The Gilchrist Timber Company Story Online
Numerous company-owned towns have dotted the American landscape over the years, but few will have their history as well preserved as the Central Oregon community of Gilchrist.
Thanks to conscientious company employees, a generous private donation and a grant from the Oregon Heritage Program, a complete set of records from the Gilchrist Timber Co. is not only safely secured in the Klamath County Museum, but is also digitally preserved and available online.
The Gilchrist Timber Company was operating in Laurel, Miss., in the early 1900s when the supply of logs began to run out. The company scouted forest resources available in the Northwest, and sent an agent to begin acquiring lands in northern Klamath County in the 1930s. By 1938 the company had acquired about 100,000 acres of forest land, built a sawmill and opened a company-owned town that included the first enclosed shopping mall west of the Mississippi. Other amenities included a school and a movie theater.
Millions of board feet of clear lumber sawn from old-growth pine on the Gilchrist tree farm was shipped out via the company-owned Klamath Northern Railroad for more than 50 years until the family operation closed in 1991.
Several boxes of detailed company records were stashed in a crawl space at the World Forestry Center in Portland, where they remained until being transferred to the Klamath County Museum in 2010. Gilchrist native John Driscoll relied heavily on the records as he researched and wrote a book on the history of Gilchrist in 2012. Driscoll also donated $4,000 to the Museum so the records could be scanned.
The museum offered Driscoll’s donation as the match for an Oregon Museum Grant, and used the combined funds to hire high school student Kristen Tyree as a part-time technician. Tyree scanned nearly 20,000 pages of records from the Gilchrist files. Many of those files are available online at: http://www.co.klamath.or.us/museum/gilchristpapers/overview.htm
These records reveal many aspects of the company’s dealings, from building design and acquisition of equipment to rationing of products during World War II and issues involving employees.
Among the more interesting examples of records preserved are a list of employees by seniority date, handwritten notes from job-seekers, and Christmas greetings to wholesale customers of the Gilchrist Timber Co.
Contributed by Todd Kepple, Klamath County Museums