Boomtown Notes

Booms are terrible--let's have one!

    "In 1869 there was quite an influx of people to the town . . . besides many more who were simply some of the flotsam and jetsam of the floating population who come and go with the tide of prosperity or adversity, and whose presence or absence never create much of an impression upon the society in a community."
Reminiscences of Orson A. Stearns, undated typescript circa 1920, Southern Oregon University

    Medford Transcript: A walk about Medford and some inquiry shows that there is a steady growth, some considerable investment of money, and quite a number of newcomers looking for locations. It is a steady, wholesome growth, and on this account of great good to the city. We can much better afford to grow in this way than under the spasmodic pressure of a boom.
"News of the Northwest," Oregonian, Portland, September 8, 1887, page 6

    One of the most gratifying features of the present rapid growth of this city and the immediate vicinity is the fact that our property holders have not attempted to take any undue advantage of the new situation by advancing the prices of land, in that way killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Anxious to see the city expand and her population grow, they have settled upon a reasonable price for property and sold at that price, whenever a buyer sought it. That is the true policy, the continual and very rapid growth of Medford, and especially the fact that the newcomers are men of means, character and business probity, very strongly emphasizing this proposition.
"General Information for the Homeseeker," Southern Oregon Transcript, September 7, 1888, page 4

    Oregon has never been boomed and her people will encourage no effort of that nature, because the results of booms are disastrous. Steady honest growth is what we desire.
Scott Morris, "Our Oregon Letter," The Plain Dealer, North Vernon, Indiana, November 6, 1889, page 2

    Town booming is a little quiet this summer throughout the whole Pacific Slope. This may be owing in small part to the sobering effects of that cold-blooded, statistical institution known as the eleventh U.S. census, but the principal cause of the depression of this flourishing industry is the slackening of the flood tide of capital that has been flowing into the country (with and without the capitalists) during the past two or three years. Fewer people with money are coming from the other side of the continent this year than last, and less money is sent out by those who do not come. And then home investors in "addition" lots on the installment plan are not jumping as lively as they were six months ago. This is the situation in nearly every town of the Pacific Northwest, and yet there is no halt in the increase of solid business and in the development of the actual resources of the country.
    The people of Oregon do not know from experience in their own state what it means to run a town boom on the high-pressure plan. Examples have been furnished in California and in Washington. Up on the Sound a big fir "timber burn" and its mud flat extension may be turned into a "city" of several thousand inhabitants, and then be almost deserted within twelve months. A waterfront and a railroad project are all that is required to sell a denuded timber claim in lots 25x75 feet at Chicago prices, though, as remarked already, business in this line is not quite so brisk as it was a few months ago. The astonishing growth of Seattle and Tacoma and the fortunes it has made for many people have infected everyone with the speculative fever, and all about the Sound are found towns and townsites (both on land and on paper) which are expected each to equal or eclipse Seattle or Tacoma within a year or two. Almost every purchaser of a 30-foot lot in any one of these towns indulges his fancy in dreams of the time (only a few months ahead at farthest) when the lot will make him an independent competency, as some lot has done for somebody in Seattle or Tacoma. Most of the people who become residents of these places do so because of the opportunities they will have to make money by the rapid rise in value of real estate expected in all of them.
    There is unquestionably a country of large and varied resources about Puget Sound. It is rapidly developing, and will sustain a large population. It has several large towns and numerous small ones which are doing a solid substantial business that will increase steadily in the future. But the astonishing feature of the case is that every one of a dozen towns on Puget Sound expects to be the New York or London of the Pacific coast, and is laying itself out accordingly. Chicago and New York prices for suburban property are not high enough for such towns as Tacoma, Seattle, Fairhaven and Port Townsend, and a purchaser is asked $1000 to $5000 for a lot 40x100 a mile or two out from the inhabited part of the city. A town of 10,000 to 30,000 inhabitants is made by these prices to show as much property valuation in platted area (aside from buildings) as a town of 200,000 in the older states. This may be all right if the valuation can be held where it is till the population catches up in due proportion--but there's the rub. Can they hold the thing? It has slipped pretty badly in some places already.
    Capital has poured into Seattle and Tacoma from Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago--from San Francisco and from Portland, Oregon. Handsome cities have been built at a heavy expense for street work and for labor and building materials. The influx of capital from non-residents and the large immigration of people with some means has kept the street and other public improvements progressing at a lively rate, and the building of houses as well as streets, clearing lots, construction of streetcar lines, putting in water, gas and electric light works, etc., has given remunerative employment to a very large number of laborers, mechanics and other people. The street grading work alone is a matter of greater magnitude and requirements in the way of labor than people abroad have any idea of--unless they happen to own hill lots on the graded streets. The cost of grading is assessed against the property adjacent to the street improved, and thus the owners of the "gilt-edged" lots have kept the work going without swamping the city treasury under general taxes for the purpose.
    Much of the labor employed as above enumerated will have to seek other avenues, for the public improvements cannot keep on steadily at the rate of the past few years. Much that is already done is sufficient for the needs of the cities for years to come, let them double or quadruple in size. In consequence of the burning of Seattle last July, the vast amount of work done in the rebuilding of the city has stimulated business and growth wonderfully, and made a great demand for skilled and unskilled labor. Both Seattle and Tacoma have a critical period before them. There is large and somewhat vague talk of wonderful development of iron, and other mineral industries, on the Sound, and every town expects to be the headquarters and reap the chief benefit of the new industries. The cold probabilities, however, as viewed by an outsider, are that these industries will not for years to come reach the point of furnishing steady employment for large numbers of men. Having pushed their growth beyond the needs of the business of the country as now developed, the boom towns and their capitalists must now turn their attention to the problem of pulling up the productive capacity of the country to the demands of the population of the towns. While they are wrestling with this problem there is inevitably a period of depression in business and a fall, more or less heavy, in the appraisement of town property. The Sound country and its towns have a magnificent future, but they mustn't expect to have the wind always fair upon the sea of real estate speculation. There is rough weather ahead--how long before it is reached depends upon what success the boomers have in keeping up the influx of outside capital for investment and improvement of the towns and the country.

