Elgin, Union County, Oregon

     The completion of the branch line of the railroad from La Grande to Elgin on 27 October 1890 was the most important event in the development of the latter community as it insured its future growth. Elgin as a trading area had existed since 1882, the first business building probably having been erected in that year. Prior to that time it had been a region of farms known as Indian Valley and occasionally as Fish Trap, it having been a favorite gathering place of the Indians when they came into the valley to catch and smoke fish. The building of a bridge across the Grande Ronde River at this point in 1878 funneled a great deal of traffic into the locality and it is nor surprising that a commercial settlement was established there. During the Indian wars of 1878 the Indian Valley locality had been a gathering place for the settlers who were fearful of Indian depredation and had met for mutual protection in a log blockhouse known as Fort Baker. This fort named for its commander and was built near the percent site of the Elgin City Hall.

     The second building in Elgin was a hotel constructed by Dunham Guild who rented the structure to Sherman Galloway for a number of years. The second hotel was built by J. R. Johnson, Dr J. W. Snyder built the third edifice, a drug store operated by Snyder and W. H. Galloway.

     Cricket Flat, which is properly a part of the Elgin region includes that whole area lying from the middle of Clark's Creek north to the Fairview neighborhood and between the Miriam and the Grande Ronde Rivers. Its name as might be expected was given an account of the prevalence of great numbers of crickets in these rolling hills during the early 1870's. So numerous were they that one farmer from the Cove region, S G. French drove his entire herd of hogs from Cove into Cricket Flat so that he might fatten the swine on the insects. The settlers in the Cricket Flat region had no trading place of any site closer than Summerville. It was necessary for them to make that journey which consumed a whole day to obtain their supplies and their mail. To avoid these long trips after the mail they petitioned the government to establish a post office m the Cricket Flat locality, and this was done on 17 April. 1878, the name 'Elk Flat" being chosen because of the large number of elk which were then to be found in the southern part of Cricket Flat. Joseph M. Tucker was the first postmaster. The office was discontinued on 11 November 1886, after the establishment of a post office at Elgin.

     Mr. Tucker had built a home and blacksmith shop on his homestead but through some error he had settled on land which was not rightfully his and all the improvements which he had made upon it went for naught. This was so vexing in him that when he learned of the mistake he left region and returned to Iowa, although he later came back to this state. The Elk Flat post office was situated at several different homes in the locality during its comparatively brief existence. At the time of its discontinuance it was at the Brayton place, about five or six miles north­east of Elgin. When Elk Flat post office was discontinued mail service in the region was handled by the Summerville and Elgin offices.

     The poet office in Elgin was established on 28 September 1885 with William B. Hamilton as post master. In May 1887 the first mail stage was operated into Elgin on the Wallowa route, the mall previously having been brought in on horseback. It is said that at the time the application for a post office was being prepared. Mr. Hamilton heard his niece and nephew singing a song then very popular entitled 'Lost on the Lady Elgin" which told of the sinking of a ship of that name on Lake Michigan in 1860. Mr. Hamilton was so impressed with the song that he suggested the name Elgin to the post office department in Washington and it was accepted.

     A. R.  Tuttle and O. B. Swinehart founded the Elgin Recorder, Elgin’s newspaper in 1841. This is the second oldest newspaper in the county, being antedated only by the Union Republican, founded in 1888.

     Although a school had been opened in l870 in the Indian Creek region out of Elgin, the first organized school in Elgin proper was begun probably in 1877. The first school building was situated about a mile north of the present city on the Galloway farm and was built of logs. Its size was approximately 16 by 20 feet with one log cut out of one wall to permit about eight panes of glass to stand side by side and thus light the interior. The desks four in number were of rough lumber. The blackboard wais made of a box side painted black and the chalk was obtained from a natural chalk bank located an Indian Creek. It is interesting to note that nearly all the schools in the Grande Ronde valley in the '70's and '80's obtained their chalk from this source.

     About 1880 a new school was built about a half mile west of the present city of Elgin and this building was used until the railroad came and the city was incorporated in 1891 After the arrival of the railroad population increased rapidly and it was necessary to rent some of the halls and churches for school purposes.

     Agitation for a town school was rife in Elgin in 1892 and 1893 but there was much opposition from people n the outlying areas who did not want to be taxed to support a town school. However, this opposition was over-come and the first school within the limits of Elgin was erected on land donated by Luther Hindman which is the land on which the present Elgin school is located.


Contributed by: Jim Reavis

Union County

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