Telling the taleof a timber town

February 08, 2008 12:00 am

A rich part of Northeastern Oregon's history that's been too long neglected might soon garner the recognition it deserves.

So will a once-thriving town.

That town is Bates.

The Oregon Lumber Co. founded the town near the sawmill the company built in 1917 along the Middle Fork of the John Day River. Bates was in northeastern Grant County about 48 miles southwest of Baker City.

The group of investors who started the Oregon Lumber Co. included some of the men who also built the Sumpter Valley Railroad — among them David Eccles, the namesake for a street that adjoins the site in south Baker City where the company constructed its first mill.

Bates, a classic company-owned mill town where most of the houses were identical, survived until 1975. That year the Edward Hines Lumber Co., which bought the mill from the Oregon Lumber Co. more than a decade earlier, closed the operation and moved the equipment to John Day. The firm also sold the homes, some of which still stand, in Prairie City or John Day.

Today there isn't even a sign to show where Bates was.

Fortunately, the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is planning to buy, probably this spring, a 131-acre parcel where the sawmill stood.

We think it's a wonderful idea to build a state park there, and we're sure the site will lure plenty of visitors who are fascinated by Oregon history.

We urge state officials to choose as the park's theme the legacy of logging in Northeastern Oregon, a legacy which Bates epitomizes.

A Bates park that interprets that history will be an ideal complement to the nearby Sumpter Valley Dredge park, which focuses on the region's equally compelling heritage as the center of Oregon's mining industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The Bates park's story must also include a detailed chapter on the Sumpter Valley Railroad. Construction of that railroad made lumbering a viable trade in this area.

The railroad didn't come by its nickname — the Stump Dodger — by happenstance.

Now parks officials need only find an old ranch to complete a trio of history-themed parks that celebrates the three bastions of Northeastern Oregon's economy: Gold, cattle and timber.