Boomtown & Bust

Two-story dilapidated hotel standing in a clearing. Trees in the background.
The old Four Horsemen Hotel along Forest Service road NF 42 near Big Summit Prairie in the Ochoco Mountains. was near a mining site in boom days. (Oregon State Archives, 2017) Enlarge Image
Woman and man standing. Woman holds a meat cleaver and both are dressed in aprons.
Boomtowns attracted trades that catered to the laborers. Shown here are Maxville Bull Cooks Mr. and Mrs. MC Craven in 1925. (Courtesy of Maxville Heritage Interpretative Center)
Many Oregon ghost towns were born and died in an economic cycle called “boom and bust.” When a small town “booms” it undergoes a sudden, rapid population and economic growth. Normally this follows the discovery of precious resources, or increased access to previously unreachable areas. In the 1800s, mining towns blossomed wherever gold was found. 

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, mill towns processing Oregon’s vast timber resources emerged in the woodlands. Boomtowns weren’t just filled with extraction laborers, either. Businesses catered to workers - especially hotels, saloons, brothels, and goods suppliers. These businesses employed as many (if not more) people than the town’s main industry. 

Boomtowns had their issues too. Such communities often struggled to accommodate new arrivals. Many also suffered from doctor shortages, poor educational facilities, inadequate housing, sewage disposal problems, and a lack of recreation. Lumber boomtowns typically only lasted around 10 years - the time it took to clear-cut an area of old-growth forest. Other boomtowns also brought about their own demise, as they were typically dependent on a single economic activity. Resource depletion created a “bust” in these places, a catastrophic price collapse that could shrink a town as fast as the “boom” grew it.