Ashland Tidings, August 8, 1890, page 2

    The people of Gold Hill appear to be divided in the kind of boom they want at Gold Hill. Some seem to want a paper boom and publish items without any foundation or transactions before they are consummated. Such booms usually do not last long, as people attracted by such items on finding them erroneous will doubt whether there is any truth in anything that is published afterward. The majority of the citizens want a substantial boom and object to items being published that are calculated to mislead people that are contemplating the purchase of real estate as soon as they are assured that there is a fair prospect for a profitable business there.

"Gold Hill Items," Medford Mail, February 4, 1892, page 2

    Spikenard post office is now a postal note office. That means it does $2 worth or more of business per annum. It has done over $50 worth of business during September. The gross receipts for the current quarter will be about $70. In the face of this fact there are some dudes who undertake to tell us that we are in the back woods, have no country etc. It is a libel on one of the finest little valleys in Oregon. What we need here, and we are only one of many communities, is a few more live men who will work for their particular locality without libeling every other one in the county. California and Washington forge ahead of us because their people are loyal to the state and the interests of the state. When Oregonians peel off their coats and go to work for Oregon we will have a boom. Talk up your town or neighborhood, work for it, invite settlers, and do not rob them when they come; build decent schoolhouses, improve your roads, speak well of your neighbors, or say nothing; go to church on the Sabbath, rather than go hunting; set and care for an orchard, drink less rotgut whisky, keep fewer cattle of a better grade and feed and care well for these, and see if your country does not boom. Stop cursing Oregon and hire someone to kick you until you get a move on yourself, and you will notice a vast improvement in your neighborhood, right at home too, before three months. Your fences are all down, your house and barn with their surroundings look like thunder, your cows are all scrubs, your chickens are half starved and worse than half bred; you don't have butter on your table three months in the year, and that often unfit to eat; your pipe is a holy terror to decent people, yet you curse Oregon. Curse yourself for a week, and thus be in sympathy with the respectable people around you, then reform and go to work. Southern Oregon is the best country God ever made. If we will do something and keep at it, we can put it in the foremost rank.
"Spikenard Sparks," Southern Oregon Mail, September 30, 1892, page 2

