By Tawna Fenske of Visit Bend

One of the most iconic images in all of Bend – the U.S. flag flying atop the smokestacks in the Old Mill District – originated as an act of inspiration during one of our country’s most trying times.

Even though our mountain town sits nearly 3,000 miles from New York City, residents here and throughout the High Desert were as shocked and saddened as the rest of the nation when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Bill Smith, the founder and president of William Smith Properties which developed the  Old Mill District, looked out his office window on Colorado Street one morning not long after the events of 9/11 and saw an American flag flying above one of the smokestacks that tower more than 200 feet above ground.

“I thought, ‘holy mackerel, who did that?’” Smith said.

The answer? Longtime Central Oregon resident Tim Keeton of Keeton & King Construction, Inc.

In the wake of the 9/11 tragedy, Keeton and his family wanted to do something to inspire and unify the community. Since Keeton & King was involved in Old Mill District construction, they knew the layout of the smokestacks and could operate the chair cable system running to the top of each stack.

Tim went to the local National Guard office and handed over his driver’s license in exchange for borrowing a flag. Carrying a steel pipe and some pipe clamps, Tim ascended the tower and attached the flag.

The result? An instant Bend landmark.

“It was all about the symbolism and about inspiring people,” Keeton explained.

It did the trick.

In the following months, a 48-foot flagpole was installed on the tower, and the Old Mill District established protocol for maintaining the flag. These days, when the flag comes down for routine repairs, the phone in Bill Smith’s office doesn’t stop ringing.

“People want to know why we took it down and offer to help pay to have it put back,” Smith said. “It’s become one of the most recognizable symbols of Bend.”