John Day Fossil Beds
Administrative History
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Chapter Four:

Acquisition and rehabilitation of the Cant Ranch

Borgman's efforts to obtain buildings and a portion of the Cant Ranch came to fruition in January 1976 after more than two years of negotiations. This 878 acre acquisition served to greatly consolidate NPS holdings in the Sheep Rock Unit, but came with a stipulation that the Cant heirs had seven years continued use of all property except the ranch house. As a centerpiece in the park, this ranch house immediately became a focal point for visitor contact and administration. It also served as the venue for a dedication ceremony in August 1978 that consummated many months of rehabilitation work on the building.

Ben Ladd, Al Ullman, and Ernest Borgman
Ben Ladd, Al Ullman, and Ernest Borgman at the Cant Ranch, August 1977.
(NPS photo by Daron Dierks)

Although Congressman Al Ullman did not include provisions concerning sale of the Cant Ranch into the monument's authorization, the NPS strove to make good on what Borgman promised in 1973. Since the legislation confined negotiations to 878 acres within the monument's authorized boundaries, this precluded NPS consideration of the entire 5,925 acre ranch that James Cant, Jr. previously indicated a desire to sell. [31] Much of the property inside Sheep Rock Unit boundaries consisted of bottomland (which made the remaining acreage viable for ranching), so one of the terms of sale stipulated that Cant could have continued use of his property--except the ranch house and associated outbuildings--for seven years. Cant also retained a 40 acre homesite that abutted the state highway one half mile south of the ranch house, thereby reducing what the NPS acquired in January 1976 to just over 849 acres. [32] Implementation of Borgman's commitment to use oral history in developing the interpretive theme of ranching in north central Oregon began with taping interviews with local residents in the summer of 1976. [33] To reinforce this theme, Ladd agreed to furnish two rooms in the ranch house with some of the Cant family's furniture. [34]

Extent of the Cant Ranch in 1975
Extent of the Cant Ranch in 1975. Shaded parcels are part of the 5,925 acres owned outright by the Cants, though tracts marked "BLM" are areas under lease. Dotted lines indicate the authorized boundary of the Sheep Rock Unit which surrounded the 878 acres that the NPS bought in 1976. The "r" indicates the approximate location of the main house, while "C" denotes the homesite retained by John Cant, Jr.

A survey of the ranch house and associated outbuildings during January and February of 1976 constituted the first step in rehabilitating the property as a visitor contact station. [35] Denver Service Center personnel then generated a report for the List of Classified Structures (LCS), an evaluated inventory of all structures that possess archeological, historical, and/or architectural significance in which the NPS has or plans to acquire legal interest. [36] In this instance, the LCS report served as a starting point for programming the cost of contracts associated with rehabilitation. Beginning in early 1977, contractors eventually insulated the ranch house, reroofed the barn, provided a sewer line, paved the parking lot, and installed a new water system. [37] In addition, the report found that five outbuildings did not contribute to the historic integrity of the ranch and could thus be removed. [38]

Sketch map of buildings at the Cant Ranch, February 1976
Sketch map of buildings at the Cant Ranch, February 1976.
The five structures recommended for removal are shown by shading, and, except for the privy, were demolished later that year.

Most initial work on the ranch house grounds consisted of a general cleanup while the monument staff awaited approval of rehabilitation plans. [39] While the initial work took place, the ranch house and grounds remained open only as a restroom stop for the public. [40] This situation lasted for some 15 months, as Ladd aimed to open the ranch house and grounds for public use by May 1977. [41]

While contractors began installing water and sewer systems in early 1977, NPS crews also worked to make the facility ready for its May opening. They rewired and reroofed the ranch house, in addition to making substantial changes to its interior that extended over the summer. [42] By August the lawn had a sprinkler system, new sidewalks, and a fence separating it from the pasture. [43] Although the rehabilitation project extended into 1978, most of the later work centered on outbuildings such as the ranch workshop that the NPS converted into a small maintenance facility. [44]

The ranch house had operated as a visitor contact station for more than a year by the time it hosted the monument's dedication on August 23, 1978. An estimated 950 people attended the afternoon's festivities which featured remarks from NPS officials and some of the principals instrumental in the campaign for establishing a national monument. [45] Speakers included NPS Director William Whalen, Ernest Borgman, Ben Ladd, David Talbot, Jack Steiwer, circuit court judge J.J. Murchison, rancher William Cant Mascall, and Congressman Al Ullman, who gave the keynote address. [46] Not only did the dedication serve as a way to formally open the monument for future public use, but it also provided an opportunity for the NPS to release its draft general management plan for public comment. [47] This event thereby served to honor the efforts which resulted in the monument's establishment, but also appeared to be a significant juncture in park planning.

West facade of the main ranch house
West facade of the main ranch house as seen from State Highway 19 in January 1976.
The second floor sun porch was removed as part of the subsequent adaptive rehabilitation.
(NPS photo by A. Donald)

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Last Updated: 30-Apr-2002