    The Rogue River Valley R.R. surveyors are out on the line again this week modifying their former survey at various points. We entertain the hopes of Central Point becoming a junction within six months should we get the contemplated road and Medford the county seat. Is there any possible reason why the Rogue River Valley should not enjoy their first boom this coming season? What country is more worthy of a genuine boom than the entire Rogue River Valley of Southern Oregon?
"Central Point Items,"
South Oregon Monitor, Medford, February 12, 1895, page 3

    It is almost impossible to find any line of produce which does not show an increase in shipment this year, and this feature, we are glad to say, does not seem to be confined to Medford alone, although this city appears to show a higher percent of increase than other shipping points. We are growing, there is no doubt of it. It is not a spasmodic growth, due to booming, but a healthy, steady upward tendency, which shows solid, prosperous business conditions.
"City Happenings," Medford Mail, November 29, 1901, page 7

    Many contracts are already being closed for realty to be set to fruit next season, by discriminating purchasers, who realize that the phenomenal profits of the fruitmen the present season can but result in enhanced valuation for realty in the near future. It would seem a reasonable expectation, for numbers of the growers realized returns to the extent of $500 per acre from apples the present year. It really seems absurd to rate the most desirable of orchard land at $80 to $100 per acre under such circumstances. Nobody desires anything resembling a boom in land here, but the eager inquiry on the part of outside purchasers who know how to figure appears to indicate a great reduction in the grain-raising acreage another year in Southern Oregon.
"More Good Fruit Stories," Medford Mail, January 31, 1902, page 1

A Boom Town's Fate.
    Miners are a queer crowd of nomadic creatures, and their migrations are as sudden and as little premeditated as are the movings of the Arabs of the desert. Last year they were all rushing to the Baker City district, being lured there by the glowing finds, announced from day to day, by the Baker City papers, acting under the inspiration of promoter Letson Balliet, who is now on his way to the penitentiary for overdoing the "promoting" business. And now these same miners are all rushing to Grants Pass in response to fabulous finds that are reported in column's length in issues of the Oregonian and the Telegram and in the Grants Pass papers, said to be prepared by a Kansas boomer, who is doing the "promoting" act in that section this year. As a result of the work of the Portland and Grants Pass papers, the latter town is said to be in the midst of a big mining boom, and such is the rush, both coming and going, that it is said that the town's population changes once in each six weeks.
    Baker City is having a dull season this year owing to the "unavoidable" absence of their promoter, and Grant Pass will share the fate that comes to all boom mining towns, and about next year the most conspicuous thing that a stranger is quite certain to observe in that place will be the number of "For Rent" signs that will be displayed along its streets.
    There is considerable mining wealth in Josephine County, and the mines adjacent to Grants Pass will for years to come give to that place a healthy growth. But such booms as the town is said to be having this year--for such is the rush that men walk the streets many a night, being unable to secure a bed--do a town more harm than good. The less that a town has to do with boomers and booms the more certain and solid will be its growth.
Medford Mail, July 4, 1902, page 5

