I remember the days of the mills’ hard-working saws piercing the air of the Mohawk Valley. Not long ago, when it was warm and your windows were open, you could hear the saws’ whine in the night. Now, but for an occasional car, or lonely coyote’s wail, the night is quiet.
The disappearance of saw mills isn’t unique to the Mohawk Valley. It has been happening all across Oregon, with the peak number of mills after World War II at over 1500, fewer than 80 mills remain today, statewide. In the boom years, lumber and related industries made up more than 10% of Oregon’s economy; there were over 70,000 well-paying jobs, and families could have a good life with a single wage earner. When I was a kid you could earn $15/hr. at many of the mills around Eugene Springfield. Advance the clock forward to now and I’m not so sure you can easily find those $15/hour jobs, and things are much more expensive. Now there are only 25,000 timber and mill jobs left in Oregon, and the pay is merely average.
Weyerhauser’s 21 mile private railroad ran through the Mohawk Valley, starting at the mill off 42nd street and terminating in the former town of Wendling, east of Marcola. Remnants remain of the old railroad that was last used in 1987. Across from the Riverview Market on Marcola Road, Hayden Bridge has stood since about 1900, when it was moved from Utah. It’s hard to imagine moving a giant bridge that long ago, but I guess our ancestors were ingenuitive–people were still using horses for transportation back then. The bridge, while historical, has fallen into disuse. Occasionally, when it’s hot out, you’ll still find local kids using it as a diving platform for the chilly McKenzie River beneath. You can also spot the above-grade gravel railroad bed running through the Mohawk Valley if you look carefully.
This forlorn mill site in the Mohawk Valley is one victim of our recent economic downturn. The buildings have stood for a long time and how much of their lumber went into the building of our great state, no one will ever know. Most recently, for 20 years until 2007, it gobbled up peeler cores and transformed them into studs, posts, and stakes.
The area where the Mill sits, off Old Mohawk Road, was previously called Yarnell, being named after one of the early owners of surrounding land. Yarnell now exists only as a reference on historic maps. The Mohawk River was the original method of getting logs to mills. Subsequently, Southern Pacific and later Weyerhaeuser, used to run log trains regularly, and there was a siding and spur near the mill site. Sidings are a parallel set of tracks which allow trains to pass, and spurs are a dead-end set of tracks serving a facility. Old maps also show two log ponds to the east of the mill, but they are now filled. Operating mills rarely use log ponds any more, but in the past they were used to store, clean, and move logs; newer technologies make ponds no longer necessary.
Yarnell had a covered train bridge, crossing the Mohawk River, built in presumably the late 1800’s. Weyerhaeuser is thought to have removed the cover and rebuilt the bridge around 1961. Remnants of the old bridge remain, but are on private property. The main automobile bridge was also covered at one time. This bridge stood from 1916 to 1958 and has been replaced by a modern structure
Interestingly, there’s a very long history of lumber milling in the Mohawk Valley. The image is from the first survey done in the area, in 1855. Present at that time was a mill race, dug from the McKenzie River, servicing the old Scott Mill. Little record remains of the Scott Mill, but presumably it was fed by logs floated down the McKenzie or dragged by oxen down the Mohawk Valley. Part of the main channel of the river appears to have changed to the old mill race and can be seen here.
Mill sites are the most common uses in RI zoning, Rural Industrial, which is fairly rare. RI zoning allows for industrial uses and pursuits in otherwise country type property. Some of these old properties are distressed or industrial/commercial short sales, which is also uncommon. I have done commercial short sales and they have their own unique process that’s different from residential short sales. Short sales occur when the sales proceeds are short of (less than) the required amount to pay off the bank loan(s).
As with any industrial or commercial real estate purchase, previous uses are important. If a lender is involved, the buyer will almost certainly need a level one or level two environmental report, and they’re a good idea even if there is no lender. Environmental Site Assessments are common and give you a base-line idea of what went on.
Determining value on industrial properties can be a challenge. It likely will have the most value to an owner-occupant. Uses that require zoning changes are difficult in Lane County, which means the highest and best use is likely similar to its previous use. Appraisers will arrive at a value by reconciling the three approaches to valuation: comps, income and replacement value, but this may be different than what an arms-length willing buyer may be willing to pay.
I, for one, hope the old mill is purchased and reopened. People need jobs and Oregon has a lot of sustainable trees. If you are a buyer or user of commercial or industrial property in Oregon, please contact me.