Unity, Baker County, Oregon
History of Unity and surrounding area
In 1972, Unity was incorporated, with a population of 115. Larry Stratton was elected the first mayor, a position he still retains. The city consists of a general store and service station, post office, motel, café and lounge, school, forest service offices and compound community hall, fire station and private homes.
Mrs. George Tietreau is credited by some with naming the town about 1890. She was also the first postmaster when the post office was established in 1891 on the George Fleetwood place. The mail was brought from Baker to Whitney on the Sumpter Valley Railroad and on to Unity by stage. Lew Tureman and Orrin Munn were among the early stage drivers. Thomas Elms was the second postmaster; others were George Houck, Lora Jones, Lulu (LaPort) Hardman, Mrs. James (Sarilda) Tucker, Henry Brown, Mrs. Ralph (Rose) Beam, Mrs. James (Mildred) DeMastus, who served until her retirement in 1978. Mrs. George (JoAnne) Hardy is the present postmaster and Mrs. Steven (Connie) Bradford is the assistant.
The post office has had a number of locations: Mr. Houck’s home, the Tucker Building, Oscar Hardman’s store, Rose Beam’s home, and finally its present site, which was built in 1966.
The first general store was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Jim Payton; the second owners were Mr. and Mrs. Norman Elliott. They sold to Charles and Margaret Kear. Mrs. Kear also ran a hotel in the house now owned by Larry Stratton. The Kears sold to John and Oscar Hardman. Oscar’s wife, Nettie Woodcock, continued to run the hotel; Oscar operated the store and John remained on his ranch. In 1946, the store was sold to Fred and Cleta (Hardman) DeMeyer and they sold to H. Ray Stratton in 1965, who is the present owner.
Frank and Thelma (Van Buren) Elms also had a store across the street in the building built by George Nelson for the Dairy Association which operated a creamery. Ferdinand was the first and only buttermaker there. Stratton bought from the Elms and ran a store there from 1945 until 1965. The Elms and Strattons received cream and shipped it to Baker by stage.
George Nelson started a blacksmith shop in 1902 in the building now used by Strattons for a garage. Between that building and the store was a saloon run first by Joe Joyce and later by Wm. “Bill” Wendt. George also constructed the Tucker building, now owned by Strattons. In it were the post office, living quarters, and for a time, a grocery store. This was during the time Mrs. Tucker was postmaster.
Bill Pogue had the last blacksmith shop in Unity.
Jim Shanklin built the first garage, called the Log Cabin Garage.
Dr. C.D. Houser came to the area in 1914 or ’15, and had his practice here until he moved to Haines in the 1920’s. He and his wife, Bertha (elms) built the house where the DeMastus’ lived many years.
The first three units of the Unity Motel, formerly known as the Duby Motel, were built by Roy and Viola Duby in 1960. In 1962-63, they added four more units and ten RV spaces in 1965-66.
The Waterhole Café and Lounge was started by Bud Henning and John Scott in 1948. The present owner is Jim Love.
In early 1985, a Volunteer Fire Department was formed. Wright Gregg is Fire Chief and Gail Bradford is the Assistant. There are 10 active members. It serves not only the city, but also the surrounding area. Its equipment is housed in a building near the Community Hall.
The Community Hall was constructed between the years 1949=51. Much of the labor was done by volunteers.
The first school building in the town of Unity was situated where the Community Hall now stands. It was built on land donated by George Elms, a Mr. Munn donated the lumber and Lou Elliott did the carpentry in exchange for room and board. It was a two-story building, with a bell tower. In 1924-25, a new building was constructed across the highway, which is now the Roy Duby home. The old building became the Grange Hall. It burned and the Community Hall was built to replace it. Myrtle Ensminger Aldrich was the first teacher in the new building. She had 38 students and grades 1-8. Among earlier teachers was Mary Murray, 1908, sister of Hardy Murray. One of her students was Herb Morfitt. Others who taught were Lorna Elms Lawrence and Blanche Whittemore. Some say Thomas Elms was the very first teacher.
The present school is a unified district comprised of Bridgport, Hereford, Ironside and Unit, and is called Burnt River School District. The first high school graduation held in the new building was in 1964. John Campbell was Superintendent, followed by Duane Stanbro. Ernest Davenport is serving in that capacity now with a certified staff of 10 ½ and a non-certified staff of 8. Grades kindergarten through 12 make up the student body. The boys’ athletic teams are known as the Burnt River Bulls and the girls’ teams are called the Lady Bulls.
