September 6, 2011

Terrebonne looks back

Trish Pinkerton
Spokesman staff

Officially, the community of Terrebonne turned 100 years old September 2 but the roots of the little town run much deeper.
F.H. May of Bend surveyed the original townsite in 1909. The new community was named Hillman by its developers, a name derived by combining the last names of railroad magnates James J. Hill and E. H. Harriman, who soon were to compete to construct their railroads into Central Oregon from the main line along the Columbia River. The Hillman post office opened May 9, 1910, with Ervin A. Cleland as postmaster.
Before long, however, Hillman became controversial when advertising for land sales in the new town gave false information on the area’s weather and the types of crops that could be grown, and developers allegedly used photos taken elsewhere.
On Aug. 4, 1910, The Redmond Spokesman reported: “District Attorney Cameron at Portland is trying to fasten charges on Cooper and Taylor, the promoters of the townsite of Hillman, claiming fraud in the selling of lots in that town. Attorney General Crawford has taken the matter up. It is believed the base of operations moved from Portland to Spokane.
“Between $50,000 and $60,000 is said to have been cleaned up by the pair selling lots in the fake town of Hillman, where there is nothing but a shanty built. The promoters would sell lots to anyone who had at least $10 to invest.”
While the promoters were busy trying to fleece land buyers, people were settling in the area.
Despite the bad press, by the beginning of 1911, with the railroad construction nearing and Redmond, fives miles to the south building up a storm, the Hillman community was growing: N. Newburg started a blacksmith shop, the Elliott Brothers opened a lumber yard and the Hotel Hillman opened. A pay toll telephone station began in February and the streets were readied for grading.
During the summer of 1911, with the railroad on the doorstep, the issue of the town’s name cropped up. The railroad thought something without the previous negative connotations might be more appropriate as it prepared to market the area, so in July the townspeople gathered suggestions and voted by a wide margin to call their community “Smithrock.”
Alas, railroad officials didn’t like “Smithrock” as much as townsfolk. The Oregon Trunk Railway’s President Gray let it be known that he thought “Terrebonne,” French for good earth, would be a good name, and he got his way.
Tracks of the Oregon Trunk Railway reached the newly-named community on Sept. 18, 1911, three days before the “golden” spike was driven in Redmond when the tracks reached E Street (now Evergreen Avenue).
The residents didn’t wait for the ink to dry on the various city name changes to build a community, however. The first school was built in Terrebonne in 1909 on one acre of land donated by W.R. Davidson. Bertha Elliott was the teacher for the first three months, followed by her sister-in-law, Mae Elliott, from 1909-1912.
In October 1910, Terrebonne women formed the Ladies Pioneer Club to promote the “social, moral and progressive welfare of the community.” The club’s meeting hall was one of the first in Terrebonne to be wired for electricity.
Local businessmen joined together in the Hillman Commercial Club, while on the cultural front, the community had a 14-piece band and a dramatic society. In May the Hillman Dramatic Club performed “Jedidiah Jenkins, J.P.” to rave reviews.
By 1912 Terrebonne was home to two lumber and building supply firms, a building contractor, a mason, an auctioneer, a blacksmith, a meat market, two real estate offices, a livery and feed barn, a feed store, a general store and railroad offices.
In a 2004 interview, Thelma Lantz, longtime Terrebonne resident and daughter of pioneers, recalled that when she was a child Terrebonne was a bustling community. The main buildings were closer to the railroad tracks and there was a hotel, a creamery, a store and more.
A 1912 fire, suspected to have been intentionally started in the Hotel Hillman for insurance money, destroyed most of the buildings on the east side of the railroad tracks.
The town rebuilt, though mostly on the west side of the tracks, where 100 years later it straddles busy Highway 97 and is the gateway to popular Smith Rock State Park.

Information from “Collected Memories of Terrebonne, Oregon,” compiled by Debbie Harrison in 2003, and archives of The Redmond Spokesman.

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