The Pacific Northwest’s logging industry brought thousands to its dense forests. The environmental and social effects of logging were significant as ghost towns and stripped-down forests were left in the wake of loggers. The town of Detroit served as the home of many loggers in the Willamette Valley who, alongside the companies who employed them, were evicted from their homes to make way for the Detroit Dam.
The Pacific Northwest possesses a deep history of logging. Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Northern California’s wealth of valuable natural resources invited settlement from both across the country and the world. As the United States expanded its reach, particularly with the Oregon Trail bringing an influx of settlers, the demand for lumber skyrocketed. Lumber became a critical resource for construction, from homes and businesses to ships that would sail to distant shores. The famous Gold Rush also brought a massive influx of men and women looking to find their fortune in the West. Once the craze had settled, a significant population had migrated. Those who remained in the west possessed various skills including those necessary for the lumber industry.
The natural environment in the Pacific Northwest was rather inviting to those interested in taking advantage of its lush forests. Innumerable rows of giant Douglas fir, Western red cedar, and Sitka spruce towered over the landscape, creating an almost mythical expanse of greenery. The accessibility of these forests, coupled with the region’s navigable waterways, provided an ideal environment for the burgeoning lumber industry to thrive. Industrial forces moved toward the landscape, employing both men and machinery to root the trees from the ground.
The environmental effects of the lumber industry in the West were tremendous. The traditional means of logging under the ‘cut-out and get-out policy’—a strategy of invading a landscape, stripping its resources, dangerously damaging its ecosystem, then moving on to the next, omitted any consideration of sustainability. This system was being deployed throughout Oregon and Washington, drawing the attention of the federal government which stepped in to mitigate both the environmental damage wrought by ‘cut-out and get-out’, as well as the social effects. As towns and workers migrated to the next logging camp, their old homes and communities were similarly abandoned, leaving behind them a wake of ecological destruction and social displacement.
The early 19th century also witnessed significant technological advancements that transformed the lumber industry. The invention of the circular saw revolutionized the cutting process, allowing for more precise and efficient lumber production. Additionally, the development of transportation systems, such as railways and steamships, facilitated the movement of timber from the forests to markets both domestically and internationally.
Small towns in the Willamette Valley, like Old Detroit, were centers of logging. Men from around the country, and the world, flocked to the Pacific Northwest, bringing their families as they searched for employment. Census records from Old Detroit teach us that hundreds of residents of the Valley were loggers. Further, the United States Army Corps of Engineers procured vast tracts of land while preparing for the construction of the Detroit and Big Cliff Dams in the vicinity of Old Detroit. These acquisitions shed light on the extensive land holdings of the Hammond Labor Co., where a significant number of residents were employed.
Unlike many of the other ghost towns that were built and abandoned as the logging industry drew itself across the Pacific Northwest, Detroit was there to stay. Local businesses and the development of industry outside of logging incentivized residents to lay down their proverbial roots in Detroit. Many of whom would likely have stayed were it not for the construction of the Detroit Dam.
 Raymond M’Bride, “Logging in the Northwest,” Scientific American 97, no. 21 (1907): 375.
 Iva L. Buchanan, “Lumbering and Logging in the Puget Sound Region in Territorial Days,” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 27, no. 1 (1936): 34–53.
 Richard A. Rajala, “The Forest as Factory: Technological Change and Worker Control in the West Coast Logging Industry, 1880-1930,” Labour / Le Travail 32 (1993): 73–104.
“United States Census, 1930,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRC8-9ZW?cc=1810731&wc=QZF7-9W4%3A648804701%2C648805702%2C649754701%2C1589282363 : 8 December 2015), Oregon > Marion > Breitenbush > ED 5 > image 1 of 6; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002)
- Buchanan, Iva L. “Lumbering and Logging in the Puget Sound Region in Territorial Days.” The Pacific Northwest Quarterly 27, no. 1 (1936): 34–53.
- M’Bride, Raymond. “Logging in the Northwest.” Scientific American 97, no. 21 (1907): 375–375.
- Rajala, Richard A. “The Forest as Factory: Technological Change and Worker Control in the West Coast Logging Industry, 1880-1930.” Labour / Le Travail 32 (1993): 73–104.
- Robbins, William G. “The Social Context of Forestry: The Pacific Northwest in the Twentieth Century.” The Western Historical Quarterly 16, no. 4 (1985): 413–27. https://doi.org/10.2307/968606.
- Smith, David C. “The Logging Frontier.” Journal of Forest History 18, no. 4 (1974): 96–106. https://doi.org/10.2307/3983320.
- United States Census Records of the Oregon and Washington areas in the early 1900s offer vast information of the importance of the logging industry. View on the National Archives and Records Administration website here: Census Records | National Archives or at FamilySearch.org.
Warner, Jack. “Trees Aplenty- Logging in the Pacific Northwest.” The Atlas of Drowned Towns (blog). August 10, 2023.