Excerpts and photos from the Bend Bulletin’s upcoming pictorial history book – Hello Bend! Central Oregon Reinvented – provide some insight into the creation of the Old Mill District, and the historic mills from which it was borne.
The 1950s were a time of deepening change in Central Oregon. In Bend, timber was still king, but the closure in 1950 of the Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company brought the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Both lumber mills in Bend — Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon — knew in the 1930s there wasn’t enough timber in the region to sustain both sawmills.
Beginning production when the first log was sawed on March 23, 1916, the Shevlin- Hixon Lumber Co. dropped devastating news on its 850 employees just two days before Thanksgiving in 1950. The timber business would be forced to sell to the Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Co., its competitor across the Deschutes River. The sale was made out of necessity. Since its opening more than three decades earlier, the Shevlin-Hixon mill had been a mainstay of the community, leading to Bend’s immense growth from 1916 through the 1920s as a top contributor to the city’s economy, based almost solely on timber.
By 1950, Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon had milled so much there was no longer enough timber to support both companies. Shocked community members read the news in the Bend Bulletin’s evening edition on Nov. 21, 1950, and just a month later, hundreds of Shevlin-Hixon employees were out of work. Many fled to other Oregon timber towns, a lucky few found jobs elsewhere in Bend, and some would never find full-time work again. With the town’s mill activities cut in half, demolition of some of the Shevlin-Hixon mill’s buildings continued for several years. Train trestles that once supported the transport of logs through Shevlin Park were disassembled in the winter of 1956–57. Horses once used in logging and milling operations were phased out and replaced by machines. The Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Co. transitioned from railroad transport of logs to trucks. With these massive shifts in the timber industry, Bend made a turn toward a future more centered on tourism.
Significant changes occurred throughout Bend during the 1970s. Tom McCall, reelected governor in 1970, reshaped Oregon by passing Oregon’s Land Use Act in 1973. Mill closures around Deschutes County occurred with more frequency, and derelict mill buildings and rail trestles, some closed for decades, were demolished.
The 1990s ended Bend’s logging legacy. In 1990, Brooks-Scanlon mill sold to Diamond International after 75 years, and four years later, the last log was cut. More than jobs were lost—logging had its own culture, language and kinship. Together, Bend and the Deschutes National Forest made the final shift from an economy reliant on timber to one based on tourism and recreation. The creation of Newberry National Volcanic Monument in 1991, an effort led by Bend residents dedicated to protecting the forests around the caldera, is just one example of changing views of the forest.
While Highway 97’s move transformed the Third Street corridor in the 1960s and ’70s, the transition of pine mills into the Old Mill District was an inspired redevelopment gamble that was born in the 1990s. William "Bill" Smith and a group of private investors bought the former Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Co. mill site in 1993 after the mill permanently closed. Smith had a vision for redeveloping the 270-acre property into a mixed use destination that would become part of the heart of Bend. Nearly five years later, the development got approval from the City of Bend. The redevelopment of the property included restoration of the river banks, renovating and repurposing several of the old mill buildings, and transforming an industrial site into a destination for shopping, dining, movies, concerts, outdoor events and recreation.
These photos, and hundreds more beautiful images from the Bend Bulletin archives, Deschutes Historical Museum, and the community can be found in Hello Bend! Central Oregon Reinvented. This limited-edition book is the perfect holiday gift for your loved ones. Click the link below to purchase!