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Bert Harris built Butte Falls

In 1901, the Dewings Co. of Reed City, Michigan, bought acres of timber near the falls on Big Butte Creek. It was a remote area, with only a few homesteads and stump ranches with names like “Starvation Flat” and “Persist.” However, Bert Harris saw the potential of generating electricity at the 15-foot falls at Big Butte Creek to power a sawmill surrounded by a forest of sugar pines.

When the company became known as the Butte Falls Sugar Pine Lumber Co., Harris was its first boss. Within months, he built a dam across the creek and plotted out a manufacturing town of 55 acres with a 300-foot plaza in its center.

In 1905, Harris recorded the town plat of Butte Falls and began changing it from a tent village to a larger town. Within five years, it had a hotel, two billiard halls, hardware and barber shops, residences, an inn, grocery store and even an athletic club. The Pacific & Eastern railway brought tourists, passengers and mail from the Rogue Valley.

Its fortunes rising and falling with the demand for timber, Butte Falls has settled into a small, quiet town with a population of nearly 450.

As It Was is a co-production of Jefferson Public Radio and the Southern Oregon Historical Society. As It Was stories are broadcast weekdays on Jefferson Public Radio and are available online at asitwas.org.

E.W. Smith photo of men standing in front of the Butte Falls sawmill.