History of Bend’s Old Mill District – Our Story
For nearly a century, timber production was the unchallenged king in Bend, most of it taking place in the Old Mill District. Hardy men used axes, crosscut saws, horses, and “high-wheel” rigs to cut down huge Ponderosa pines in the surrounding forests. The first of the big mills, operated by the Shevlin-Hixon Co., opened in March 1916.
A month later a rival company, Brooks-Scanlon, began operations at its “Mill A” complex on the other side of the river. In 1922 Brooks-Scanlon established a new, bigger mill complex upstream from Mill A. This “Mill B” site makes up the largest portion of the Old Mill District. At their peak, the Brooks-Scanlon and Shevlin-Hixon operations were two of the largest pine sawmills in the world, running around the clock and employing more than 2,000 workers each.
In 1950, facing dwindling timber supplies, Shevlin-Hixon sold its interests to Brooks-Scanlon. Brooks-Scanlon’s Mill A closed in 1983 and was in a state of near ruin before being restored in the early 1990s. The old brick powerhouse buildings and their three towering smokestacks still stand, silently testifying to the district’s colorful past.
Shelvin-Hixon and Brooks-Scanlon Mills
This photo was taken between 1916-1919, with the Shevlin-Hixon Lumber Company on the west side of the river (left) and Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company on the east (right) side.
Brooks-Scanlon’s Mill A, now an office building near the Colorado Bridge, began with a single smokestack and burner (seen in the photograph).
Today the two cylindrical cement footings for Mill A’s burners, and the foundation of Mill A’s powerhouse, can still be seen on the back patio of Tumalo Creek Kayak & Canoe filled with flowers each summer.
In 1920 Shevlin-Hixon added a third smokestack and burner to their mill and Brooks-Scanlon Mill A added a second smokestack and burner increasing lumber production. The powerhouse building produced the energy to run the mills. The material used to feed the burners was called hog fuel, made of woodchips and shavings.
During the early years the Brooks-Scanlon Mill operated two 8 hour shifts daily, milling a combined average of 300,000 board feet of lumber a day. That’s roughly enough framing for thirty homes (1,800 square feet each).
Logs for the two mills were separated by a log boom dividing the river in half. The boon can be seen to the left of the photo. If you look carefully you can see the trestle bridge in the background. The Shevlin-Hixon railroad trestle bridge was built in 1915. It crossed the Deschutes River just north of where Colorado Ave. is today, you can still see the grassy hill where the trestle came off the bank before crossing the river. The trestle bridge was demolished in 1990.
Note: In 1923 Brooks-Scanlon Lumber Company built a second mill, Mill B. Today the Mill B’s powerhouse is home to REI in the Old Mill District.
Visit the Deschutes Historical Museum located downtown for more information on Bend’s history.