Friday, November 10, 2023

Finding Oregon's Roots: Boston, Shedd's Station, and Thompson's Mills

Near the unassuming town of Shedd in the central Willamette Valley stands a group of bright white siloes and an attached mill. This peaceful spot is one of the valley's best kept secrets: a slice of Oregon's history that looks like the workers have just stepped out for a quick break. The old buildings wait for history buffs of all ages to come take a free tour and imagine a time when the mill was the gathering spot for neighbors from miles around.


This historic site is also a tribute to the owners' careful planning, hard work, and ingenuity. In 1858, before Oregon was even a state, R.C. Finley and his partners built a flour mill to serve the local farmers and named it Boston Mill. The structure was not built on the nearby Calapooia River, as one would expect; instead, the machinery was powered by a millrace diverted from the river and directed through a flume and turbines. The water rights, still valid today, were purchased for the grand sum of $75. By 1861 the town of Boston had been platted, and in time, visiting farmers would find a post office, a blacksmith shop, two general stores, a stagecoach stop, and a saloon. The town prospered, and by 1869 about 80 people lived in the area. 

Building in Boston Shedd's Station

Then Boston faced the classic old west story: the railroad came through, but not through Boston. Instead, it ran a mile and a half to the west, with a stop at Shedd's Station. The town of Boston moved to Shedd's Station, including some of the buildings. Today there is nothing to be found of Boston, Oregon.

But the mill still stood, and now its flour could be hauled over to the railroad and easily shipped to the  Portland market. Processing expanded to include oats, corn, and barley. In the 1890s, German immigrants Martin and Sofia Thompson acquired the mill. Martin updated the mill equipment and made many improvements, and in 1904 the current mill keeper's house was constructed. When Martin died in 1910, Sofia and their sons took over running the mill, which stayed in the Thompson family until 1974 under the name of Thompson's Flouring Mills. During World War I, the mill operated 24 hours a day to produce flour for famine relief in Europe. The family continued making updates and improvements over the years, and by 1940 they had completely switched from milling flour to producing animal feed. In 1986, the new owners installed a generator and began selling the power the mill produced to Pacific Power and Light. In 2004 the property was sold to Oregon State Parks.

Today the 6-floor mill stands in a 6-acre park alongside the mill keeper's house, a carriage house, and a shop building. Picnic tables stand beside the millrace, where friendly ducks paddle about. The grounds and mill are open to the public for self-guided tours most days of the year; click here for a visitor's guide. Explore room after room of sturdy old mill equipment, made less mysterious by the booklets provided and explanatory signage. Volunteers are often on hand to fill visitors in with even more information, and if you are lucky enough to arrive when they have sufficient staff, you may be offered the chance to go downstairs into the guts of the enormous machine that is the mill (please note that, while the main floor is accessible, the lower level is reached by very steep stairs). 

And then it happens. A volunteer opens the flume, and suddenly it is evident what makes this structure so special: the old mill is still functional. First you hear the sound of water rushing through and then under the mill. Then, slowly, the mechanism begins to turn. Those lucky enough to be downstairs will witness a huge axle coming to life, turning to drive a whole collection of long belts that reach upward through the ceiling. This runs the entire mill; this is water power. Those on the floor above will see the belts running smoothly to power the machinery of the mill, machinery that once ran on multiple floors, decade after decade, until local crops transitioned from an emphasis on grain to other products such as grass seed and nursery stock.

To find the mill, take I-5 to the Highway 34 exit and turn toward Lebanon. Turn right on Seven Mile Lane, then swing right onto Boston Mill Road. Take a right turn into the park immediately after the bridge over the mill race.

Methodist Church

A mile and a half to the west of the mill lies the tiny town now known as Shedd, an assemblage of buildings that includes a Methodist church built in 1873. Highway 99E and the railroad tracks both run straight as an arrow through town. From time to time, a wail and rumble announce that the railroad still runs through here, the railroad that sealed Boston's doom but provided a lifeline for its mill.

Looking down the millrace
The four silos were a gamble for the Thompsons, but they paid off when the mill was called upon
for famine relief during WWI. These two logos were used before the mill switched to animal feed.
The truck bay. Winches tipped the trucks up on end to dump grain into
the chutes below.
Chutes from above deposited the milled grain back into the trucks.
Footprints from "Bud", who stood here bagging
grain for 40 years.
Technology marches on

"Strong-Scott Improved Safety Manlift." Installed 1955.

In the basement, where the turbines roared

This axle powers all of the belts for the entire six-story building

These belts carry power from the axle in the basement
Flume mechanism, which controls water flow

Another bagging station. The metal wheel changes the type of grain coming through the chute.
Note the names and numbers on the wall.

