Project Update: Back to the North Santiam River

Visitors to the Atlas of Drowned Towns may have noticed a few changes in the last few months: more inundated places added to the directory and map, a beautiful new website and logo designed by Atlas team member and recent Boise State MA in History Rachel Klade, and a preview of the next version of the Atlas, currently in development. A lot has been happening underneath the surface, too! Most notably, we have entered into an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to focus on communities and places that were displaced due to the construction of the thirteen dams in the USACE’s Willamette Valley Project (WVP). This agreement provides archival, financial, and personnel support for exploring the histories of, and developing outreach activities to, communities affected by the WVP. And we’re starting with a place that’s near, dear, and well-known to me: the North Santiam River and specifically Detroit, Oregon, on the western side of the Cascades.

Beyond my professional connections to the North Santiam and Detroit — the subject of one of my first academic articles, and a central focus of my most recent book — I also have deep personal connections to the place. I grew up in Turner, Oregon, which is downstream from Detroit; we would occasionally have school drills to prepare for an accident at the dam (short version: get up in elevation!). I attended college in Salem, Oregon, which gets much of its drinking water from the North Santiam. I frequently drove to Detroit for summer recreation and through Detroit to Central Oregon for other adventures; these travels continue today with family trips between Boise and the Salem, Oregon area. And I married into a family from the North Santiam Canyon: my wife’s grandmother attended school in old Detroit, the site of which is now at the bottom of the reservoir for Detroit Dam. It is an honor and privilege to bring my professional training and experience to bear on the subject of a place that is so important to me personally, and to use build on that personnel and professional connection to explore the rest of the USACE-WVP… and beyond!

A lot will be happening in the next few months here at the Atlas. We’re developing a database and interactive website; we’re collecting and processing archival material from various repositories (the USACE, the Canyon Life Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, and many more!), and we’re preparing for a community collection, archiving, and outreach event: the Old Detroit History Jamboree, scheduled for October 21 and 22, 2023 (see attached flyer).

History Jamboree 2023 flyer

We’ll also be keeping you up-to-date on the Atlas through a newsletter (starting at the end of summer) and blog posts, the first of which will introduce the project’s Graduate Research Assistants: Rachel Klade and Jack Warner. Much of this work is scholarly, academic, and professional, but this project remains very much a labor of love and personnel connection. I hope you’ll share your own personnel and professional connections to inundated places!

Published by Bob H. Reinhardt

Associate Professor of History, Boise State University and Director, The Atlas of Drowned Towns

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