Exploring Oregon’s Ghost Towns

Relics & Recorded Histories

Post Office in Peak: 1910. ©BCHM 1994-038.0802.

Oregon harbors over 300 documented ghost towns, all of which have intriguing stories, unique to their area. Often abandoned because of floods, fires, epidemics, and other tragedies, these communities hold lost pieces of history housed in cemeteries, remaining buildings, written records, and oral accounts passed on through generations.

Here are a few nearby:

Orleans

Orleans, Oregon was a small community located opposite Corvallis, east of the Willamette River and west of Highway 34. Established in 1850, Orleans was like any other tiny town in the valley during the 19th century, with houses, a blacksmith, a church, and other businesses and services.

Orleans met its demise in 1861, when rain and snow melt caused the greatest flood in Willamette Valley history. Since there were no warning services at the time, there was little opportunity to save life or property from harm. The Weekly Oregon Statesman reported in December of 1861 that Orleans “washed away completely.”

The only remaining structure is the Orleans Cemetery, located off of Riverside Drive in Albany. The earliest grave located there is that of Lucy Hess, who died on February 25, 1855. Orleans now stands as a natural area with a bike path to cross the Willamette River. For more information and directions to Orleans, read Advocate writer John M. Burt’s article, “The Lost City of Orleans.”

Peak

Hiking to the top of Marys Peak is a rite of passage for Corvallisites and residents of surrounding areas. According to the Benton County Historical Society, this region was once home to a small community of settlers, and included a post office, a cedar shingle mill, and a one-room school. The town was named Peak.

The earliest settlers of Peak were the native Kalapuya, who called Marys Peak tcha Timanwi, “place of spiritual power.” The Kalapuya lived off of the resources that the forest and streams provided. White settlers stole the land in the early 1900s before officially establishing Peak as a town.

Almost twenty years after its establishment

Marys Peak: John Garman, 1935. ©BCHM 1981-003.0001P

in 1898, Peak struggled to survive when the highway to Newport bypassed the town. Because of the lack of direct access, it soon dwindled and was abandoned by its citizens.

Davidson Cemetery, photographs, and records are the only remains of Peak. Twelve graves are marked with names of Peak citizens in the cemetery. To explore this cemetery, take Highway 20 W, turn left on Woods Creek Rd, turn right to stay on Woods Creek, and the destination will be on the right.

Bohemia

Bohemia Post Office: Bohemia Gold Mining Museum

This Lane County treasure is the quintessential gold mining town gone desolate. Officially born as a city in 1866, Bohemia became a flourishing community with saloons, residential homes, and a hotel.

According to the publication the Lane County Historian, Vol. 26, gold was found in the area by James “Bohemia” Johnson in 1863, and this attracted miners and their families to the area. Their close proximity to Cottage Grove provided them with goods to sustain themselves while they worked.

Merle Snodgrass Moore, a young Eugene native, traveled to the Bohemia Mines for work in 1914. His letters to his family survived and are retrievable through the Lane County Historian. In these documents, Moore wrote about the harsh conditions at the mining site, but also spoke in wonder about the beauty of the area.

The Bohemia community was eventually abandoned, possibly for a lack of resources or gold. The public can visit the Bohemia Mountain Trail. The three-mile hike will take you right back to the 1860s. According to the blog Califoregonia’s article, “Bohemia Mountain and Ghost Town,” the Bohemia post office still stands, as well as old mining shafts and a water silo. It’s strongly advised to take a 4×4 vehicle to the site.

Visitors can also explore the Bohemia Gold Mining Museum in Cottage Grove, open Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. This museum houses photographs, tools, ore samples, and other artifacts. Cottage Grove also pays tribute to the lost town every year during the Bohemia Mining Days festival in July, which features a carnival, parades, games, a beer and wine garden, food, and lessons on the history of Bohemia for the public.

Bohemia is an example of a ghost town that has managed to stay alive despite its abandonment, through the voices of those who are committed to its legacy.

Champoeg

Champoeg (sham-POO-ee) is perhaps the most important ghost town featured on this list. Located in Marion County, halfway between Salem and Oregon City, Champoeg is one site of Oregon’s beginnings.

According to an Oregon State Parks Progress Report in 2004, the town of Champoeg was platted by Robert Newell and Andre Longtain. Newell was already considered a prominent member of Oregon Country by this time – he was literate, engaged in local concerns, and respected by most. In 1843, a year before the town was officially mapped, many members of the community came together and decided to make Champoeg the location of Oregon’s territorial government. This lasted until Joseph Lane became governor in 1849.

The Oregon Encyclopedia website explained that Champoeg, once it was established, became a place for settler meetings and Indian treaty meetings because of its accessibility.

In the early 1850s, Champoeg was “a straggling settlement of eleven or twelve buildings” according to historian John A. Hussey, but later in the decade, it blossomed with named streets, a school, saloons, warehouses, a hotel, a blacksmith, a church, and more houses. It’s estimated that 180 people lived in the town at this time.

Champoeg also met its end in the flood of 1861, where it succumbed to 30 feet of fast-flowing water. No lives were lost, but the town was almost completely washed away. What had been a once thriving city had become a wasteland. What remains of Champoeg now is the Champoeg State Heritage Area, which features trails and campsites.

Each of these ghost towns tells a unique story that speaks to Oregon’s history and its people. There’s much to explore in our state, so why not try adventuring in places that aren’t even on the map anymore?

For more information on our local ghost towns, visit the Benton County Historical Society’s location at 1101 Main St in Philomath or their website, bentoncountymuseum.org, and check out the Linn County Historical Museum at 101 Park Ave in Brownsville, or online, linnparks.com. Want to explore outside of our area? Read Travel Oregon’s handy guide, “The Secrets of Oregon’s Ghost Towns,” on their website traveloregon.com.

By Cara Nixon