At two different times there was a school at Jobs Creek and one at South Fork. Mattie White Whited (Mrs. Wilse) and Madge Powell Gyllenberg (Mrs. Lee) taught at Jobs Creek. That schoolhouse was moved and became the home of Mattie and Wilse. The first South Fork School was located just below the Unity Cemetery. The site was changed to a spot ¼ , mile from the site of the Burnt River Community Church on the right of the highway toward Austin. That building burned and a new building, which is the BRC Church now, was built in the new location. Virginia Boyer Laurance was the last teacher in the old building, 1940, and Joann Bond Boyer was the first one in the new building, 1941. Some earlier teachers were Nell Perkins, Elizabeth Whited McCullough and Grace Whited Hardy. Eventually the school was closed and the children attended at Unity.
An active Literary Society flourished for a time, under the direction of Octavia (Mrs. Hugh) Tucker, giving many in the community an opportunity to display their talents for the enjoyment of others.
The Unity Grange was organized March 11, 1925, with 21 charter members, three of whom are still living, Lloyd Judy and Elsie Hardman of Baker and Frank Elms of Boise. William Morfitt served as the first Master, Lloyd Judy as secretary and Edith (Mrs. Herb) Morfitt as lecturer. At present, there are 21 members, with Segundo Arriola as Master.
The first acting forest ranger was a Mr. Williams from LaGrande in 1906. Mr. Barry was here in 1907 and in 1908 Dan Fisk came from his station in Austin and cared for the district. The first rangers were here only in the summer and fall months. Harley Foland was the first full-time ranger. Bronson “Bud” Flint is serving now with a staff of 17 full-time employees.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is located near the Unity Park and Lake. Before the construction of the church building in 1955, the members met in the home of George and JoAnne Hardy, and for approximately a year mass was held in the annex of the Hereford School. The new building was dedicated on Mother’s Day, 1956. In 1979, a single-wide mobile home was added and set up beside the church. It is used for classrooms and social gatherings. Pastors from Baker serve the local body. At this time, Father Rick Fischer and Father Charles Grant are the pastors.
Before a Protestant Church was organized, some members held Sunday School and/or Services. Mrs. Jim (Chris) Fleetwood had a Sunday School in her home in the 1920’s or earlier. Mr. Perisho held services in both Unity and Hereford. He and his family lived on the Carlile place. Mr. Pickthorn, a watchman at the mill, held services in the Tucker Building, and Mrs. Velma Higgins and family came from Parma, Idaho, and directed Vacation Bible School several summers. Tot Stratton and Marie Hughes had a Sunday School also.
In 1954, the Idaho-Oregon District of the Church of the Nazarene was started. Services were again held in the Tucker Building, with Lyle Higgins (son of Velma) as pastor. The following year, services were moved to the basement of the Community Hall.
Joe Dickens followed Mr. Higgins as pastor, who arranged the use and then a lease of the South Fork School building. He and his wife, Barbara, spent much time cleaning and repairing the building and premises. Mr. Richard powers, a teacher at Hereford, pastured after Mr. Dickens left. Several pastors from Baker held services for a time.
Mr. Younger from the Nazarene Church in Nampa came and aided in forming a Church Board which worked with the School Board. In 1960, the building was sold to the Church Board for $1.00 for use as a community church. In 1961, it became a Village Mission Church, whose headquarters are in Kansas City, Mo. Mr. Wilkinson was the first V.M., Elsie Nobrega Sumway and Beverly Davis, pastured together. Elsie met Steve Shumwa and they were married while she was here. There have been 10 VM pastors. The present one is Kenneth Wutzke.
Of all the ranches homesteaded or purchased in early times, only four are still owned by members of the original families. They are Rouse Bros. Ranch, the Phipps Ranch, the Hardy Murray Ranch and the John Henry-John Hardman Ranch.
The Phipps Ranch was brought in 1917 from Lizzie Carnegie by Harvey Phipps. Mr. Phipps was born in Virginia in 1862; his wife, Mary Estella Webb, was born in Illinois in 1866. They were married in 1893 at Heppner, Oregon, came to Baker County from Austin and lived at Pole Creek where Mr. Phipps had bought a share in community sawmill located there. After moving to his ranch, he ran a band of sheep and some cattle. There were 6 children: Floyd, who died in infancy; Zebedee; Nellie, who married Schuyler Shanklin; Elbert; Troy; and Linda. Only Linda and Elbert are left and they are still on the ranch.
