Shaniko Oregon, Tourist Ghost Town
Let me preface this by saying that photos in this post are of mixed quality due to two different trips to the area and a huge amount of photography knowledge by the second trip. – Rick
Shaniko is one of Oregon’s most famous Ghost Towns. This is likely because it’s just under three hours from Portland, and has had a population who’ve been interested in reinventing the town as a tourist destination for several decades. Unfortunately this has not kept the town from meeting controversy which now leaves it in a sort of limbo state.
Many sources list the original name of Shaniko as “Cross Hollows.” I believe that this is an erroneous assumption and that the two are distinctly separate towns. Cross Hollows is at the bottom of the ridge from Shaniko where two creeks meet making a sort of cross of grass in the valley. It was built along the Dallas to Fort Boise Military Road like many other towns in the area, notably present day John Day.
Just after the Civil War, in 1874, August Scherneckau purchased an already existing farm in this hollows and soon began running a stage stop on the road. By 1879 enough other residents were in the area that Cross Hallows got a post office in May of that year. August was the first post master and remained the post master there until 1887 when he moved away, likely due to a trickle in traffic at his stage coach stop. The post office closed when he did so, but the town did not die… totally. A few residents still lived there, they just had to travel further for their mail, likely to Antelope. With water in an otherwise dry area it doesn’t make sense to abandon the area totally.
But the name, Shaniko, a corruption of August Scherneckau’s name by Native Americans in the area, stuck around.
The Columbia Southern Railway was incorporated March 5th, 1897 with the intent of extending all the way from Bigg’s Junction to Prineville. It’s fair to say that residents of Cross Hollows and other areas, apprised of the planned route across the top of the ridge moved there and Shaniko was born. By the time the railroad his Shaniko in 1900 the city was already “Wool Capital of the World,” and growing fast. Many of the major buildings were already built, and the hotel was completed at the same time as the rail way depot. Overflow population from Shaniko kept Cross Hollows going, reports were that residents were camped “all over” outside of town.
Both towns died when a competing rail line was finished in 1911. The Columbia Souther Railway lasted until 1960 when a flash flood further up the line destroyed it and it was never repaired.
Shaniko Virtual Tour
The first view of the town in the distance is that of the huge wool barn and the uniquely designed school house that dominate the “skyline.”
If you blink, you might miss the sign point the way to “downtown” Shaniko. But realistically it’s not hard to miss the main street, just go straight instead of following the highway as it curves to the left.
Close up of the three room school house. Reported to be one of the most photographed school houses in Oregon. The building is now used as a community hall.
On the north side of the street is an unknown building and Ice Cream Palor (also serves sandwiches)
Next to that on the same block is the restored, but still closed, hotel.
The South side of the street is the Post Office and an antique store.
In the gap caused by the 1911 fire that destroyed many buildings can be seen the church and a house that has been converted into the Shaniko Historical Society.
At the cross roads is a plethora of interesting buildings. To the right is what I believe was the old dentist’s office, a conclusion based merely on the fact that it had a dentist chair inside the window.
Straight ahead is the Shaniko Musuem, at least that is what the sign said the first time I was there. It’s been removed since then.
It is surrounded by several older cars, all of which are rusting. Next to it is what I call the “auto museum.” The building is closed and locked, but inside are at least a dozen vintage autos. Most are hard to make out in the gloom and dark, unfortunately none are taken care of at all.
If you keep going east, the old Wool Barn is very visible. Behind it is a view of the entire valley.
North of there is a few more interesting buildings. Although I don’t know what these two beside the hotel were actually used for.
All this makes Shaniko one of my most favorite Ghost Towns to visit. It has just the right amount of interesting and abandoned, along with a few better buildings, some interesting businesses to visit. Even if you’re just driving through the area, I believe that Shaniko is a good out of the way stop for anyone interested in Oregon History or Ghost Towns specifically.