Ghost town of Chitwood Oregon
Chitwood Oregon is a familiar name to many travelers due to the fact that it is the location of one of Oregon’s remaining covered bridges. Unfortunately for the discerning tourist, Highway 20 was recently built to bypass the town completely so the bridge isn’t as on display as it used to be.
The town was built as a stop on Yaquina Route of the Oregon Pacific Railroad that linked Yaquina City (now a ghost town itself by the standards of this site,) and Albany Oregon. Construction of the railroad took nearly four years, from 1881 to 1885. The station stop here was named after local settler Joshua Chitwood.
Due to Chitwood becoming a stop for the steam trains to take on wood and water, the population grew enough that a Post Office could be established. That was opened on July 12th, 1887 with James B. Chitwood as the Postmaster. A school was opened the same year. I am not able to locate where either building was located.
Sometime in the very late 1890s the Corvallis and Eastern Railroad ran a spur line from Chitwood up to a sandstone quarry ran by the Victor Sandstone Company. The sandstone was used for building material, and was likely shipped all across the Willamette Valley. Sandstone mining across the state seems to have been non-existent by 1897.
But for the brief time it was in production, the quarry brought still more people to the town. At it’s height the town supported a Dance Hall (said to be quite rowdy,) the Post Office, a train station, a telephone office housed in the Geo. T. Smith General Store, and directly across the Covered Bridge, the Pepin Grocery Store
The town’s main street, called R.R. Street ran parallel to the railroad. Today this road just leads directly to private residences all within the former town’s limits. It is still served by the covered bridge that was built in 1930. It connected the town to the recently built highway.
A second bridge was a mile west of town, so it likely was on Highway 20 at Trapp Creek Road. The third was an unnamed Railroad bridge, built by the Corvallis and Eastern Railroad, likely about 1/8 of a mile south of there, crossing the Yaquina River. This one was likely replaced with the more modern rail road bridge that is there now.
Unfortunately like so many of the ghost towns talked about here, the rise of the automobile, and technology that allowed highways to be built in straighter lines caused the death of Chitwood. The population had shrunk enough that the post office was closed in June 30th, 1945. Both stores closed down within the decade.
The Pepin Store saw a fire in the mid-1950’s after it had closed. Embers from that fire lit the bridge on fire too and it only saved by a bucket brigade. The Pepin Store was supposedly either burned down by the fire, or torn down in 1984. Since there are pictures of it below in 1961, we can assume that it was removed in 1984.
The Geo. T Smith Store was still standing until the late 1990s (or possibly early 2000s, there isn’t a firm date,) when it was torn down also. Interestingly the spots where both stores were are matching flat pieces of dirt where today many people park to take photos of the remaining covered bridge.
Taken by Ben Maxwell in 1955 we see the George Smith Store and Telephone Office in the foreground. The covered bridge, and behind both the Pepin Grocery Store.
Two views of Archie Pepin’s Grocery store. Both are from 1961, after the fire. Photos were taken by Ben Maxwell from the Oregon Historic Photos Collection.
And then on the Highway 20 side of the bridge is the George T. Smith Store where the telephone office was located. An educated guess says the Post Office was likely also in this building.
George T. Smith Store was found at Chitwood on August 3, 1966
Sensing the end, Ben Maxwell managed to take quite a few pictures around town on September 4th, 1961
George Smith home in Chitwood, Oregon, 1961-09-04
Abandoned Garage – 1961
I presume this was the Dance Hall – photo taken in 1961
Labeled as a storage building by Maxwell, this looks like it might have been a modest home at one point. Taken in 1961
This cheeky sign was photographed by Maxwell in 1965.
And again in August of 1966
Chitwood Oregon Downtown on RR Street – 1966
Note that the garage looks to be in a tiny bit better shape 5 years later.
If you know anything about Chitwood, or have recollections of growing up here, please comment below. We’d also be interested in pictures of the train station, the school, the Dance Hall, and the quarry, and their locations if known.