The Souvenir of Western Women/Ontario Then and Now
ONTARIO, THEN AND NOW.
By MISS MARY LOCEY, Ironside, Or.
IN 1883 the present site of Ontario was a wind-blown, sagebrush desert, where sand piled in great heaps, and wild coyotes and black-tailed rabbits scurried unmolested. Only a pioneer could have dreamed of the resources waiting there to be developed; but the pioneer sees far into the future sometimes, and the very fact that the Oregon Short Line Railroad crossed Snake River and ran through Malheur County for twelve miles without a station was enough to arouse hopes that a station on the Oregon side might spring into a town and later grow even to a city. This dream is being realized.
The first house in Ontario was built by William Morfitt, one of the firm who located and first laid out the town. The first business house was that of T. T. Danilson, which began operations in 1884. Thanksgiving day of that year was made memorable by a grand ball celebrating the opening of the Scott Hotel. (These men would wonder could they now see the numbers of fine brick business buildings that line Main street.)
There followed quickly a drug store, a harness shop, and a blacksmith shop, while dwelling houses dotted the townsite here and there. One day Death claimed the blacksmith, and a cemetery had to be located. This silent city on the hill has grown with the town, and lately measures for its improvement have been taken that will transform it into one of the most beautiful burial grounds of Eastern Oregon.
Among the first buildings was the frame schoolhouse, which soon was filled to overflowing. In 1894 a brick schoolhouse of four rooms was completed. This, too, after a time failed to accommodate the numbers that flocked there, and in 1902, by the commendable enterprise of leading citizens, the size of the building was doubled, making a handsome structure of eight rooms, seven of which were occupied last year.
Soon after the first schoolhouse was built the Congregational Church was organized, and a neat building erected. The honor of building this church, also of purchasing the bell that still rings from its steeple, is largely due to a little body of earnest women, who felt that the new town needed this purifying influence. Three other churches have been added, and the Presbyterians have made use of another building for church purposes, making five church societies in all.
As the years passed secret societies gained a strong foothold, until to-day nearly all of the leading orders are represented, adding their share to the moral stamina of the place. For years the orders supported but one hall—that of the Odd Fellows; but lately a handsome new Masonic Hall, fitted up in the Lackey building, adds much to the comfort of those who frequent the lodges.
So the town has grown along various lines, and numbers at the present time twelve hundred inhabitants. Its citizens have worked with tireless energy for its improvement. It now supports two banks (one a national), several large stores and many other business houses. Two telephone lines connect it with the surrounding country. Streets are being graded and sidewalks added rapidly, while trees taller than the buildings have sprung like magic from the fertile sandy soil that only asked for water that it might change from a desert to a garden.
The prosperity of Ontario seems assured, for it lies in a most productive farming vicinity, where alfalfa makes three crops of hay in a season, and fruit grows in abundance. Besides it is the only convenient railroad point for a vast interior country, which pours into it yearly great wealth of wool and other products. Ontario is: also a very extensive shipping point for cattle, sheep and horses from the interior. The largest stockyard of Eastern Oregon is located there.
In sinking wells about the town natural gas has been discovered, which will no doubt add greatly to the wealth of the city. One house is already lighted with it, and the experiment promises success.
One of the most interesting features of the town is its salmon hatchery. At this point long rocks extending across Snake River prevent the salmon from passing up the stream in the fall, and millions of eggs are secured for the hatchery. The new hatch-house is large and strongly built. It is 217×62 feet in size, and capable of holding thirty millions of eggs. The building contains row after row of troughs, through which water constantly rushes, raised from the river by a wheel, which sends up twelve hundred gallons per minute. Here one can watch the young salmon in all its stages, from yellow eggs to tiny fish. Last year by the end of the season there had been twenty-five million young fish turned into the river.
The inhabitants arc justly proud of their thrifty little city and hope for great things in the future. Visitors, or persons seeking a location, are cordially invited to come and see for themselves that the story of the growth and resources of Malheur County's metropolis is not a myth.