Gilchrist, Oregon: The Model Company Town

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Both of her younger brothers and her mother suffer from the condition. As with most other members of the Gilchrist community, the Wible family has to make sacrifices to be able to survive. Once the Gilchrist Timber Company dissolved, jobs in the area became difficult to find. When Mr. Wible was in high school, he was already working for Walker Range, the primary fire defense and forest maintenance firm in the area. After high school, Mr. These days he works for ODOT full time, spending the winter in Gilchrist clearing roads and spreading the crushed rock that he travels around the state to produce during the summer months.

When I was little and he was first hired at ODOT he was home but he was always asleep, because he worked nights.

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Despite her natural abilities, Audrianna has been limited by growing up in Gilchrist. The high school is the smallest it has ever been. When I was little they offered classes like home economics and band. I never learned to sew at school or anything like that. What more can you take from a place? Everyone is proud of Audrianna, but her decision to go to college is producing mixed emotions for both Audrianna and her family. So, I feel guilty, leaving everybody. High school is not enough; Gilchrist is not enough for me. In , the Gilchrist community, once employed entirely by the Gilchrist Timber Company, fell into a void of uncertainty and strife.

When the paternalistic company was sold, jobs disappeared overnight, and since then there has been little development outside the roadside services indicative of contemporary rural America. Poverty continues to grip the region, increasingly so in the current economic downturn. Those who have jobs either work at the few remaining enterprises, or drive to nearby towns to do similar work. The Gilchrist family has been in the timber industry for generations. Beginning six generations ago with Albert Gilchrist in New Hampshire, the company was passed down through the family, moving to different regions of the country as resources either waned, or taxation cut into profit margins.

Back in , the Gilchrist family moved from Jasper County, Mississippi — about 90 miles southeast of Jackson — to a tract of land that Frank W. Gilchrist, Sr. Taxes were lower in Oregon, and in contrast to the heavily tapped forests of southern pine, there was ample timber to be harvested. As the United States attempted to spur itself out of the Great Depression, the Gilchrist Timber Company began considering a change in hometown. Shortly after Frank W. As the southern pine timber became increasingly scarce, Frank W.

In it was decided that the company would move over 2, miles west, with many of the Mississippi workers and their families in tow. By the late s, company towns and logging villages had permeated the western landscape. The environment was harsh, and the resources were remote. Therefore, in order to guarantee a healthy, happy, and productive workforce, many mill and mine owners found that building towns to provide for the needs of their workers increased production and gave then additional authority over how their workers lived.

Company towns have a bad reputation. There are horror stories about tycoons who squeezed every last cent out of their employees, offering only script as payment — valid only in the company owned store with inflated prices. Gilchrist was a unique company town in a number of ways. While the company built and owned the retail spaces that became known as the Gilchrist Mall, the company acted only as a landlord. None of the businesses were owned by the company, nor did the company issue script. When the community was built, the company hired a Portland architect to design livable, aesthetically pleasing houses with every modern facility, from electricity to a sewer system.

People loved living in Gilchrist, or hated it, mostly for the same reasons. The town was, and remains, very isolated. Rent was cheap, wages were good, and the town was in essence a fiefdom of the Gilchrist family.

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Frank R. Gilchrist monitored his employees, and regulated their lawn care practices. He was a Cadillac fan, and would buy a new one every year, according to James Wible. He drove them like pickup trucks, barreling down forest roads, driving so fast that he rolled one of his machines into a ditch. The curve on the forest road is still named after him. The Gilchrist community was tight-knit in its heyday. James Anding, a longtime Gilchrist resident whose family followed the company from Mississippi, can remember when the streets were still dirt, and two groups of boys from opposing sides of town would meet regularly for team sports in the afternoons.

There were dogs running free everywhere. When kids got into mischief, their parents often knew what their kids had been up to before they even returned home. Word passed quickly through the community. The paternalism that the company demonstrated was omnipresent, but people respected each other, Anding told me, and the community thrived in servitude to the Gilchrist family.

The Gilchrist family led a colony, and one that was content with its lifestyle. Things may have moved slowly, but that was fine with the residents. James Wible, Jr. Entertainment came in the form of double features for only 50 cents. People had things to do, and people to do them with. The Gilchrist family company was paternalistic to the extreme, leading their workers through bad times and good.

Good workers were treated well, and poor workers were dismissed. That year, after Frank R. It was then that things began to fall apart for the Gilchrist family, their company, and their employees. Rumors of the sale had permeated the town to the point that the High School yearbook from had dedicated two pages to speculation. The only hitch in the deal was that Crown did not want to purchase the town. Gilchrist, Jr.

Mary Giles was born in Mississippi and lives at the Gilchrist compound on the eastern bank of the mill pond to this day. The Ernst Brothers Corporation was not originally created to take over ownership of the town. As the community began to stabilize over the next few years under Crown, the EBC began to sell off portions of the town to individuals, parcel by parcel. During the EBC began renovations on the many homes in town to prepare them for sale.

The first home was sold in December , and the Ernst Brothers Corporation turned over control to the home owners association in September Crown Pacific invested heavily in the Gilchrist mill, and then went on to extract merchantable timber as quickly as possible before declaring bankruptcy in Swaths of old growth ponderosa pine were harvested heavily. Consequently, the timberlands now established as the Gilchrist State Forest are comprised almost entirely of year-old growth, according to state forest manager John Pellissier.

