Baker County History

Map of Oregon with Baker county blacked out in the northeast side. Baker County was created from part of Wasco County in 1862. It was named for Edward Baker, one of Oregon's first senators and a colonel in the Union Army. Baker was killed at the Battle of Balls Bluff in 1861. In 1864 Union County was created from the northern portion of the county. In 1887 Malheur County was created from the southern portion of the county. The boundaries were adjusted for the last time in 1901 when the area between the Powder River and the Wallowa Mountains, known as the Panhandle, was returned to Baker County.

The county consists of 3,089 square miles and is bounded to the north by Union and Wallowa Counties, to the west by Grant County, to the south by Malheur County, and to the east by the State of Idaho. The original county seat was established at Auburn. Originally a booming mining town with 5,000 inhabitants, the population dwindled and there was agitation to move the county seat. In 1868 an election confirmed Baker City as the new county seat.

The county has had three courthouses, all occupying the same site. The first courthouse was a two-story wooden structure built in 1869. It was replaced by a brick building in 1885. The current courthouse is a three-story building completed in 1909. It is constructed of a gray volcanic stone quarried a few miles south of town. Original county officers included a county judge, two commissioners, sheriff, clerk, treasurer, assessor and school superintendent.

Gold mining was the original drive for settlement in the area. At one time the county was the largest gold producer in the Northwest. Agriculture, stock raising, logging and tourism have become the primary economic pursuits. The Oregon Trail Interpretative Center has drawn large numbers of visitors since it opened in 1993 on Flagstaff Hill northeast of Baker City. The Eagle Cap Wilderness Area, Hells Canyon Recreation Area, Sumpter Gold Dredge Park, Baker City Restored Historic District, and Anthony Lakes Ski Resort, along with fishing and hunting, also draw visitors to the area.

The county's population has fluctuated due in part to the boom and bust nature of mining. The population in 2008 of 16,455 represented a 1.7% decrease from 2000 and was down from a high of 17,295 in 1960.
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Baker county courthouse
The Baker County Courthouse in Baker City was built of native stone in 1909. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20100629-0925​)

Baker County Courthouse

1995 Third St.
Baker City, OR 97814
Clerk: 541-523-8207
Courts: 541-523-6305
Visit Baker County website >​

Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City

Hotel built in an Italianate Victorian architecure style designed by architect John Bennes.
Geiser Grand Hotel in Baker City. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20100630-1074)
Baker City changed its name to Baker in 1911. But renewed interest in pioneer history led to the restoration of the Baker City name in 1989. This action supported a strategy to harken back to the glory days of the city when it was known as the "Denver of Oregon."
Ironically, the strategy to capitalize on pioneer history benefited from the neglect shown to many of the city's buildings over the years. Baker City's economy sputtered after World War II. During these years, other cities were spurred on by a modernization movement to replace many historic buildings.
But Baker City's best architecture survived, often in a state of slow decay. A number of structures, such as the Geiser Grand Hotel, have been restored and take center stage in the city's celebration of its past. (Sources: Atlas of Oregon | Oregon: End of the Trail)