Many Southern Oregon residents might not realize that Butte Falls is actually the name of a waterfall—which extended its name to the smallest incorporated town in Jackson County. Boasting a population of 435, and cattle guards at the town’s entrances, Butte Falls is clearly a place devoid of city hustle and traffic jams (unless, of course, you get stuck behind a grazing deer). According to Butte Falls’ mayor, Linda Spencer, life in the small town is “an unusual type of existence. It’s endearing.” She went on to mention how she could picture the early settlers working on the mill and the railroad in the town’s heyday. But that’s not to say Butte Falls is forgotten. Today the town is far more than a ghost settlement in the boonies—it’s filled with living history and a tight knit community, nestled into the beautiful scenery of Oregon’s forests.
In the 1820s, fur trappers from the Hudson Bay Company explored the Big Butte Creek watershed and the area shadowed by “Snowy Butte,” now known as Mt. McLoughlin. During the spring of 1878, the community of settlers received a post office, connecting them to the rapidly growing Rogue Valley. By the early twentieth century, a sawmill across Big Butte Creek and access to the Medford and Crater Lake Railroad led to the development and official incorporation of Butte Falls. During World War I, the Butte Falls’ mill was used to cut railroad ties for shipment to France. When the war came to an end, the railroad company closed. Unfortunately, so did business at the mill. By 1924, the mill had been bought and torn down by Owen-Oregon Lumber Company, since the larger mills had been moved to Medford. Portable mills were experimented with for years, especially by the Medford Corporation (Medco), which influenced Butte Falls until the late twentieth century. Today, Butte Falls’ visitors can spot a few concrete ruins where the mill used to be, but for the most part, the waterfall is back in its natural environment. As one of the most accessible waterfalls in Southern Oregon, Butte Falls is still a sight enjoyed by locals and visitors of all ages.
Few people know that Butte Falls also played a role in the Great Depression. The Civilian Conservation Corps (known as the CCC) was a part of the New Deal established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to provide employment for young men by means of conserving and developing access to forests and national parks. The lumber and railroad camps at the edges of Butte Falls were quickly converted into CCC camps, which brought activity to the town during one of the slowest decades in America’s history. According to the city’s mayor, the foundations from the railroad and CCC camps are still visible today between Butte Falls and Prospect.
“It takes a lot of work on the ground to keep things running,” says Mayor Linda Spencer. “Butte Falls is built by volunteers. I love it.” From the town’s own Fourth of July parade and celebration, to local sports games at the high school, the community of Butte Falls enjoys their rich history and their refreshing independence from the chaos of bigger cities. If one were to drive up to Butte Falls this very minute, he or she would likely see several logging trucks, a bus or two belonging to the school system, and possibly some of the town’s residents exploring a back-road on the way to work. For those that call Butte Falls home, the road-less-traveled mindset comes into play daily. Not everyone gets to live in such scenic woodland, and the town’s residents certainly cherish the opportunity to explore more of their home. “The people here don’t care about the shortest path,” the mayor finishes. “It’s about enjoying the journey.”
Thanks to the newest addition to our SOREDI team, our SOU intern, Abigail Skelton, we will continue to feature some of the popular attractions located in our Southern Oregon communities. We consider each one of our towns and cities to be “jewels in the crown” that makes up Southern Oregon. If you have a story idea sparked by an inspiring local attraction, please e-mail our Communications Manager, Codi Spodnik and maybe Abigail will be giving you a call to follow up. If you are a SOREDI Member and you have some great news, please e-mail it to Codi so we can share it in our newsletter