Historic Structures

Bend Depot and the Development the Town Bend Railroad Depot - Oregon Trunk Railway Passenger Station, Bend Oregon

During the settlement period, 1910-1920, the railroad was the most significant social force in the growing town of Bend. In 1903, A.M. Drake, a fast-talking promoter, arrived from St. Paul, Minnesota, and purchased land along the Deschutes from a local rancher. Drake platted the town of Bend in 1904, and then sold out and moved on. James J. Hill and his associates eventually purchased the town site, the irrigation company, and much of the surrounding land. Their vision of"Oregon's Spokane" created the new town of Bend as surely as the first settlers had created the first community there twenty years before. The depot site and the passenger station, the end of the line, was the symbol of the powerful economic forces that had built Bend. It was also the only tangible connection with the outside world.

On Railroad Day, October 5, 1911, the Bend depot site was the focal point of two days' festivities. James J. Hill, who would drive the traditional golden spike that officially finished the railroad, was the featured speaker.

For James J. Hill and his business associates, Railroad Day in Bend marked a milestone on a long and expensive investment program in the Pacific Northwest. Hill's investments in Central Oregon included railroads, land companies, and development schemes. Hill literally owned Bend. Based in Seattle's Empire Building (also owned by Hill), his Bend Company and Bend Park Company owned all the real estate in Drake's development and were actively selling lots for commercial or residential use.

The Oregon Trunk would soon take pine lumber out of Bend, and eventually move California-bound cargoes through Bend, but for the present, the railroad's most significant contribution to the local economy would be to bring newcomers to Central Oregon.

Bend and the surrounding Central Oregon country was not well suited for agricultural settlement, however. The altitude of 3500' meant a short growing season with frosts to be expected in every month of the year, including July and August. The Jeffersonian ideal of the self supporting diversified farm was never really an option for Central Oregon settlers. The best chance for success lay in cattle or sheep ranching, which required a significant initial investment and operating funds beyond most immigrants' means.

In 1915 two lumber firms from Minneapolis (Shevlin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon) built large mills in Bend, and the economic basis of the town began to shift. Logging and lumber manufacturing provided jobs for disappointed settlers and a much surer opportunity than farming the dusty sagebrush plains. Hastily erected communities in the desert east of Bend were emptied as the economy surged through the 1920s.

In 1926, the Oregon Trunk built south to Chemult, where it joined its old rival, the Southern Pacific, for joint trackage into Klamath Falls. In 1931, the Oregon Trunk extended into California to join the Western Pacific and become for the first time the true "trunk line" that James J. Hill envisioned.