove through Kimberly in May, I almost DID drive right through without realizing it. It’s definitely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of place. The place consisted of a store with a tiny post office, a barn-like building across the highway from the store, and some kind of outbuilding out in the trees. It took less than five minutes to see the place, take pictures, and move on.

When I got home and did some research I learned that Kimberly exists because of the nearby Kimberly Orchards, which I’m sorry to say I didn’t even notice even though I drove right past (the orchards are several miles past the community of Kimberly where I stopped for pictures). The orchards were started by Orin Kimberly in the early 1900s when he planted some peach trees along the river. The peaches were so sweet and juicy that people waited for Kimberly peaches instead of buying elsewhere. The Thomas family started an orchard nearby in the 1940s and in 1967 purchased the Kimberly orchard.

These days they grow 60 varieties of seven different fruits which are sold at grocery stores in central Oregon and also to local school districts. Family members sell the fruit at farmer’s markets, fix their own equipment, and take care of the accounting, although they do hire pickers during the summer. They sell fruit to customers at a fruit stand in Kimberly. I saw an unmarked building in Kimberly which may be that fruit stand. Too bad they don’t have a sign on it.


Wooden building
Outbuilding in the forest.

The hub of Kimberly
Store and post office, both of which were closed since it was a Sunday.

Shiny red roof
This building had no signage, but I wonder if it’s the fruit stand run by Kimberly Orchards.

Map of Kimberly

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 29, 2011
Population: 160 (2010 Census)

You might think that Spray is named because of a nearby waterfall or river rapid. But it’s actually named after John Fremont Spray, who settled in the area in the late 1800s. In 1898 he built a horse-drawn ferry to cross the John Day River. In 1900 he purchased a piece of land known as Hogan Bottom, along the John Day River. He also purchased the land where the town of Spray would eventually be established.

The town was platted in 1900 and he built a store, hotel, dance hall, and saloon. When the post office opened he was the first postmaster. He was evidently a tireless advocate for settling the area, inducing people to move to Spray. Today Spray is a little town a long way from anywhere, best known for the annual rodeo held on Memorial Day weekend, which is also the weekend I happened to be visiting. I didn’t check out the rodeo, though.

Welcome to Spray

Spray Pioneer Museum
The Spray Pioneer Museum is in an old church and just happened to be open the day I was visiting!

Spray Post Office
Spray Post Office

Union High School
Union High School

Pretty church
Assembly of God Church

For Sale
Someone had painted a grin on the bumper of this truck.

Map of Spray

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 30, 2011
Population: 130 (2010 Census)

Mitchell is a tiny town in central Oregon that looks like it’s straight out of the old west. It’s pretty amazing that has an old look to it, because the town has been hit by destructive floods numerous times in the past. There’s a pretty little creek running through town called Bridge Creek. During the dry season it looks pretty harmless. But this passage from Talking on Paper: An Anthology of Oregon Letters and Diaries (which contains a letter from 10-year-old Julia Wilson describing how she survived the 1884 flood) describes how flash floods occur in this semi-arid region of the state: “hard, dry soils absorb very little water; rain, when it comes, collects in streams and rivers in an extremely brief period; the water drains downhill and overflows streams that have been dry or nearly dry for months; flood waters can rush miles downstream to places where the sun has been shining all day. Victims often have no reason to suspect that a flood is heading their way.”

A flash flood raced through the Mitchell area in June 1884, killing four members of the Carroll family. In October 1904 a cloudburst sent another flash flood racing through town. When the water receded, it left behind 15 inches of mud. Many people lost their homes or businesses. The same thing happened again in July 1956. The water rose 50 feet high on the canyon walls, tearing out highway bridges both east and west of town and destroying 200 feet of highway. 20 buildings in town were destroyed. During my visit, 55 years later, I saw no evidence of that catastrophic flood, and Bridge Creek burbled pleasantly through town.

Welcome to Mitchell

Welcome to Mitchell

Downtown Mitchell

Main Street

Whole in the Wall

Whole in the Wall, falling down

Bridge Creek Cafe

Bridge Creek Cafe


A fixer-upper on main street


The Oregon Hotel

First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church


Mitchell from the hills above

Map of Mitchell

Oregon Towns Project