McEwen, Baker County, Oregon
Prior to the origin of McEwen, there was a halfway over-night stopping place known as Britton Station, located some two miles northeast of McEwen on Deer Creek.
Thomas McEwen was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in the year 1853. In about 1880, he was residing in The Dalles, Oregon, where he had been employed by the Overland Stage Co., operating between The Dalles and Baker City, for two years. Mr. McEwen then purchased the stage line from his employers and established his stage and freight business, locating in the area we still call McEwen.
The mail and passenger stage still had The Dalles as destination, and the freighting business operated from McEwen to Umatilla Landing. He employed many men, in his trust as to their capabilities. Horses, the source of power, ranged from four to sixteen hitches depending upon the cargo, whether it be food or mining machinery. McEwen owned eight hundred acres in Sumpter Valley to supply hay and grain for the hundred head of horses needed for the operation.
A large combination warehouse, store and hotel were combined, and a large barn and corrals were built. This was the beginning of McEwen which, at one time, had a population of some 1500 residents.
The freight and stage business continued until 1884. By then, the Union Pacific had extended the railroad through Baker City, which eliminated the freight business from Umatilla. Mr. McEwen continued his business of transporting all supplies and heavy machinery into the numerous mines.
Due to the vast timber resources southwest of Baker City, on August 15, 1890, under the leadership of lumberman David Eccles, the Sumpter Valley Railway Co. received its charter as a common carrier, but the primary purpose of the charter was to carry logs into Baker City for milling. In the beginning, the rails were laid according to the stands of virgin timber. As each stand of easily available timber was exhausted, he extended the rails to the next location, Salisbury, Lockhart, and Dean Sidings are among the historical names within present identification. Due to a severe winter, only twenty-two miles of track was laid from Baker City into McEwen by late 1891.
The shortened distance restrained the McEwen enterprise to hauling freight, necessary food products, merchandise for the retail businesses, mines, and harvesters of produce South and West of Baker City. The advent of the Sumpter Valley Railroad prompted Thomas McEwen to move his base of operation to Sumpter.
Thomas McEwen also dealt in mining property, and it appears he was very successful in all his business interests. When McEwen moved his business operation to Sumpter, the move hastened the decline of McEwen.
At the peak of population, McEwen had a school, church, post office, store, hotel, blacksmith shop and slaughter house. It is noteworthy there is no history of a saloon. The school’s average attendance was forty children under one teacher. The saddle horses awaited dismissal time.
Thomas McEwen is also credited for the formation of McEwen Lodge #125, A. F. & A.M., located in Sumpter, Oregon. The Lodge is presently active with fifty members.
All that remains of McEwen is the original schoolhouse which is now a private home, two old empty houses, an old barn and an unkept cemetery. In the 1930’s ranchers pooled their time and money to erect a Community Hall. The building has been used as a Grange Hall; a meeting place for the area’s 4-H Clubs, but is now the property of the Sumpter Valley Community Church.
The Sumpter Valley Railroad Restoration organization has built a depot and machine shops, recreating the railroad era. Mason Dam was built in the 1960’s for irrigational purposes for Baker Valley, but has created Phillips Lake as a popular recreational site. The lake covers much of the dredge’s tailings from the search for gold. The remaining tailings, from Phillips Lake to the new highway to the Austin Junction, are now included in a State game refuge. (Ernest Hudspeth)