    It is just about this time that the citizens of this town should be looking out for a means to enhance the growth of the city, outside of the steady, natural growth, which has been our fortune for the past several years.
    Medford has prided herself on her conservatism. We have had no boom, consequently no reaction, but, although there is truth in the axiom that "All things come to him who waits," there is such a thing as waiting too long. Besides, the other axiom that "Opportunity should be seized as it flies" applies with equal force.
    Medford's opportunity is here. The period of waiting has about expired. All things have come that will come by waiting.
    There are several large enterprises just commencing in Jackson County which need but little encouragement to make Medford their headquarters. Our situation in the center of the valley gives us a natural advantage over other points, but we must not presume on our natural advantages. Great enterprises have a fashion of creating advantages when the natural ones are not available.
    Sometime within a short time Medford people will be given the opportunity of securing for the town the establishment of two large enterprises. It is not violating any confidence to say that one is a lumbering enterprise, which will eventually bring the market through Medford, mind you, the wealth of timber in our surrounding foothills. The other, although in status quo as yet, will bring wealth and population to Southern Oregon.
    There is another point which seems to have been lost sight of for some time, and that is the Blue Lodge copper proposition on Elliott Creek. Apparently operations have ceased, but the fact still remains that the copper is there in quantity and value greater than anywhere else on the Pacific Coast. Secure the honest opinion of any first-class miner who has investigated that proposition and he will tell you that "the copper is there." Only it will require an immense amount of capital to market the finished product, but it will be on the market within a very few years. It requires the building of a railroad from the Southern Pacific line to the mines, the erection of great reduction works and the expenditure of at least $2,000,000 of money before the mines can be opened up.
    The natural terminus of the road is Medford, but, as we said before, advantages may be created elsewhere. It behooves us people of Medford to keep our eyes open, lest we lose the advantages nature has given us. Should a large enterprise seek a location among us, help it along. Don't be jealous of the prosperity of the people conducting the enterprise. Don't knock. Help them along, and in a short time you will find that the prosperity of the corporation enhances the prosperity of the city, that the wealthier it grows, the more wealth comes to the citizens of the town.
    All things have come to Medford that it can gain by waiting; now its people must watch for that "time in tide of man's affairs that leads on to fortune." The time is coming close.
Medford Mail, October 16, 1903, page 1

    A Business Man:--"Medford business men are enjoying the most prosperous year I believe in the history of the city. They all seem to be doing a big business and it is constantly increasing. As a business center Medford is outdoing the other towns and cities of the valley and now is at the top of the heap in that line. This isn't the result of a boom, or a spasmodic increase in trade, but it is the result of the steady, continuous growth which has been ever characteristic of our city. Nor is there any immediate likelihood of a cessation of this growth; rather it will increase in rapidity. I foresee a brilliant future for Medford."
"Street Echoes," Medford Mail, November 3, 1905, page 1

    Then, too, your city offers a wide and promising field to the investor. None of that mushroom propensity, spelled boom to create fictitious valuations, nothing but a sturdy growth which promises more than one hundred cents on the invested dollar. . . . Meanwhile get your promotion committee busy, keep them there, find a slogan and advertise! Advertise!! Advertise!!!
J. B. Thompson, "The Old Town All Right," Medford Mail, May 4, 1906, page 1

Real estate ad, February 7, 1909 Sunday Oregonian
February 7, 1909 Sunday Oregonian
    The same story comes from all branches of business. The people are buying more and better clothes, more and better furniture, and their bank deposits are growing all the time. It isn't an ephemeral prosperity born of a boom, but a steady, healthy, legitimate growth, brought about by the development of the natural resources of the surrounding country. The people are not only buying more, but they are selling more. There is a ready market for everything produced on the farm, the stock ranch or in the orchard, and the prices are of the best.
    Truly Medford and Rogue River Valley are prosperous, and will continue to be so.
"Medford's Prosperity," Medford Mail, July 5, 1907, page 5

Back in Kansas.
    M. S. Welch, who is spending the winter at his old home in Kansas, thus writes to his friend H. J. Gardner, of this place:
    "I thought a few lines from here might interest you. The crops here last year were absolutely nothing. Men are idle by the thousands. The Santa Fe railroad discharged 700 men here in Pittsburg in one day recently. There is nothing doing at all. I have to laugh at the apples they use here; they are about the size of hulled walnuts. A carload of Rogue River Valley apples were shipped to Wichita last week, and they are selling at $1.25 a dozen; how is that for a price? Away up, isn't it? I have been sick nearly all winter but am feeling all right now. All a man needs is to come back here and stay awhile and he is ready to go back to Oregon and always be satisfied. Regards to all old friends.            M. S. Welch.
Central Point Herald, February 13, 1908, page 1

