Detroit, Oregon’s underwater ghost town (Coe)

Name: Detroit (Coe)


GPS: 44.712696, -122.191303

Directions: From Salem Oregon, head east on OR-22 for 50 miles. The remains of the town are accessible via Mongold State Park.


When the Oregon Pacific Railroad was being built by the scoundrel, Colonel T. E. Hogg, one of the last work camps was Coe, established in 1889. Unfortunately Colonel Hogg’s skimming of profits from the railroad came to a head in 1890, and the railroad officially shut down. But this was not enough to kill the burgeoning town though.

In 1891 enough residents lived in Coe to necessitate a Post Office. Unfortunately the name was too close to the Eastern Oregon town of Cove, so the Post Office was opened as Detroit with Vanness G. Danforth as the post master. The name was chosen because of the number of Michigan residents in the area.

A.B. Hammond and E.L. Bonner purchased the railroad in 1895 and changed it’s name to the Oregon Central and Eastern Railroad. Numerous lumber camps were established in the areas, and Detroit continued to grow as it supplied materials to them. Like many railroads in those days, passenger service became an important side business. Sportsman came to the area for fishing and hunting, and several hotels were built to cater to their business. One of these was Merle Bruckman’s Breitenbush Hot Springs Resort built in 1927.

Unfortunately A.B. Hammond died in 1934, and the Great Depression was in full swing. This killed both the timber industry and tourism industry in Detroit. In 1946 the United States Army Corps of Engineers started buying land in the area in preparation to building the Detroit Dam. The town of Detroit was moved to it’s present location in 1952 on the site of a former lumber camp high above the proposed level of the new lake. The Detroit Dam was finished in June 1953, and the former town site was inundated as the lake filled up.

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

Detroit Oregon

More Information:

The remains of the town can only be seen at periods of extreme low water. The above pictures were taken in February 2013, and I have been informed several times now are actually the remains of the camp built to house workers at the dam as it was being constructed.

28 Responses to “Detroit, Oregon’s underwater ghost town (Coe)

  • I hate to burst your bubble but the pictures you have of the old town of Detroit are actually the remains of camp Mongold where the dam workers stayed .The old town of Detroit is farther out in the lake.

    • Thanks for stopping by Mike, I’ve always suspected that there was something weird since all the foundations left are uniform. Unfortunately all the sources I can find say that is the town. Do you know of an official source that says otherwise?

      • It is the former workers camp for the dam. The state park is developing an interpretive panel about this. The former town if Detroit is off if piety island to the east along the river. You can still see the old highway when the lake is down.

    • What Mike above said is true. The old town of Detroit can be seem in low water from the flats day use area. 35 local Detroit area resident here.

  • Official records say that the town now sits a mere one mile north of it’s original location. Which would put the original town location around about the sand bar, or in the Hoover arm of the lake.

    This indeed is the worker’s camp. I believe (not sure) that even with the lake at it’s lowest point, the original town site is still underwater.

    • Yes you guys are correct. My husband a Detroit native schooled me. His grandparents met while living at the CCC camp that is now mongold. The original town of Detroit is the flats between the island and current location. The only building from the original town is across from the Corner Post restaurant it was and I think still is a sandwich shop. All other buildings have long disappeared.

      • CCC camp is far the up the highway. It was where the older blowout road junction was at. The town also held one of the 3 mills in the are at one time

        • That is a seperate CcC camp. The one at Mongold once had over 50 families living there. The Mongold one was specifically for the build of the railroad and to work logging before the dam workers moved in. The one at blowout was built for railroad builders and the mills in Idanha. The feds helped put the communities in to move entire immigrant communities there. Mongold was named after their first inhabitants the Mongols.

    • I just camped at hoover, my friends and I went exploring all around the hoover area and found old wires coming out of the ground that we think were from the old tow.

  • My husband is 73 years old and has lived in the Mill City area all his life – Hid Grandfather use to work for Hamons Lumber Co,

    • My husband is 62. He grew up in Mehamia < sp? After school they would go to Detroit Lake to water ski. His Dad was accountant for one of the lumber mills in the area. Crandall is there name.

  • I concur with the other reply about the location of Detroit. It actually was on the other side of Piety Island which you can hike to in the winter when the lake is low. You can see part of the side of the old town when lake is low but that is all there really isn’t a sign of the old town.

  • This past year, I did a great deal of research and interviewing of folks that were there in the late 40’s and 50’s, including one who lived in old Detroit and a second who lived in the Mongold Camp. Old Detroit is currently covered with silt and any evidence was long ago covered. It was located east of the island and south of New Detroit down along the Santiam River. The foundations in these pictures are from Camp Mongold. You can actually see Piety Island in the background east of Mongold. Old Detroit was east of the island, and Camp Mongold was west of the island. If you think about it, I believe the solid cement foundations would reflect a much newer construction than when Old Detroit experienced.

  • its still pretty cool. thank you for posting

  • I just explored around the area and I looked up some vintage maps. A few things come to mind. There was a town called, “larson” which used to sit where Detroit now sits, or where old detroit sat. Not sure if they changed the name or what. But on the old map, the old detroit appears to sit below where the bridge is, the opposite site of Detroit flats. I believe detroit flats may well be Larson. When comparing old photo’s of Detroit whihc are on the internet, I looked that background mountains, and they didn’t quite match up right with the detroit flats area. You really have to go by those old maps because that is the starting point. Also, very very close to what is now Mongold park, was a town called, “Berry”. Again, not much information is out there at all. I couldn’t find a single picture either. Either way it’s a puzzler.

  • So interesting I always want to know more about the town before it moved to where it is at I get onto the Internet and look but it doesn’t seem like there’s anything about the old town I want to see more pictures of the old town I know this summer it seemed like there was more of it showing I still want to know about things

    • Good morning Christina, I can’t find any pictures of the original town of Detroit. The only sign of the town that was visible was a wagon stuck in the mud, and some remains of a couple of the buildings.

  • Do you have photos of the railroad turntable between 1934-1941?

    • I do not. Hopefully another reader does and can provide one.

    • There is a new plaque at the flats Recreation Area just east of town. It’s relatively new but there is a picture of the old town on it. And the railroad turntable as well.

      • With the water WAY down like it is now, are the ruins currently viewable?

  • My father in law lived in Detroit along with his brother. His mother ran a hotel in Old Detroit. She packed lunches for the loggers and rented rooms to them. My father in law, George Dickie and his brother Arlie Dickie said for fun they would grease the railroad track so the train couldn’t stop. Guess there probably wasn’t a lot of things to do there.

  • Piety island was a peninsula between the Santiam river and the Brightenbush river. Detroit was on the Santiam where it enters the present lake, the reason for so much silt being dropped and covering the remains. I can still see signs of the turntable pit at low water near the wagon remains.

  • I was born at Salem hospital 1950 but was a reesident of Detroit Or. My parents owned a grocery store there my father brother and uncle worked on the dam . We left Detroit in 51 or 52 . Don’t know much more than that not even the name of the store. Would like to know more . My parents were Delmar and Janet Nelson brother Ron Morgan uncle Ray Nelson . If anybody knows anything let me know.
    Mike Nelson

    • My name is Chris and I’m from Indiana and been trying to get information on this wagan I found mushroom hunting can any one please help me has a metal plate on it that says milburn wagon Toledo, Ohio #83

  • Ok think you

Leave a Reply