Oregon has always been a dreamy destination for eager travelers within the United States. It features no shortage of colorful cities, dense forests, and rocky coastlines, giving it a rugged if not vibrant personality. However, both its cities and towns have been encountering their fair share of troubles recently.
Unfortunately, that has ultimately called for many to pack up and head elsewhere. Whether an uncertain economy or emergent environmental issues are to blame, even the smallest places are steadily declining. Let’s take a closer look at the Beaver State’s possibly lesser-known towns and what’s been behind their gradual drop in residents.
10. St. Paul
St. Paul, named after a dedicated log church that once marked the area, is a town of several firsts. Not only is it home to the oldest brick structure in the entire Pacific Northwest, but it’s also home to the only burial site of a Revolutionary War veteran in Oregon. Today, although the town enjoys a generally stable economy, it suffers from the statewide issues of high tax and crime rates.
One local treasure that’s not going anywhere soon, though, is the St. Paul Rodeo. Although citizens may be leaving the town steadily, this event has still been running annually since its creation back in 1935. Perhaps tourism may yet revitalize this robust Oregon town!
9. Dunes City
Dunes City was a town born out of the desire for local landowners to keep what was theirs. You see, during the late 1950s, an initiative was being conducted to reclaim land along the Oregon coast. The government planned to take plots of land for renewal into its official seashore.
The tales of the struggles that these citizens withstood are actually tracked in a commemorative book. Interested visitors can find that in the Siuslaw Pioneer Museum in the nearby city of Florence. Despite having an unorthodox history, though, the town struggles today with a declining populace. Leading reasons likely include its aging population and higher unemployment rate than the national average.
Once no more than a stop for the West Side Railroad, Gaston has a vibrant history of becoming a thriving town almost overnight. It was rapidly developed into a bustling transit town that served a ranching community surrounding Wapato Lake.
Contemporarily, the town once received an economic boost from being in the orbit of Portland, although that has slowed down in recent years. On the bright side, the once-endangered Wapato Lake has been the focus of wetlands conservation efforts, with aims to restore it from historical draining attempts.
7. Pilot Rock
The agricultural town of Pilot Rock was once along the path wagons took while on the Oregon Trail. Behind the name lies a very unique landmark made of basalt, which was used as a visual guide for early pioneers.
Historically, this area was home to several Indigenous peoples, including the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla tribes. Today, it has an economy largely dependent on its wheat, corn, and hay exports, along with lumber production. Its other business sectors, however, have been in decline for the past few years, which in turn has seen its residents seek other places for a successful future.
The cozy town of Scio is thought to have gotten its name from one of its original inhabitants, who was from Scio, Ohio. Interestingly, this town has been noted for its collection of covered bridges, something usually seen on the eastern side of the country.
Despite being the self-proclaimed capital of bridges, though, the town has been having trouble retaining residents. A strong driver for a shaky economy in Scio appears to be a steady drop in its employed workforce. Care is being taken by its citizens, though, to keep community shops up to date and nearby parks refreshed.
Halsey is a small town within Linn County known for its eclectic collection of structures, including a local grain elevator. However, even that towering icon had to be partially deconstructed for public safety reasons.
Although it has been feeling a recent increase in its primary industry sector of the transportation business, Halsey is still struggling with reinvigorating its economy. Limited local career options paired with a generally younger population have caused a continual trend of families leaving the town.
Classically a railhead town, Condon was once a homesteader’s personal land. After only having it for a year, the original owner chose to give up the plot to a legal company. That firm, Condon and Corning, decided to sell realty within the area, which eventually became a full township in 1893.
As the site of a beautiful historic downtown district and a nearby Air Force station, the town has held an important status as the seat of Gilliam County. Condon today has been viewed as a happening place for local artists and historical buffs alike. However, cuts in its top industries and an aging population seem to be driving residents away from this otherwise unique Oregon town.
3. Maywood Park
The intriguing town of Maywood Park was once a planned subdivision of Portland, rather than a township. The area was originally purchased for development in 1926 but was delayed in its completion until 1943 due to the Great Depression.
With hundreds of homes, Maywood Park had enough land and citizens to be considered a town in and of itself. That said, those living there at the time voted to incorporate the zone into a fully-fledged city, in protest of nearby construction.
The idea was that if Maywood Park had authority, it could prevent the I-205 Highway from cutting through it. However, although it gained township, the road was still built and changed the layout of the area significantly. Nowadays, its robust residents are likely leaving due to the harsher economic concerns its bigger sister, Portland, is running into.
Originally founded in 1889 as a temporary worksite for the Detroit Dam, Detroit has always been nestled within Oregon’s natural beauty. The result of the namesake dam, Detroit Lake, has long been enjoyed as a source of fresh water and recreation. However, the town’s slightly remote location has made it rely on tourism, which may be part of its problems today.
For context, a historical drought occurred in 2001, which nearly saw the entire nearby lake recede. Then, the Santiam Fire in 2020 almost destroyed Detroit itself. If that wasn’t enough, the wintry storms in early February 2021 buried the town in peak snow levels. It would seem that harsh conditions have led many of Detroit’s citizens to consider a future elsewhere. Due to this, the town has had roughly 11% of its population leave within the last three years.
Found on the border between Linn and Marion counties, Gates is a spectacle for nature enthusiasts. Established in 1882, this town sits near the beautiful Santiam River and the breathtaking Cascade Mountains. However, the post-pandemic economy paired with the Santiam fire of 2020 left a permanent mark on Gates’ prosperity. Not only were thousands of nearby forest acreage damaged, but the township was also subject to property damage.
Although the strategically placed town served as the absolute center for firefighting efforts, Gates has been seeing a sharp decline in residents ever since. As a result, a shocking 28% of the town’s population has up and left. Low amounts of job opportunities and the slow rebound from the natural disaster are both likely culprits. On the bright side, Oregon’s nature authorities have been hard at work and have successfully reopened local parks in the area.
Oregon Towns with Dropping Populations Summary Table
The photo featured at the top of this post is © klenger/iStock via Getty Images
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