Baker City is a town that has seen a lot of ups and downs. The community of about 10,000 is situated in the high desert of eastern Oregon, surrounded by sagebrush and snow-dusted mountains. More than 100 years ago, miners came in search of gold and then settled in. Timber mills once flourished in Baker City, until major reductions of logging on public lands. The city was once a railroad hub, but after cars became popular the rail lines to Baker were abandoned.
Even the name “Baker City” has gone through big changes. In 1911 residents dropped “city” from the name, deciding that it sounded too quaint. In 1990, citizens voted to go back to the original name (although you still hear longtime residents refer to the community as simply “Baker.”)
Today, Baker City is a town working to embrace its dynamic history while also forging a new economic path. The community is working to bring tourism to downtown with its brick storefronts, an historic (and possibily haunted) hotel, and old, opulent buildings. The natural beauty of the nearby Wallowa Mountains and Anthony Lakes ski resort give visitors a reason to stop in, too, and the community is also working to brand itself as a destination for cyclists. There are festivals and arts events year-round in this community, like the annual Great Salt Lick Contest or the short film festival that happens each June.
Baker City is not near any metropolitan areas, which means it’s a place that attracts people who really want to live there. As Baker City resident Ann Mehaffy says, people live in Baker either because they grew up there and they know it and love it, or because they’re “city runaways who are looking for a sense of authenticity, history and community.”
Are you from Baker City? Have you visited? What should people know about this historic community? What questions do you have about Baker City?
We’ve put together a companion website for the Our Town series. Head over there to check out our interactive map which includes interviews and photographs of the people and places of Baker City. Come back to this page to share your thoughts and opinions.
Here are some pictures from Thursday’s show at the Bull Ridge Brew Pub in Baker City. Photos by Vince Patton.