The mill is still in operation today, but under yet another corporation, Interfor Pacific.

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The Canadian company also has no vested interest in the community itself, owning just the mill. Shifts at the mill are highly mechanized these days, and thus employment is low. In the end, the people of Gilchrist have yet to recover from the loss of the Gilchrist Timber Company.

There had not been any form of local government, because there was no need for one. Since the collapse of the family empire, no one has stepped in to lead the community, and it continues to struggle to move forward. Unless some form of large scale development is introduced, providing necessary jobs to the community, Gilchrist is on a path to increased hardship.

Whether or not this community can be saved will be determined by the economic opportunities available to residents. Without a primary industry providing hundreds of jobs and leadership, the town does not have the employment rate or direction to support families or growth. My first trip to Gilchrist was well into March, but winter was still holding on.

On Thursday morning, I bundled up and left the Gilchrist Inn. The wind was blowing steady waves of snow, falling from the sky and swirling up off the ground, as I walked past the length of the school grounds to the mall, or what was left of it. Amid vacant storefronts a few businesses still exist: a computer store displaying refurbished desktops; a closed — but fully equipped — restaurant; a gas station with rusting cars piled along the side of the highway; a bank branch; a video rental store; a yarn supply store open only two days a week and by appointment; a county library open for select hours three days a week; a post office; and a market on the southwest corner.

Still, at this hour of the morning, the small market seemed to be the most happening place around. Directly across the highway is the entrance to the mill. Occasionally there are trucks, either laden with logs or bare, their extensions flipped up onto themselves to ease their travel over the Cascades. Both Michael and Tina Manis are behind the counter this morning.

Together, they own the market and are originally from Bend. White aprons with sporadic stains hang from both of their necks, and their warm smiles and friendly conversation greet every customer as the two proprietors bustle around the grill. Six years ago they purchased the store and moved to the area full time. Many of the businesses still in existence are owned by people who moved into town during the last decade, capitalizing on the low property values and taxes. People like to be recognized, and that helps business. After fifteen minutes I am alone again. The rush has passed.

An old church visible across the side-street from the store has been converted into an office building, while a cross still adorns the diminutive steeple. Owned and operated by Marlene Reid, the building was originally designed as a temporary housing facility for engineers and other professionals who were passing through town.

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After an hour of waiting for something exciting to happen, I abandoned my warm seat in the market and took a walk around town. I went up to the school to try and meet with the principal, but it was spring break, and there was no one in the office. In fact that was the case for most everywhere I went. As I walked, I came upon closed signs, and found myself peering through windows. There was once a bowling alley with two lanes and a bar here in town, closed.

The theatre is closed, as is the restaurant and the car wash. On that particular snowy day in late March, Gilchrist looked deserted. At the end of Michigan Street, which runs one block east parallel to Highway 97, I arrived at a cul-de-sac and had to abruptly turn on my heels.

Two large dogs had caught wind of me, and were sprinting toward me. A flicker of fear got the best of me, and I anxiously listened for the ominous click of claws on pavement closing in from behind, not even allowing myself to look back until I had walked swiftly past three houses. It seems as though this place is dying. The silence is ghostly as the flurries float down in the breeze and drifts burry the football field at the top of the hill.

On my second trip to Gilchrist, I entered the school through the main double doors and walked into the office. Kevin McDaniel has been the principal of the Gilchrist School for three years, but his personal history there goes back to His first teaching position out of college was at the Gilchrist School.

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One of the staff members still lives in the dilapidated building, but the other four units are vacant. McDaniel is in his early 50s, and passionate about his work. Dressed appropriately in layers, a striped blue polo shirt pokes out from underneath his black fleece vest as we sit drinking coffee and talking in his small office.

The office is cluttered with stacks of documents covering nearly every surface and small boxes of books piled in the corner. In a state divided by state university allegiance, McDaniel proudly displays his diploma, pennants and other doodads celebrating his education at the University of Oregon. Gilchrist is a resilient place according to McDaniel. The economy has slowed considerably, but he remains proud of the community because it has found a way to persevere in the face of difficult times.

In enrollment at the school was over , but these days there are just over students on campus: 95 elementary students and secondary students, 14 of whom are seniors.

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Most of the student population is spread out these days, with few being tied to the mill or Gilchrist in general. For the most part, the houses within town are owned by retirees or snow-birds. In , the town was demolished by the Boise Cascade Company, an event that was extensively covered in the news. The community of Vernonia followed a different path. The show still exists, with amateur local loggers competing in a variety of events to this day.

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Over time, the logging show became an increasingly important way for townspeople to connect with what they had lost. However, attendance gradually declined and today the goal of the show is primarily to bring in tourism dollars. Your email address will not be published. Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.

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Gilchrist Oregon The Model Company Town

Small sawmill on the Marys River near Corvallis, Oregon. Logs at sawmill on Marys River near Corvallis, Oregon. Log chute at Pelican Bay Lumber Company mill. Near Klamath Falls, Oregon. At Pelican Bay Lumber Company mill, showing chute which conveys logs from pond to the Pelican Bay Lumber Company. The burner is characteristic of the Northwest landscape a At Pelican Bay Lumber mill logs enter the mill by way of log chute.

Near Klamath Fall Oregon, Klamath County, near Klamath Falls. Logs hauled t Keno, Klamath County, Oregon.