Austin House, LLC
History of Austin...
Originally known as Newton Station, it became Austin in 1888 when Mrs. Newton's son, Minot Austin, became the postmaster and his wife, Linda, took over Mrs. Newton stagecoach station. Minot and Linda Austin inherited the land from his mother and renamed it Austin.
The Sumpter Valley Railroad arrived in Austin in 1905. Austin Station was situated along the main route between Baker City and Canyon City and served as a stop for weary travelers. Passengers stopped for lunch, which Linda “Ma” Austin served at her boarding house.
The meals were served “family style” in ample proportions. .
Austin was quite a town in its day, boasting a population of nearly 500 people, with several saloons, stores and even a jail. The buildings had false fronts (there was still one of these false fronted buildings standing as late as 1997). It boasted a board sidewalk also. The railroad facilities included a four-stall engine house, yard trackage and a water tank. A large sawmill, owned by Oregon Lumber Company, was built beside the tracks at Austin. From Austin, the Oregon Lumber Company laid their own tracks into the timber and brought logs to the big double-sided mill.
This mill was in operation during the decade preceding World War I.
History of Bates...
The area's main business soon became lumber. At one time there were three sawmills operating twenty-four hours a day. In 1917, the Oregon Lumber Company built a new double-sided sawmill about a mile down the Middle Fork of the John Day River from Austin. A company owned town was built for the mill workers and was named Batesville. Later, the name was shortened to Bates. This mill remained in full operation until October 1975, when a new mill was put into operation in John Day by Edward Hines Lumber Company, the owners at that time.
The Oregon Lumber Company built a large white hotel at the side of the track close to the mill. There was a dance hall near the hotel, (later a truck barn was built on the sight of the dance hall, after it had burned down), where many dances were attended by all.
Oregon Lumber Company built logging tracks down the Middle Fork and had branches up the draws and creeks to supply logs to the new mill. The lumber was then shipped on the Sumpter Valley Railroad to Baker. The rails were pulled in the late 1940s. At this time off-highway logging trucks began hauling logs in to the mill. They had 12 foot wide bunks and were stacked close to 20 feet from the ground.
A crew was sent out to construct the railroad grade for the tracks to be laid on. The main line of Eccles narrow gauge railroad followed the Middle Fork of the John Day River from Bates, eventually going as as far as Camp Creek. All the track except the main line was temporary track. As the crew went out and built the grade, another crew followed behind laying track. These temporary branch lines went out into the canyons where the logging was taking place. The lumber camps came along with the railroad. The cook shack and dining room were built on railroad cars, as were many of the dwellings (boxcar houses) the men and their families lived in.
When an area was logged out, the lumber camp was dismantled. Much of it was loaded onto the flat cars, the track was taken up behind the train and the work proceeded to another area of the forest. In the beginning, until the dry kilns were built, the lumber produced at the Bates mill was loaded green onto flat cars and hauled to Baker, where it was dried in the kilns at the Oregon Lumber Company mill there.
Over the years as the industry progressed, much of the work done by the railroad was gradually replaced by trucks that hauled the logs. By 1935 there were quite a few trucks in use. The trucks hauled more and more and the railroad less and less, until about 1946 and 1947 the last rails were pulled up. That’s when the dry kilns were built
Bates was tucked into one of the loveliest valleys in eastern Oregon's Grant County. It was surrounded by prime timber, with Dixie Butte (elevation 7592 feet above sea level) towering over the town.
Today, the town of Bates, its sawmill, and its railroad exist as memories to those who once lived and worked there.
When the Hines Lumber Company closed the mill in Bates in 1975, occupants were able purchased their houses for one dollar. Some disassembled them, others moved them to new locations.
Once the land was cleared it was sold to a private rancher, then to a Grant County nonprofit before the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department purchased the 131 acres April 30, 2008, and created
Bates State Park.
The 131-acre park is on the west end of the Austin meadows, bounded by Clear Creek on the east, Bridge Creek on the west, and the Middle Fork of the John Day River on the north. The 9-acre pond fed by Bridge Creek, is the only part of the old mill town that still exists and now provides opportunities for fishing. The park offers campsites, a picnic shelter and tables, interpretive panels, trails, for hiking and exploring.