Jefferson County History

Map of Oregon with section in middle blacked out to indicate Jefferson County.Jefferson County was created on Dec. 12, 1914, out of territory that was once part of Crook County. The county was named after Mount Jefferson, the second highest peak in Oregon with an elevation of 10,497 feet, which marks the county's western skyline. The county is bounded on the north by Wasco County, on the east by Wheeler and Crook Counties, on the south by Deschutes County, and on the west by Linn and Marion Counties. The county encompasses 1791 square miles. 

Madras, named after the city in India, was incorporated in 1911 and serves as the county seat.

The first county courthouse was constructed in 1917 as the Madras City Hall. A formal agreement in 1919 provided for shared use of the building by city government and county offices and court. A new county courthouse was built in 1961. That courthouse was demolished and replaced in 2016. County government is administered by a three-member board of commissioners. 

The county's population at its first federal census in 1920 was 3,211. The 2016 population of 22,790 represented a 4.9% increase from 2010. 

Principal industries are agriculture, forest products and recreation. The fertile North Unit Irrigation District in the central part of the county produces seed, potatoes, hay and mint. The eastern part of the county has dry wheat farming and grazing land for cattle, and the western part is timber country. Kah-Nee-Ta Vacation Resort and Indian Head Casino owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, provide jobs in the area. The reservation is located on portions of land in four counties including 236,082 acres in the northwest corner of Jefferson County. 

The county owes much of its agricultural prosperity to the arrival of the railroad in 1911 and the development of irrigation projects in the late 1930s. The railroad, linking Madras with the Columbia River, was completed after constant feuds and battles between two lines working opposite sides of the Deschutes River.

The Jefferson County Courthouse in Madras was constructed in 2016.
The Jefferson County Courthouse in Madras was constructed in 2016. Many county offices are housed in the Jefferson County Administration Building. (Oregon State Archives Scenic Image 20171020-2315​)

​​Jefferson County Courthouse

129 SW E St.
Madras, OR 97741
Clerk: 541-475-4451
Courts: 541-475-3317
Visit Jefferson County website >​

Lake Billy Chinook​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Lake Billy Chinook lies in a canyon. The shoreline is bare of vegitation.
Lake Billy Chinook from Japanese Television Viewpoint. (Photo No. jefD0029) 
Sprawling reservoir Lake Billy Chinook in Jefferson County was named for a Chinook Indian boy who joined John C. Fremont's 2nd expedition at The Dalles in 1843. Chinook accompanied Fremont (and Kit Carson of later fame) south through present day Central Oregon to California, including a harrowing journey across the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the heart of winter.
While traveling through what is now Jefferson County, Fremont commented about the chasm-like valleys and vertical precipices that made the region impracticable for wagons and barely useable by horses. The terrain was so difficult that the howitzer cannon brought by the expedition had to be disassembled and carried in pieces. (Source: Oregon Geographic Names)