    True, Medford has had a phenomenal growth, but it has not been a boom or a "mushroom" growth, but a permanent, substantial and necessarily rapid growth in order to keep pace with the surrounding development of our wonderful wealth of resources.
"Medford the Beautiful," Medford Mail, November 13, 1908, page 2

Systematic Plan of Community Advertising Is Generally Adopted
to Attract Homeseekers to Oregon

By William McMurray, General Passenger Agent, Harriman Lines in the Northwest.
    The situation in the Pacific Northwest, and especially in Oregon, as it pertains to the development of the country, is of peculiar significance. In its various aspects it is of fascinating interest. This is largely due to the character of the country--its almost illimitable resources, which today are only beginning to be fully understood even by those who have given the matter careful attention. It is also due in part to the awakening that has taken place in every section of Oregon, and which is destined, it seems, to mark a new era in the history of the state.
    It is an astounding fact, to be accounted for as the reader may desire, that since the establishment of the first American government on the Pacific Coast, in 1852, there has been a lack of real appreciation of the advantages of this section and a consequent failure to let the world know the conditions of climate and other advantages which the Pacific Coast possesses. California may, perhaps, present a notable exception in this matter, as there has been a tendency in that state for many years to bring about the rapid development which the resources of the state would warrant.
    This criticism is also less true of Washington than of Oregon, which has been accused of being satisfied with conditions as they are, and having been unwilling to do anything to change them. If the intensity of the struggle for existence determines the character of the people or their desire to make progress, this may in some measure account for the situation which has confronted Oregon for the last 40 years. It is a fact that conditions of soil and climate render it possible to make a living in Oregon or on the Pacific Coast with comparatively little effort. There is none of the rigors of winter to contend with which characterize the sections from which Oregon originally received the largest percentage of its population. This past conservatism or inertia, or what you will, on the part of Oregonians has been one fruitful cause of the slow settlement.
    The real local awakening to the possibilities of this section and our own duty in connection therewith can undoubtedly be traced back to the Lewis and Clark Exposition, held in Portland in 1905. As an advertising proposition it is perhaps not too much to say that the money spent on this exposition accomplished more than any other equal expenditure of money of which there is possibly any record. We do not refer of course here to the immediate effects of the Exposition, although they were exceedingly gratifying. The great work which has been accomplished by the Lewis and Clark Fair was in bringing our own people to a realization of what could be accomplished by telling the world what our possibilities are. Three years and a half have passed since the Exposition closed its doors, and today we are just beginning to realize the significance and extraordinary success of the undertaking.
    In the settlement and development of a country, there is no organization which has a more vital interest than the railroad. If a new settler comes into a neighborhood located on the line of the railroad company, the railroad is the first beneficiary, and the longer he stays, the more he develops his business affairs, the more he will travel and the greater will become his shipments. It is therefore, not only of immediate interest to the railroad to aid in the development of the country, but rightly considered, it is perhaps the most vital thing which the railroad has to do; for not only are dividends largely dependent upon this one thing, but through it the railroad may assume a most desirable role which, it is perhaps not too much to say, has been somewhat neglected in the past.
    The peculiar conditions which had confronted Oregon culminated about two years ago, and a great change came over the state. It is only proper to give the credit to Medford, Or., as having been one of the first cities in this state to realize the psychological value of the situation. At that time a plan was presented to Medford whereby it could issue literature practically under the auspices of the Southern Pacific Company. The plan was adopted, and out of this has grown a very extensive community proposition, which has practically [omission] the state, although its natural resources revolutionized the publication of community literature. In fact, so successful has the movement become that Oregon has easily taken first place among all the states in the Union in the publication of high-grade literature as well as in the volume of the output. Other states are following the example of Oregon, and other railroads the example of the Southern Pacific and Oregon Railroad & Navigation Companies.
Southern Pacific Cooperative Publicity bug, 1914    The plan as now carried on contemplates a very thorough publicity campaign for each community, and involves about 20 important features. The entire burden is lifted from the shoulders of the community and placed upon the railroad, each feature of the proposition, however, being subject to the approval of the commercial organization of each community before the same is executed. The "key note" of the plan is cooperation in the upbuilding of the West, and under it arrangements have already been made for the publication of more than l,400,000 copies of high-grade literature on Oregon. These figures do not include any literature issued by the community direct to reinforce the cooperative plan of the Southern Pacific and the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Companies, as originated and executed by the Sunset Magazine Homeseekers' Bureau. If we include all forms of literature which will be issued as a result of the plan, the pages of the Sunset Magazine which will be devoted during two years to Oregon and the Pacific Northwest, and other forms of advertising which is called for through the community plan, the aggregate amount of literature which will be published on Oregon alone reaches such an enormous number that it is impossible to comprehend it.
    Now that the work of advertising Oregon and placing her resources properly before the world has been so auspiciously begun, it is pertinent to remind those vitally interested in the success of this movement that nothing permanent can be accomplished by a spasmodic effort. The publicity work should be carried on indefinitely and with greater and greater energy not only because it has resulted in bringing homeseekers to this section, but equally because of its important effect upon the community which undertakes the campaign. Indeed we may go so far as to say that had the extensive campaign undertaken by the Pacific Northwest been a complete failure, so far as bringing homeseekers to the Pacific Northwest is concerned, it would still be justifiable on account of its desirable effect upon the communities themselves, and in demonstrating to the great interests of the state the value of cooperation in the upbuilding of the commonwealth.