The Hardy Murray Ranch was homesteaded by Archie Murray. He married Lina Rose and they were the parents of Hardy, Mary, Myrtle and Arthur. All are deceased. Hardy and wife, Bertha (Wellman) lived on the ranch most of their lives. Their two children, Bruce and Betty, were born and grew up there. Bruce died at the age of 22. Betty married Ernie Oliver. They lived with her parents for one year before buying property in Ironside where Betty still resides. Betty and Ernie’s daughter, Rowena, and husband, Gary Beaumeister, are on the ranch now.
James Clarey and Thomas Drislin came from Ireland sometime prior to 1888 and lived on the place now known as the Rouse Bros. Ranch. Mr. Clarey left and moved on land near Hereford which is now a part of the Don Sullivan place. In 1888, Michael Rouse, Sr., came from Ireland, and in 1892, his brother, John came. They were nephews of Mr. Drislin, Mike married Maude Whited. Their daughter, Mary, married Vernon Hayes, who is now deceased. Mary lives in Baker. Their son, Michael, Jr., died in 1981. Their son, Johnny remains on the ranch.
James Bruce Murray and wife, Mary Louise and two sons, Archie J. and John Henry, left Montreal, Canada, in the 1870’s to work in the Nevada mines. They came to Baker County in 1881 and started the ranch on East Camp Creek. That ranch is now owned by Fred Thomas. Later, Henry homesteaded the place on West Camp Creek, built a house in 1884-85, which is still being used. They had two sons, Archie Robert and Johnnie Thomas, and a daughter, Anne Maud. Johnnie and his wife, Violet, spent much of their lives on the ranch. Johnnie also homesteaded land here. Archie married and moved to Seattle. In 1927-28, Henry sold the place to his son-in-law and daughter, John and Maud Hardman, but he and Annie continued to live there.
There are many other worthy ranches in the area. The history and ownership of these have been recorded by Mrs. Robert Murray in detail. We have registered these in the Baker County Resource Book to be perpetuated for ready reference in the Baker County Library and in the Oregon Trail Regional Museum.
Some of these ranches are: the Murray East Camp Creek; Carlile, LaPorte and Powell Ranches; Cavin Derrick; Jacob Hardman ranch; Sanford-Schollenbergs; William Morfitt Ranch; Walker-Corleys; Nelson-Tureman-Taylor; Elms-Schroeder; McCullough-Aschim; Thompson-Hansen; Wham-Whited-Hardy; George and Joe Wham constructed the Whited Reservoir; Nelson-Hutcheon; Mickey-Sevey; Chamberlain horse ranch; Laurence-Greenwood. Their story also encompasses much information about marriages and families.
Mining has played its part in the Unity history, too. There were the Record, Bull Run, Lovejoy, Ed Hiller and Kenneth Grabner mines, among others. Robert Murray recalls taking gold bricks to the bank in Baker. They had been locked in Oscar Hardman’s store safe.
The building of the Eldorado Ditch left its mark on the community, as it caused much controversy between the ranchers on Upper Burnt River and the Malheur miners. Much of the work was done by Chinese laborers. The use of the ditch was discontinued around 1925. Traces of it can still be seen.
The Ellingson Mill was an economic factor from 1939 until 1972, when it was moved to Baker. It provided employment for many local people. Milltown was a bustling settlement of its own. Now there is a caretaker, Charles and Leona Hawes, and a few families who work in the logging industry, living there.
Other earlier sawmill operators were Jim and Belle (Wham) Brown, Lemuel King and Fred Fish.
The Diamond-and-a-Half Ranch, located on the Grace and Morg Hardy place (where George and JoAnne now live) added color and enjoyment. It was run by the Whiteds. Guests from as far away as Boston came and were entertained by horseback riding, rodeos, community dances and other activities. Thomas Whited, a singer, trained in the Harry Lauder style, and his wife, Vernita, a pianist, were always there to add to the festivities. Paul Engle helped on the construction of the several buildings in 1926 and ’27.
Unity had a baseball team at one time, as did the surrounding communities, and on Sunday afternoons everyone came out to cheer his or her team. There was, for years, a Fourth of July parade and community picnic, complete with a speaker, all kinds of races and games. Horse racing was also popular. There was a straight race track below the Community Hall, toward the dam. Spelling Bees between South Fork and Unity Schools were highlights. Unity was and still is a great community! M. Louise Murray (Mrs. Robert H.)