The Jefferson County Historical Society
Since it’s founding in the 1970s, the Jefferson County Historical Society has dedicated itself to recording, preserving, and promoting the recognition and understanding of the history of Jefferson County. In line with this mission, the Society operated for many years the Jefferson County Historical Museum in the old County Courthouse in downtown Madras—now “in storage” awaiting a new and much better home in Westside Community Center; and it maintains an authentic well-furnished homestead farmhouse and one-room country school on the County Fairgrounds in south Madras. In 1984, the Society prepared and published a book of photos and family histories, The History of Jefferson County Oregon 1914-1983, and in 1998 it brought out a revised edition of Jefferson County Reminiscences, a much-loved 1957 collection of “the way it was” accounts by early county residents. It regularly honors important achievements in local history with “The Beth Crow Award,” in memory of a local historian and genealogist.
In addition, the Historical Society publishes its own journal of local history, THE AGATE, and its members promote appreciation of local history through County Fair exhibits, talks and lectures, a popular series of “History Pubs”, collaborative programs with local schools, including mentoring student research projects in the “History Day” program and a “Traveling Trunk” program for circulating historical artifacts and information in classrooms. The Society also offers guided excursions to places like Opal Springs, Ashwood Country, Grizzly, and the historic Oregon Trunk railroad route between Gateway and Metolius. If on a recent Saturday morning you happened to see a procession of Model T’s chugging along Ashwood Road east of Madras, you were watching the start of such an excursion (in collaboration with the “Model T Bums” car-club) heading out to trace a portion of the route of the original The Dalles-Prineville freight and stagecoach road that ran up Hay Creek Canyon.
But if you were to conclude from all this devotion to our county’s early history that the Historical Society’s mission doesn’t look past about 1920, you’d be mistaken. Believing that history here or anyplace is ongoing, revealing important continuities that connect early days and what’s happening today, and also inclusive, embracing all the ethnic groups that have lived and worked here, the Society aims to record and promote the understanding of such changes in the land as the coming of irrigation in the 1940s and with it the arrival of farm families from Idaho, the building of dams in the 1960s and 70s, the growth of Central Oregon tourism thereafter, the rise of the Confederated Warm Springs Tribes as a major economic and social factor in the County, and the coming of Latino families here over the past fifty years. All these have been important contributions to the unfinished and ongoing story of Jefferson County; and in a time of rapid growth and change in our region, the Historical Society aims to do all it can to help County residents see the big picture of their collective historical heritage.
In the same spirit, the Historical Society from its beginnings has been dedicated to conserving and celebrating the natural history of Jefferson County and north Central Oregon. Our distinctive local geology and natural landmarks and plant and animal life also comprise a story worth telling, one that has profoundly influenced our human story here, from Indian times to the present.
Doing all this in the name of historical education takes time and dedication, but it is also fun—and if beyond joining the Society you’d like to become a volunteer, we’d love to sign you up!