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Oregon: Historic Pendleton

Pendleton is famous for three things; the Roundup (or a giant piss-up with a rodeo to justify it), wool blankets and whisky. Not a bad mixture. The reason we rushed to Pendleton was to make the last outing of the Pendleton underground tour. We like to try to discover the history and culture of the places we visit and this journey into the seedy underbelly of Pendleton’s culture fitted our purpose perfectly. The tour takes us down into the rooms and passages that hide below the streets of Pendleton in what used to be a bustling area of town and also doubled as the red light district. We visited several rooms that acted as bars during the prohibition years. These were staged with furniture, props and manikins to capture the spirit of the period. Beyond these underground drinking establishments, there were rooms where the Chinese labourers lived. These were very cramped and unpleasant. The expansion of the railroads into the Western states bought the Chinese to town and when that work was done they remained to undertake other construction tasks. The final part of the tour was above ground and we got to visit a former bordello, one of the many that were active in the area. The local cowboys worked hard and played harder! Regular businesses, such as candy stores and butchers shared this secret underground world with the secret bars and bordellos. It is interesting to see how daily life and the nefarious coexist in what was a small, tight-knit community.

After the tour, we went to the Pendleton wool mills, where they make the famous blankets. Sadly it was during the summer shutdown, so no tours! We had to satisfy ourselves with the outlet shop.

Planning your visit to Pendleton

The City of Pendleton had its beginning in the early 1860’s when Moses Goodwin purchased land from a squatter for one span of horses. In 1868 the Umatilla County Court (established six years earlier) had a three-member selection committee to determine a site for the County Buildings. The site selected was between Birch and Wildhorse Creek to be named Pendleton in honor of Senator George H. Pendleton of Ohio (1864 Vice presidential candidate for the United States). In December of that year, Moses Goodwin and his wife deeded 2 1/2 acres of land to the county from which the original town was platted on December 18, 1868.

Pendleton was officially incorporated on October 25, 1880, with a population of 730 inhabitants. The early days found the citizens of Pendleton involved in many construction activities. A City Hall was constructed in 1908. The Umatilla River levy, and the water transmission line were completed around 1915. The early Council minutes and ordinances reflect the colorful history of Pendleton. The first ordinance of the City dealt directly with drunkenness in public places, fights, and discharging of guns within the City limits. There are also accounts in the City Council minutes about Council members having to wade through knee deep mud and sewage from the inadequate septic tank drainage within the City. These major public works problems were overcome through the concerted efforts of citizens and through many trips by the Mayor of Pendleton to Salem to encourage the State legislature to allow the City to increase the debt limits of the City.

Best time to visit Pendleton

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