Old Mill District
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The Old Mill District is an area formerly occupied by two lumber mills in Bend, Oregon. Encompassing approximately 270 acres along the Deschutes River, the Old Mill District is now a mixed-use area known for its shops, galleries and restaurants. It draws thousands of visitors and employs more than 2,500 people. The area underwent significant development since the mid-1990s, when the land was purchased by developer Bill Smith, president of William Smith Properties. He maintained elements of the original buildings, including the area’s three signature smokestacks. There are nine historically renovated buildings on property. The oldest is the Little Red Shed used to store fire equipment and is now Dewilde Art Glass. Notable additions include the Les Schwab Amphitheater and the Orvis Casting Course Colorado Street Bridge fish ladder.
William Smith Properties and its partners also restored 14,000 lineal feet of the river area, which had been off limits to the public for close to 80 years. The banks were blown out to accommodate the floating logs and the river itself was mired with debris. The restored area is now a habitat for native species, such as fish, mink, otters and birds.
The Old Mill District is located southwest of downtown, roughly between Colorado Avenue on the west, Bond Street on the east and north and Reed Market to the south.
The Old Mill District formerly housed two competing lumber mills. In 1916 the Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company built a mill on the west bank of the Deschutes River and Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company built the "Mill A" complex on the east bank. For the next 78 years, the mills dominated Bend’s economy, pumping money and business into the town. At their peak, the companies were two of the largest pine sawmills in the world, running around the clock, employing more than 2,000 workers each and turning out more than 500 million board feet of lumber a year.
The influx of mill workers ballooned the town’s population. It jumped from 536 in 1910 to 5,414 in 1920, and by 1930, the city's population was 8,821.
After more than 20 years of non-stop logging, the forests in Central Oregon were becoming depleted. In 1937, the Bend Chamber of Commerce warned of economic disaster unless the mills started sustainable forestry. The mills ignored these warnings and continued producing at full capacity. By 1950, the forests' depletion led to the decline of Oregon’s logging industry.
Brooks-Scanlon bought the Shevlin-Hixon mill in 1950 and closed it just four months later. The Brooks-Scanlon Mill A closed in 1983.
After the mills shut down, the site fell into ruin until William Smith Properties purchased the land in 1993 now known as the Old Mill District. Mill B continued to produce small amounts of lumber until 1993 when it also closed.
Les Schwab Amphitheater
The Les Schwab Amphitheater is an outdoor riverfront amphitheater built in 2001 on the west bank of the Deschutes River as part at the Old Mill District development. The Amphitheater was named after Les Schwab, a native of Bend, Oregon. The venue accommodates approximately 8,000 people for concerts and other events. During the summer months, the amphitheater presents free concerts by local and national performers most Sundays, plus national headlining acts from May to September. Past performers include Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, John Mellencamp, Band of Horses, Goo Goo Dolls and Barenaked Ladies.
National Casting Course
In 2008, the Old Mill District and national outdoor retailer, Orvis, which has a store in the district, teamed up to build the only 18-hole, golf-style fly fishing casting course in the nation. The Orvis Casting Course at the Old Mill District is a free course designed to help anglers practice their casting skills. Anyone who successfully complete the first nine holes of the course get their names on the casting course awards board inside the Orivs store and receive a complimentary certificate recognizing their achievement.
Each year, the annual Trout Unlimited Trout Festival is held in conjunction with the Orvis National Fly-Casting Competition on the course. Both amateur fly casters and professionals, in several different classes, compete for prizes along the course, while raising money for Trout Unlimited.
Trails and historical plaques
The Old Mill District is also known for its network of trails. Four trails, ranging from 1 to 2.4 miles, loop through the area, providing a view of Bend's mountainous landscape. The loops connect with the greater network of trails maintained by the Bend Parks and Recreation District and are open to the public.
Each loop features bollards that include directional information and memorial plaques to commemorate local individuals that have contributed in a significant way to Bend or its history. The hand-painted signs feature historical photos that have been recreated by artist Jerry Werner and also provide information about Bend’s logging and timber mill history. These photos accompany stories such as “Lumber and the Railroad Helped Create the Town of Bend.” Seven total signs are located along the Deschutes River in the core of the Old Mill District.
The trail system won the 2010 Big Chainring Award for Business and the 2010 Safe Sidewalk Award from the Deschutes County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) for improving walkability and biking in the county.
- Old Mill District, The Central Cascades Geotourism Project of Oregon and Washington
- "The Old Mill District: Then and Now," The Bend Bulletin, August 16, 2009
- "Old Mill's Fuel Building to House Spirits, Sparkle," The Bend Bulletin, June 29, 2006
- Once again Bend’s Powerhouse: Bill Smith and The Old Mill District, Oregon 150
- Shevlin-Hixon Mill, Bend, Oregon, The Oregon History Project
- "Bend's Mill District" KOHD News, October 19, 2009
- Shevlin-Hixon Mill, Bend, Oregon, The Oregon History Project
- "Rail jam, motocross highlight WinterFest," Bend Bulletin, February 12, 2010
- "Art in the High Desert registration has begun," Bend Bulletin, December 10, 2010
- "XTERRA Trail Nationals in Bend," Bend Bulletin, September 19, 2010
- About Les Schwab Amphitheater, The Old Mill District
- Who Has Been Here, The Old Mill District
- Bend Bulletin, "Orvis, Old Mill Team up for Fly Casting Course"
- Visit Bend, "Second Annual National Fly Casting Competition"
- Bend Bulletin, "Bend’s History"
- Deschutes County, "Big Chainring" Winners Awarded June 21"
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