Thompson’s Mills State Heritage Site
In addition to our iconic state parks, the Oregon parks system also operates more than a dozen Oregon State Heritage sites and areas. Thompson’s Mills is just one of the important locales that brings Oregon’s history to life.
A Mill that Predates Oregon’s Statehood
When you think of the Oregon State Park system, you might picture sparkling waterfalls or stunning desert landscapes—places to hike, camp or simply reconnect with nature. And while these settings and activities can certainly be found in our iconic state parks, there are also a dozen or so lesser known sites that are equally important to Oregon’s culture. These are the Oregon State Heritage sites and areas, also administered by the Oregon State Parks system.
Thompson’s Mills is just one of these unique and historic sites.
Located near Shedd, Oregon, Thompson’s Mills is one of the most recently designated Oregon State Historic sites.
The mill was built along the banks of the Calapooia River in 1858, predating Oregon statehood by a year. It operated continuously until the property was purchased by Oregon Parks and Recreation in 2004, making it the longest running water-powered business in the state. Opened to the public in 2007, the mill now offers a unique exploration of Oregon’s days of early settlement.
Originally named Boston Mills, the mill was not just a local business. It soon became the center of commerce and community for early settlers, spawning a nearby town which took on the same name.
Despite a promising start, the town of Boston died out when the railroad bypassed it in favor of a settlement that we now know as Shedd, Oregon. But the mill itself continued to prosper, adjusting to changing times for more than a century. From producing flour to feed to hydro-electric power, the mill adapted and thrived. It wasn’t until an agreement to sell its electricity was discontinued that the mill finally lapsed into disuse and disrepair. It was then that the property was acquired by Oregon Parks and Recreation with the goal of opening it to visitors and allowing them a glimpse the building’s inner workings and, through them, the history of the Willamette Valley’s settlement.
A Study in 19th Century Building Design
The original 1858 mill burned to the ground just a few years after it opened. But it wasn’t gone for long. While much of the country was embroiled in the ongoing Civil War, local Oregonians were instead hewing the twelve-inch timbers needed to rebuild the mill. Some of those ancient beams, along with early milling machines and man-lifts, can still be seen in the structure of the mill today.
Lottery Play Helps Fund Preservation
In addition to the mill and outbuildings, the historic Thompson home is just one of the structures included in the 20-acre heritage site. Oregon Lottery-funded grants will help preserve them into the future. Funded projects include silo repairs, barn stabilization, and waterline development. In total, more than $800,000 has been awarded to Thompson’s Mills to help preserve it for the next generations of Oregonians.
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