The old ghost towns of the west are always fun to visit and each one offers a unique educational experience. Ghost towns are not only where heritage is preserved, they are lessons of the past, both good and bad. Some of the gold rush camps had a quick rise and fall after the ore played out, while others suffered a slow death after logistical downfalls. Poor resource management, water depletion or natural disasters are other reasons why old west towns were completely abandoned and a visit to a ghost town often will make the reasons easier to understand. Reliving the past is what a ghost town venture is all about and all it takes is imagination to picture the long lost lifestyles.
When touring the John Day region in Oregon, spending some extra time in the neighboring Sumpter Valley is nearly a necessity to do. A lot of history was made in this valley and there actually is an old ghost town leftover from the the golden years. The Sumpter Valley was famous for placer gold mining along the Powder River in the late 1800s and the local pioneer logging industry was a prime economic driver. A short-line railway eventually connected the dots in this region and the town of Whitney came to be.
Whitney was founded around 1900 as a lumber mill site along the placer mining railway route near the Sumpter Valley dredging operations. This town sprouted up just about the same time that the feasibility of gold mining worldwide suffered a downfall from plummeting bouillon value, so the railway soon was totally devoted to the lumber industry. The town of Whitney certainly had everything in its favor and life was good for almost two decades, until a fire destroyed the lumber mill. The lumber industry was also in a steady decline during that period and the old mill was never rebuilt. Eventually the short line railway was abandoned in the 1940s and only a handful of residents remained.
Whitney Ghost Town is now a Wallowa-Whitman National Forest historic site and some of the old original buildings still stand. Other structures are in various states of decay and fortunately there is a preservation effort to keep this old ghost town on the map. Much of Whitney actually is private property, so it is best to only take a look from the roadside. This historic relic is located on State Road 7 between the Sumpter Valley and John Day, so it is easy to find. This prime location also helps to connect the dots when planning a tour of this region, while a short visit will surely open an interesting window into the past!
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