Oregon Ghost Towns and New Beginnings

April 10, 2015 (Updated April 27, 2015)

Just past the Gorge in Eastern Oregon, less than 20 miles south of The Dalles, you quickly see that distances are great, the people are few and times gone by are easy to find.

Oregon history buff Robert Waldron said that the Friend School, built in 1909, offers a sneak peek to the promising life that folks wanted to find when they settled in this part of the Oregon country.

At Friend, in Wasco County, “life” reaches back to the 1870s. Named for a local homesteader, “Friend” was the sort of place that flourished for a moment and then disappeared.

“One of the beauties of Eastern and Central Oregon is that there are still lots of places like this – where you can find plenty of elbow room and live in solitude,” added Waldron. “It’s not for everybody – obviously – or everybody would be out here, right? But look around. It is gorgeous.”

He’s right! Wasco County offers stunning country! Especially in spring on a short drive to reach an Oregon State Park that is prime right now. White River Falls State Park offers a sprawling greenway with scattered picnic tables at a day use site that opens each spring.

You’ll be drawn to explore the rugged quarter-mile trail that takes you riverside where you discover something more. A complicated system of pipes and flumes diverted water from above the falls down into a powerhouse and where electricity-producing turbines generated power for the region from 1910 to 1960.

The Dalles Dam construction and completion led to the White River project’s demise in the ’60s.

For obvious safety reasons, Oregon State Parks does not want visitors inside the old powerhouse building that is falling in upon itself. “Keep Out” signs on the shuttered building make that message clear, so observe the signs as you explore the riverside scenery outside.

Do not forget a camera when you hike this path for the photo opps are numerous and stunning – of the river, the canyon and the powerful White River Falls, where two plunge pool falls drop more than 90-feet in dramatic fashion at this time of year.

The park is a popular picnicking, hiking and fishing retreat for visitors who wish to dip their toes in this corner of the greater Deschutes River corridor.

Soon, the roadway calls you back and you might consider a longer stay in nearby Dufur, a small burg that holds on to its history. Dufur’s early days reach back to the 1870s when it was home to the largest dry-land apple orchard in the country. The town thrived thanks to the Southern Pacific Railroad that linked passengers and goods to The Dalles and the Columbia River.

When you step inside the Historic Balch Hotel in Dufur, you will feel right at home and appreciate that time hasn’t changed much at all. Balch Hotel co-owner and manager Samantha Irwin said that the Balch Hotel is listed on the National Historic Registry and it has been her personal passion to renovate since 2006.

Original brickwork wraps around a comfy interior marked by beautiful Doug fir woodwork. The Balch Hotel is a fine bed and breakfast for those seeking escape from city hub-bub and noise. It is a remarkable place to call “home” when you are traveling – the Balch Hotel offers 18 spacious and comfortable rooms with views to the stunning eastern side of Mt. Hood.

“You get to unplug for there are no TV or phones,” added Irwin. “We are like a bed and breakfast and we cater to our customer’s needs as best we can. It’s great. There are no distractions.”

About The

Grant McOmie
Grant McOmie is a Pacific Northwest broadcast journalist, teacher and author who writes and produces stories and special programs about the people, places, outdoor activities and environmental issues of the Pacific Northwest. A fifth generation Oregon native, Grant’s roots run deepest in the central Oregon region near Prineville and Redmond where his family continues to live.