A Kennewick, Wash., church has purchased the historic Bar M Ranch for $1.9 million and intends to use it for children’s camps, corporate retreats and family vacations.
Pastor Steve Whinery said his non-denominational church was looking for a place in the Blue Mountains for a retreat center, and the Bar M Ranch, about 30 miles outside Pendleton and bordering the Umatilla National Forest, is a good fit.
He saw a sale listing in August, discussed it with his board and visited later that month.
“We got up there and it’s just beautiful,” Whinery said. “The older buildings and the ranch house and the fact that it’s been there since 1864. It was a real plus. It’s a beautiful area.”
Calvary Chapel Tri-Cities filed its purchase with the Umatilla County Records Office Jan. 12.
Calvary Chapel bought the property, which includes the 1864 log hotel, from Kent Madison, of Madison Farms, Echo. Madison owned the resort for almost a decade. He bought it in July 2002 for $1.2 million.
While Madison made improvements on the property, such as a new heating system, upgrading the water system and burying power lines, he said he always saw the Bar M as an investment.
“We bought it with the intention of selling it, not thinking it would take nine years to do so,” he said Tuesday.
The Bar M is listed on the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office inventory website. Filing papers say the Bar M was a stage stop during the Civil War.
Along with the 1864 log house, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife built a pond for a trout hatchery in 1924. The document also said historic items — glass from fruit jars and a 1909 penny — have been found on the site.
Before Madison, the Gene Baker family owned and operated the Bar M for more than 50 years. Then it was a vacation destination featuring horseback rides, fishing and hiking. Families in Eastern Oregon have come to the ranch for vacations for generations.
At first Madison said he ran the ranch as an events center and vacation spot. But during the last half of his ownership he had to shift gears, closing it to the general public.
Whinery said he wanted to embrace the Bar M’s rich history and plans to open it again to everyone. He said it embraces Calvary Chapel’s philosophy.
“Jesus talked about being servants to all,” he said “That’s what we’re planning on.”
As a first step, the church will host an open house on June 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. He encouraged people to bring a picnic and have a good time.
In the meantime, Calvary Chapel is improving the property, building on the work Madison put into it, Whinery said.
The church has made $20,000-$30,000 worth of cosmetic work like drywall, painting and cleaning up the grounds, Whinery said.
The church also improved the Bar M barn to make it an ideal spot for weddings. For instance, Whinery said an old tack room was converted into a bride’s room.
The church also plans to plant grass around the pond, creating a meadow-like environment.
Whinery said the church is considering stabling horses in the summer, but talks on that front are still preliminary.
Calvary Chapel Tri-Cities has been in Kennewick for about 20 years, since Whinery moved north from California. He said the church first started in his home. Now at 10611 West Clearwater Ave., it has about 1,000 members, he said.
He said the Calvary Chapel organization is based in Costa Mesa, Calif., and has about 500 affiliated churches nationwide, though Whinery described it as a loose affiliation. The organization also has a church in Pendleton.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.