The Old Mill District is dotted with 11 historic buildings that highlight Bend’s lumber heyday

Honoring and preserving the history of Bend’s lumber past has been a core value of the Old Mill District and the Les Schwab Amphitheater since their inception in the early 2000s.

For nearly a century, timber production was the unchallenged king in Bend, most of it taking place along the stretch of the Deschutes now occupied by the Old Mill District.

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 Deschutes. In 1922, Brooks-Scanlon established an additional, 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.

But in 1950, facing dwindling timber supplies, Shevlin-Hixon sold its interests to Brooks-Scanlon. By the 1990s Brooks-Scanlon struggled to harvest enough timber to stay afloat and sold to a larger international outfit which shut down milling operations on the river for good in 1993.

As the Old Mill District has emerged from the industrial wasteland that was the remnants of the old mills, more than 14,000 linear feet of riverfront has become available to the public, as well as approximately 2 ½ miles of river that before was blocked off and used exclusively by the timber companies.

In addition to opening up river access, the Old Mill District has proudly restored 11 historic structures, including Brooks-Scanlon’s iconic Mill B powerhouse building and its three smokestacks. In the early 2000s, the powerhouse building and Mill B’s former fuels building merged to form the current home of REI.

Deschutes Historical Museum executive director Kelly Cannon-Miller points out that, “The powerhouse that relied on the forest for timber now supports a store that also relies on the forest for its clients.”