*NOTE: Contributed by Raymond R. Hatton, Author of Oregon's Sisters Country - A Portrait of its Lands, Water, People (1996) and Sisters Country Weather and Climate (1994).
Click here for a Historical Tour Brochure of The Sisters Country. (PDF)
History of Central Oregon begins in Sisters...
Long before the Sisters Country was settled, Indians trekked through the region. Old survey maps showed Indian trails, some leading towards Warm Springs, some crossing the Cascade passes of McKenzie and Santiam. In time, some of these Indian trails became the routes of wagon roads. Nineteenth-century fur trappers and explorers also traveled through the Sisters Country.
The forerunner of Sisters was Camp Polk, a short-lived military camp (from September 1865-May 1866) that had been established along Whychus Creek (formerly Squaw Creek), about three miles northeast of Sisters. Forth volunteers from Polk County, in western Oregon, camp on a mission to protect miners and settlers in the region, but were never engaged in battle. Following the abandonment of the camp, the site was homesteaded in 1870 by Samuel M. Hindman who subsequently operated a store and post office. Camp Polk was located adjacent to a wagon road that linked the Willamette Valley and Prineville.
In 1888 the post office was relocated to the John J. Smith Store, about three miles south of Camp Polk. It was proposed the post office be named "Three Sisters." Postal authorities shortened the name to "Sisters." Taking advantage of its location at the intersection of the McKenzie and Santiam roads, Sisters soon grew to become a bustling little town. For years, Sisters was a supply station for sheepmen who passed through town on their way to grazing pastures in the Cascades. Finally, in 1901, Sisters was formally established.
Contributing further to growth of Sisters was the lumber industry. Extensive tracks of pine forest prompted the siting of several sawmills in or near town. By 1930, Sisters was primarily known as a lumber-producing town and was incorporated in 1946. The population grew from less than 200 to nearly 500. Gradually, however, lumber production fell off and in 1963 the last mill in Sisters was closed and the plant subsequently dismantled. Soon thereafter the population began to decline.
Fortunately, as highways in Central Oregon were improved, tourist-related travel increased. Sisters became known as the Gateway to the Cascades - a title befitting the city today. The population stabilized as Sisters capitalized on the beauty of the area's natural environment and the early development of Black Butte Ranch. By adopting a theme for the commercial sector and with financial support of Brooks Resources, the Sisters City Council made the 1880's style storefront a part of its zoning ordinance in the early 1970s. The Sisters Area Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1974.
Over several years the landscape of the retail area was transformed and today Sisters Oregon has become recognized as a unique place to shop with its many specialty stores and galleries. Less obvious are other changes. The old mill site north of town has become an industrial park with a number of commercial establishments and light industries. Many people, seeking elbow room and mountain vistas have chosen the Sisters Country as a place to live and play.
Check out Sisters Country Historical Society on Facebook.