Depression-era flour bags. Flour bags were used by thrifty housewives to sew dresses when other
fabric was too expensive or unavailable. Competitive mills began using printed fabric for their bags
to make them more appealing.
Feed bags still sit on sturdy hand trucks. Note the old bag stamps
on the floor.

The improved bathroom, installed when ladies began working at the mill.

The original bathroom. A hole in the floor.
Wooden grain chute

Millrace and flume
Millkeeper's house, a private residence

Downtown Shedd

Sunday, July 9, 2023

An Unsung Cascade Gem: Maxwell Butte

Here is something we can't say very often: this hike has some of the most outstanding views in the Cascades, the trailhead is easy to find and can be accessed with an ordinary car, the trail is easy to follow and fairly well maintained, and you are likely to meet few other people on your hike. 

So what's the catch? Well, there isn't one, really, except for the elevation gain of over 2500 feet, but you have over four miles to do it in. Oh, and there will likely be quite a bit of blow down across the trail, but if you can handle a steep hike of almost 10 miles round trip, you will probably be fine climbing over that, too. And at over 6000' elevation, you could possibly encounter snow early in the summer. Or if it's warm, fierce, bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Or maybe both. Also some crumbly footing in the more volcanic areas. 

Wild Iris
But that could be said for many of the best hikes in the Cascades, so it is a mystery to us why this trail gets passed by so often. If you are a mountain hiker, we highly recommend it; allow extra time for photography, as well as a pause by the lovely little lakes (yes, lakes, two of them). This hike is at its best during clear weather, as the panoramic views are your compensation for all of that climbing!

Bear Grass
The trail is accessed from Maxwell Sno-Park, a little over 30 miles past Detroit on Highway 22 if you are coming from the Willamette Valley. Drive to the end of the parking lot to find a small, but serviceable, dirt/gravel road; other than a few potholes, this road is adequate for most vehicles, but it is also feasible to park in the paved Sno-Park and walk about a quarter mile to the trailhead. Watch on your left for a very small pullout and a trailhead sign in the trees. At the time of this writing, a Forest Pass is not required to park here, and day hikers can fill out a free permit at the trailhead (overnight stays do require a wilderness permit, however). These regulations do change, so do your due diligence ahead of time!

Start by walking on a gentle incline through lush woods thick with ferns and vine maples; parts of this section run along the traces of an old road bed. You will notice signs high above your head; these are for winter snow enthusiasts and are not very helpful for summertime hikers. At times these signs can be a bit confusing, but ignore the tempting arrows directing you down faint side trails and stay on the main path. Usually this is also the one going uphill. Get used to that.

Upper Twin Lake
Note the gradual change in the forest as you climb. Douglas fir and hemlock give way to noble fir and pine trees, and at around the halfway point a left turn takes you toward Duffy Lake and the Eight Lakes Basin. Keep right and begin to watch for the Twin Lakes on your left, with Maxwell Butte visible to the east. 

The Three Sisters
Now is when the views begin. Mt. Washington, Hoodoo Butte, Hayrick Butte, and Hogg Rock appear, as well as the Three Sisters and Broken Top. You can see the highway snaking through the hills below you as you climb through an increasingly alpine landscape.  Diamond Peak appears in the distant south. 

Jefferson and Three-Fingered Jack

Now the switchbacks begin, signaling the final stretch, but also the steepest. Footing is not always as solid here; you are in volcano country, as the multicolored pumice stones testify. There are reportedly a total of 6 switchbacks, although it's easy to lose track since they are irregular in length. At the end of the switchbacks, emerge onto the top of Maxwell Butte, once the site of a fire lookout and still the site of an old volcanic crater. Three Fingered Jack stares you in the face, and Mt. Jefferson looms to the north, with Mt. Hood visible in the distance. The dark cone to the east is Black Butte, and the dark hill to the southeast is Black Crater. Seasoned Oregon hikers will be able to pick out many more of their favorite landmarks. Below you can spot the Berley Lakes, Santiam Lake and nearby Duffy Lake, and Mowich Lake beyond them. Much of this area has been burned off, making the lakes easy to locate. Look around the summit for traces of the old lookout, built in 1933 and taken down in 1965. Return the way you came, only downhill this time, which is a well-earned reward!

Perhaps there are more popular, more well-maintained trails, perhaps there is scenery with less climbing, but this unsung hike is well worth a little effort. The solitude and silence, the peaceful forest, and above all, the spectacular mountain views will bring us back to this quiet climb through the woods. Mosquitoes and all.


Bear Grass

Upper Twin Lake

Be cautious in the early season, snow fields can completely obscure the trail!

Original survey marker at the summit from 1928

Remains of an old cast-iron stove at the summit

Your reward at the summit! Mount Jefferson, Mount Hood, and the Eight Lakes Basin...

...and looking south, the Three Sisters with Hayrick and Hoodoo buttes.