The Life of a Building, Baker City, Baker County, Oregon

Corky Combs building, 4th and Broadway

     In our search for our illusive ancestors, we sometimes miss a clue that stands right before us. Buildings often carry with them a unique history, a history that is often lost when they're torn down. Gary Jaensch recently captured pictures of the destruction of "Corky Combs" building in Baker City, Oregon, and submitted the following history and photographs about this building. As pictured below another piece of history has been removed from Baker City's landscape. Thanks to Gary for taking the time to search out the history of this building!!

Click to enlarge image

Click to enlarge image

November 2003

     In 1963 Corky and Betty Combs bought the property from Valley Dairies and started a new milk business named Baker Dairy, which distributed milk under the labels Valley Dairy, Corky�s, and Meadow Gold.  The milk was bottled by Meadow Gold Dairies of Boise, Idaho.  In 1974 the Combs sold their milk distribution business to Charles Gildersleeve, who moved the operation to the southwest corner of 8th and Broadway.  The Combs then conducted a grocery business named Baker Wholesale at the 4th and Broadway property distributing groceries, frozen foods, meats, and produce.  They added an addition to the building on the east side to house a large cooler and more storage room.

     In 2003 the Combs sold the property, which had sat vacant for a number of years, to the Baptist Church.  In November 2003, the church had Mike Becker Construction Co. of La Grande demolish the building to accommodate a planned expansion of the church.

     In 1949 the Millers rented the property to Bruce Kirkpatrick, who took over the Studebaker franchise.  The Millers built a new building to house a Desoto and Plymouth dealership in partnership with Myron Fleecer at the property on the northeast corner of  3rd and Washington Street now occupied by Thatcher�s Ace Hardware and once the site of the Sagamore Hotel.  Miller retired in 1959 after 32 years in the business.  The Miller twins died in 1970 within three months of each other.

     In 1960 Bruce Kirkpatrick moved his dealership to the northwest corner of 10th and A Streets, when the Millers sold the 4th and Broadway property to the coop Valley Dairies, which bottled milk there until 1963. 

     Records at the Baker County assessor�s office, which do not reveal the owner of the property in those early days, show that G. B. Small, editor of the Democrat newspaper, and his wife, Nea B. Small, and J. T. Donnelley, an officer of First National Bank, and his wife, Mary Donnelley, sold the property to the Woodmen of the World (WOW) Club for $6,000 on September 29, 1905.  One may assume that the sale also included the Armory building. 

     In 1928, according to Baker County Courthouse records, WOW sold the property to Elinor Mae (nee Reese) Miller for $3,000.  The Armory may have been part of the sale or perhaps had already been torn down.  Elinor and her husband, Thomas H. Miller, moved from Utah to Cambridge, Idaho, then in 1905 to Bourne, then to Sumpter, and eventually to Baker City.  After purchasing the 4th and Broadway property, the Millers had Ritchie Construction Co. build a building in which Tom Miller operated an automobile garage named Miller & Miller with his three sons, Roy and Ray (twins) and Harvey, where they sold Paige and Jewell cars, and eventually Studebakers. 

     Earliest photos of the property show a large wooden building used as an armory by the local unit of the Oregon National Guard.  It was probably built when Co. A was formed at Baker City during the Spanish-American War (1898-99).  It was also used for dances and other non-military events.  Loy Wisdom (1886-1979) in her Memories: Ninety Years in Baker City, described the building as follows:

     �There was a large entrance hall with a small room on each side, doors at each corner opened into the large dance hall.  At the far end was a stage about eight feet high and a door on one side with steps leading up to the stage.  Two walls in the dance hall were lined with long narrow doors which were the lockers where each man kept his gun and equipment.  This made a back for the long benches used as seats.  At one time it was the High School basket ball court, but long before that it was the main place in Baker for dances.  A small building between the Armory and the Baptist parsonage had long tables and a kitchen where after-dance dinners were served.

     �For a couple of years two brothers named Nichols had dancing classes Friday evenings for grown-ups and Saturday afternoons for children.  One was called Professor Nichols and the other, Quincy.  At the end of the season they presented their pupils, for which a small charge was made.  The best dancers were given individual performances while the rest were put into two drills.  The performers were on the stage as the dance floor was filled with chairs and benches for the proud parents and friends.� (Pp. 52-53.)

Source Information: 

Contributed by: Gary Jaensch, Baker City, Oregon

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