Sherman County, OR
KENT SITS RIGHT ALONG the narrow, two-lane asphalt ribbon known as US Highway 97, yet most travelers heading south on the road are not thinking about this wonderful little ghost’s charms, but about their ultimate destination of SHANIKO. Yet Kent has all the charm, and none of the commercialization of its larger, more publicized neighbor. This little class D community is well worth a stop because it is what a ghost town is supposed to be. Just be sure to get off the highway and see the interesting old false-fronted buildings lining the back streets of town east of the highway. It lies about 42 miles south of Biggs and 13 south of Grass Valley and is not a big presence online or in print. Before visiting in July 2009, I had done a little research and found very little useful information online, OR in all my Oregon resources. I felt this place would be a prime stop, and I was NOT disappointed. I also had the advantage of visiting a new (to me) ghost town unbiased, unhindered and unbrainwashed by other visitors’ impressions and expectations.
The town is only home to about 20 or so people, and the post office was the only business I saw operating. Unfortunately it is housed in a newer, non-descript structure. I didn’t stop in and talk to the postmaster, but now realize I should have. The history of this town is tied to the railroad and agriculture, and dates back possibly as far as January 1887, when the post office is SAID to have been established. I have NOT proven that point yea or nay, yet. The name of the town is said to have been drawn from a hat and Milton H. Bennett was the first postmaster. In conjunction with the boom in nearby Shaniko, the Columbia Southern Railroad built its Biggs-Shaniko Railroad line through the area around 1900. Here the dates differ, but I feel with the early development at Cross Hollows/Shaniko it is very possible the community could have developed prior to the railroad as it is rich agricultural land. But the best possibility is that Kent developed around the railroad, especially since the old steam engines of that day needed stops every 6-10 miles, which would have been perfect. In any case, the railroad opened and Kent boomed. In the mid 1920s, US Highway 97 was built along the western edge of the town bringing traffic and road-related businesses. All was well until the 1930s. The Union Pacific Railroad bought out the Columbia Southern and as rail traffic decreased, closed the Kent to Shaniko portion of the road, leaving Kent the southern terminus. Somewhere after 1943, the rails were pulled all the way to Grass Valley. Kent lost its rail connection, withered and has nearly died.
As mentioned above, Kent is well worth a stop. It has a colorful collection of old buildings, and is very photogenic. Some of the buildings include: houses, a small rock-domed structure that once housed the town’s electrical generator, a dead gas station/café, a crumbling garage, a former automobile repair shop, another roofless garage with several abandoned cars and a closed restaurant. From the restaurant, follow the side road east into the heart of old Kent. The former railroad grade is still highly visible and marked by a pair of massive grain elevators. Lining the road are dead, forgotten businesses. Most of the desiccated buildings are falling victim to the elements. Some of the buildings here include: what appears to be an old lodge hall sitting across the street from the post office, the old school building, an active Baptist Church and the aforementioned grain elevators. The concrete one is owned and operated by Mid-Columbia Grain Growers, and the wooden one is no longer in use. A couple of the old buildings have been used as art studios or galleries, but even that use seems to have been forgotten. Faded signs for George’s Studio and Narnia decorate the dead buildings. A few homes round out the community. Some are vacant, some occupied. The long abandoned railroad grade zips past the elevators to a “Y” turnaround and arrows south towards Shaniko.
Time has not been kind to the economics of Kent, as the garages are abandoned, the gas station/store long closed and the restaurant probably shut down, although from the outside it still looks useable. The old lodge building also appears usable. The few remaining residents keep a sharp eye on the town, helping it to avoid the fate of vandalism suffered by so many other fading and ghosted towns. Today, only ghosts flit about the empty stores, sit on the porch of the gas station waiting for non-existent customers and enjoy some of the artistic touches inside and outside.
As always, please abide by any sign postings and respect the rights of the building and land owners.
This was our Ghost Town of the Month for December 2010.
· NE¼ Sec 28, T4S, R17E, Willamette Base Line & Meridian
· Latitude: 45.1951258 / 45° 11’ 42” N
· Longitude: -120.6942154 / 120° 41’ 39” W
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FIRST POSTED: December 06, 2010
LAST UPDATED: January 09, 2011
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