Ramsey Discusses The Fall of Opal City

Posted By:  Liz Goodrich
Date Posted:  2/16/2004

Local author and historian Jarold W. Ramsey presents The Rise and Fall of Opal City at the Redmond Public Library on Saturday, February 28 at 2:00 p.m. This program is free and open to the public. It rose and fell honestly, if recklessly,” says Ramsey, of the settlement known as Opal City. Opal City, like many early Central Oregon settlements along the Oregon Trunk Railroad, sprouted, grew and then disappeared. Ramsey investigates settlements like Opal City in his newest book titled New Era: Reflections on the Human and Natural History of Central Oregon.

The Oregon State University Press describes New Era as “a graceful and literate collection of personal essays on the human and natural history of the Oregon high desert.” Ramsey knows first hand the hardships and struggles of early Central Oregonians. His mother’s family was among the first community of homesteaders that settled the townsite of Opal City. “Starting around 1892, people came for the free land. Mainly they farmed wheat.” By the time the news broke out that the railroads were coming, the Hill and Harriman forces had the rights-of-way almost completely tied up. Ramsey’s great uncle, Walt Mendenhall happened to have a160-acre homestead along the RR route and was more than glad to sell it to the Opal City LandCo. Hoping to profit from the creation of a town, even where there was no concrete need or even natural resources to support a settlement, is indicative of a time when, according to Ramsay, “homesteaders were willing and eager to pursue perceived opportunities, even involving attempts to create towns where none had been before.” What caused the “fall” of Opal City? “Bad timing, really,” says Ramsey.

With settlements in Madras, Culver and Metolius to the north and Redmond to the south, there wasn’t much need for another “market” community. What was needed in 1910 –12 was a place where crews for the Crooked River Bridge could stay during construction. “For about six months, Opal City became a wretched tent town of unruly laborers, which briefly brought in money to local entrepreneurs. Soon after the completion of the bridge, the crews moved on and the bottom fell out,” says Ramsey. For more information, please visit Deschutes Public Library call 312-1032.

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