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.
LOTTERY DOLLARS DOING GOOD THINGS IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Albany’s Hebrew Cemetery Reclaimed
As frequently happens with our early cemeteries, the Albany Hebrew Cemetery had fallen into disrepair. Weeds and invasive vegetation had grown out of control. Many grave markers lay in ruined pieces. As sad as these conditions are at any burial ground, they were especially regrettable at this unique cemetery. The cemetery documents the lives and final resting sites of the Willamette Valley’s original Jewish settlers. As early as the 1870’s, a small community of Jewish families had settled in the Albany area. The tragic death of an infant death in one of these families was the catalyst that brought them together in an organized way. Together they founded the First Hebrew Congregation of Albany. In 1878, one of these families, the Senders, deeded the land that became the cemetery to the congregation.
A Park for Adventurers
Rugged and vast, Cottonwood Canyon is one of Oregon’s largest state parks at over 8,000 acres. Bordered by another 10,000 acres of federally-maintained public lands, this special place gives a new depth of meaning to the phrase “getting away from it all”. Before white settlers took hold of this land, the river was known as the Mah Hah to the Native Americans. In the 19th Century it was renamed the John Day River as part of a privately-owned cattle ranch. Between 1964 and 2008, the canyon and surrounding property were purchased by Oregon State Parks and the Western Rivers Conservancy. Seeking to protect the canyon while allowing the public to access the breathtaking area, Cottonwood Canyon became an Oregon State Park in 2013. With help from Oregon Lottery dollars, it’s been transformed into a unique wilderness and recreation experience for Oregonians and visitors alike. In 2019, more than $2 million in lottery dollars helped fund a learning center, cabins and restrooms, making it easier for visitors to set up a base camp from which to explore all Cottonwood Canyon has to offer. Plans are in the works to build a boat launch for easier access to the clear and open waters of the John Day, the largest free flowing river in the western United States. This undammed waterway is home to a year-round angler’s delight. Winter native steelhead, catfish and summer small-mouth bass mean the fish are constantly biting. Down the road, there’ll be even more ways to access the wild, back country of Cottonwood Canyon. Whether you choose to visit when spring turns the hills green or in winter when snow blankets the cliffs, just make sure you go to this unique and special place. It’s a perfect sample of the natural beauty of Oregon.
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