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Hines Pine Mill House Inn Preserves a Bit of Oregon's Lumber History

“Welcome to the Hines Pine Mill House,” new owners Roger and Shani Hodge smile as they start the tour of their historic bed and breakfast located in Hines, Oregon.

 

Built in 1929, the Hines Pine Mill House was formerly the office headquarters for the Edward Hines Lumber Company until 1983. After which it became a boys’ academy until it was renovated and reopened as a bed and breakfast in 2020. The inn currently features four guest rooms, all decorated with touches from the 1930s to 1950s. Each room offers a different window into history, while the entire Inn showcases the history of the Hines Lumber Mill. Walking down the halls, one finds interesting snippets of the mill’s history displayed in photos, log books, work and medical gear, as well as survival food from the cold war. There are many items on display from the Harney County Museum. The Hodges plan to rotate these items periodically, hoping their visitors will walk away with a greater appreciation of Harney County’s rich history.

 

Walking into the old records department, converted into a rec room, complete with pool table and darts, one first sees the old logo L2 from one of the largest buildings that has been repurposed into an artful focal point. Then Roger walks over to the old Hines vault and as the two sets of double doors open, cold air rushes out—and its hard not to step back into yesteryear.

In eastern Oregon, the Edward Hines Lumber Company was major player in developing lumbering in the twentieth century. Edward Hines, was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1863,  the eldest of seven children and the only son of Peter and Rose McGarry Hines. His parents moved to Chicago when he was two years old. Starting work at age 14 as an office boy for the S.K. Martin & Co., a Chicago lumber wholesaler, he became that firm's secretary-treasurer by age 21. In 1892, he started his own company, Edward Hines Lumber Co.

 

The lumbering interests of the Edward Hines Lumber Co. extended from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border, and from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest representing large tracts of timber holdings, modern sawmill plants, as well as railroads. The Midwest company expanded its operations into Oregon in the late 1920s and by mid-century had acquired a number of timber holdings as well as several established Oregon lumber towns, including Seneca, Dee, and Westfir. Then in 1928, it purchased a 67,400-acre tract in the Malheur National Forest near Burns, Oregon for $400,000 (equivalent to $6,817,054 in 2022).

 

Known as the Bear Valley Unit, the large Oregon tract, near Seneca, was laid out in 1922 by the United States Forest Service. It was first sold to Fred Herrick in 1923, but Herrick defaulted on his contract with the Forest Service, and Hines acquired rights to the unit's 890 million board feet of timber in 1928. One of the goals of the Forest Service was to improve rail connections between national lumber markets and the Blue Mountain forests of eastern Oregon. After winning the timber contract, the Hines Company built the 52-mile Oregon and Northwestern Railroad between Burns and Seneca. The new Hines mill was completed on January 27, 1930, with an investment of $7 million dollars.

Homes were needed for the new employees of the mill, and developers began to lay out a town about two miles southwest of Burns. The town took the shape of a large oval.

 

An initial 150 residences were designed, with the assistance of Hines's wife Loretta, who insisted that sixty-eight different architectural plans be used. No two homes of the same design or color were built next to each other to avoid “cookie cutter” monotony. South of the town center was the Hines mill itself, which boasted a huge timber-framed enclosed workroom more than 2,300 feet long. Facing U.S. 20 at the southern end of the mill complex is the Georgian Colonial-style administration building—which is now the Pine Mill House Inn.

This was the beginning of the company town of Hines. There were once more than 35 company towns in Oregon, nearly all of them created for logging or lumber production. By conventional definition, company towns were industrial communities, usually self-contained, in which the company owned and maintained the land, production facilities, and buildings, including shops, stores, schools, and workers’ homes. In Oregon, company towns were necessary in remote areas and were managed to increase workers’ well-being. A few in Oregon had little more than communal dining halls and sleeping quarters (sometimes tents)—but Hines was designed by the professional planner and development firm of Stafford, Derbes & Roy to provided houses, shops, entertainment and recreational facilities, and even schools staffed by professional teachers. Hines was incorporated as a city in 1930.

To tap the timber covered by the sale, the lumber company built a standard gauge railroad north from Hines to what would become the town of Seneca, OR.  In the early 1920s, Herrick’s company had built the Malheur Railroad 30 miles (from Crane to Burns).

The Edward Hines Lumber Company completed the Malheur Railroad between Hines and Seneca in 1929, linking Crane with Seneca. The track between Hines and Seneca became the Oregon and Northwestern Railroad.  By the end of 1929, the company had begun to harvest and transport ponderosa pine from the Bear Creek valley. The sawmill began processing logs in January 1930 and was envisioned to produce 120 million board feet of lumber each year. But the company struggled during the Great Depression and growth was slow. With the outbreak of World War II, the mill began supplying lumber products for the war effort. After the war, the company focused on the home market.

 

The mill reached a peak lumber production—134,250,000 board feet —in 1962. But soaring timber prices, high wages and a deteriorating market in the late 1970s led to a depression in the lumber industry. The Hines Company began laying off workers after the loss of a bid for federal timber to a sawmill in Prineville. By 1981, the company’s railroad was transporting logs at only one quarter of capacity and was employing just 12 workers. At it’s peak the company employed more than 900. By the end of 1981, the old sawmill was dismantled and a new sawmill was constructed. With many changes implemented, production and profits improved. After 90 years in the Oregon lumber business, the Hines Company divested itself of all interests in Oregon. On May 8, 1983, the Ponderosa Pine Division and the Oregon & Northwest Railroad were sold to Snow Mountain Pine Company.   The railroad went out of service in March 1984.

 

But while the Mill operations in Hines have ceased and the railroad tracks have been removed, many of the historic buildings have been converted to other uses—like the bed and breakfast. As the doors closed on the old Hines Mill vault, the scent of yesteryear was again shut away, replaced by the sounds of pool balls clinking together; and the cool vault air was quickly overwhelmed by delicious smells wafting from inn’s kitchen. 

 

Roger and Shani Hodge first discovered Hines in 2020 during a trip to the Harney County Fair. They visited several times over the next two years before deciding to leave Milwaukie, Oregon, to purchase their own piece of Oregon history. Shani loves her new role as proprietor and chef. She has worked more than 20 years in Oregon’s wine and hospitality industry, and feels that has prepared her for their new adventure.

Roger is a corporate financial specialist, and is already quite active in the local community: serving on both the city council and the chamber of commerce.

Their son, Ollie, is also learning the basics of hospitality: smiling and entertaining guests with local trivia as he shows off historical tidbits around the Inn.

In addition to lodging, the Mill House offers a banquet room that has hosted many  groups from Scouts to the Oregon Cattlewoman’s Association in the last year. It also has a gift shop where many local artists feature their wares (Including several cribbage boards created by Roger himself). The outdoor areas of the Mill House offer guests access to picnic tables, a barbecue grill, a seasonal fire pit, and bicycles.

The Inn is a work in progress. There are many features the Hodges are working on expanding. With plans to turn the vault into a wine room, the cupola into a secret place to drink whiskey, and the cold-war-era fall out shelter in the basement is destined to become a BB gun range.

For anyone interested in a luxurious inn seasoned with a delicious breakfast and a healthy dose of Oregon history, visit hinespinemillhouse.com.

 

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