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Illustrating Four Treatments in Oregon National Park Service National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, with link to ParkNet.
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Baker Historic District
This is an image of Baker City, Oregon, with mountainous terrain in the background. Photo: Courtesy, Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.

Working on the Past in Local Historic Districts
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Community History


Baker City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although it was located on the main route of the Oregon Trail, Baker City only grew up and flourished as a regional center when serious mining operations began in the nearby Blue and Wallowa Mountains in the 1860s.

This is a postcard image of a bird's eye view of Baker, Oregon in 1920. Photo: Courtesy, W. David Samuelson.

Founded in 1866 and incorporated in 1874, the town is also the county seat of Baker County, which was formed by Legislative Assembly in 1862. Because Baker City is on a railroad route—and located about halfway between Portland and Salt Lake City—it served as a popular overnight stopping point for early rail travelers. With such towns as Auburn, Sumpter, and Sparta close by, Baker City soon became the focal point of activity.

Unlike many other mining towns which boomed only briefly, Baker City enjoyed a sustained period of prosperity. Dubbed “Queen City of the Mines,” it was once considered to be the premier social center along the Oregon Trail (see color post card, 1920). The city’s prosperity was based not only on the steady influx of mine-related wealth, but also on ranching and timber interests. Toward the end of the Great Depression, however, the local economy flagged and Baker City went into a decline which only “bottomed out” in the mid-1980s.

This is an image of downtown Baker City as it appears now. Photo: Oregon State Historic Preservation Office. This is an image showing a building constructed of volcanic tuff. Photo: Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.  
This is an image of downtown Baker City as it appears now. The largest building is the Baker Hotel. Photo: Oregon State Historic Preservation Office.  

Baker Historic District now.
Today, Baker City is reviving and enjoying a new prosperity based largely on its historic character and picturesque natural setting. A special element providing strong continuity within the district was the historical use of a locally quarried stone known as "volcanic tuff." (see photo: LEFT) It was saw-quarried in a soft state and hardened upon exposure to the air. The stone was first used in foundations and ornament, but later, in the 1900s, many public and commercial buildings were constructed substantially of volcanic tuff. It was generally used as rusticated rock-faced ashlar in regular courses.

The historic district, which encompasses the commercial and civic centers of the town, was nominated to the National Register in 1978, and contains one of the best collections of stone buildings in Oregon. Styles of buildings range from Commercial Italianate to Moderne.

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