Morning Oregonian, Portland, January 1, 1909, page 11

    Knockers have scoffed at Medford, saying, "Where is your payroll?" Well, let them knock again, for Medford will soon have the biggest payroll in Southern Oregon [with the completion of the Pacific & Eastern Railroad].
"Road Turned Over to Allen," Medford Mail, August 27, 1909, page 1

No Likelihood That the Work Will Be Overdone.

Polk County Observer.

    Often you, hear it said of some rapidly growing city or town that it is being "over-boomed." Such expressions of opinion usually come from individuals who are not noted for their booming and boosting qualities, and who are not much inclined to encourage such efforts in others. For the last 20 years, we have heard it said that Los Angeles was being over-boomed, and yet Los Angeles has grown from a town of 10,000 to a great city of 400,000 inhabitants, and is still growing.
    We have heard it said that Medford is being over-boomed, and yet Medford has increased its population from 3000 to 7000 in the last two years, and its bank reports show a gain of $500,000 in the last 12 months.
    It has been said that Eugene is an over-boomed town. Possibly it is true, but when one stops to consider that Eugene has doubled its population in three years and has more modern business buildings and more miles of paved streets than any other town in Oregon outside of Portland, one is obliged to admit that the booming process has had its effect.
    The truth is, no town or community in Oregon has been over-boomed. A trip outside the borders of the state will soon convince anyone of that fact. Oregon has only just begun to grow. Its industries are in the infancy of their development; its towns and cities are just beginning to throw aside the swaddling clothes. The real growth and development are yet to come, and the cities and communities that first awake to a realization of this fact and govern their affairs accordingly are the ones that will reap the quickest and best rewards for their foresight and enterprise. Let's not talk of over-booming, but all get in and boom a little harder. We haven't yet become such experts in the booming business that we are likely to overdo it--not for a while, at least.
Morning Oregonian, Portland, November 25, 1909, page 8

    Once upon a time Medford had a boom. Like most booms the Medford boom busted. Also like most booms the Medford boom was followed by several years of acute depression, rendered all the more painful by the contrast between abnormal activity and subnormal activity.
    That Medford boom has never been forgotten. Its aftereffects have never been forgotten. But what has been forgotten, what very few local residents have apparently realized, is that several years ago Medford recovered from this boom collapse, regained its normal health, and since then has been going steadily forward, until today Medford is in every way in better condition than it has ever been before.
"Medford Has Found Itself," Medford Mail Tribune, November 30, 1923

Last revised July 31, 2020