Driving Route 97 through north-central Oregon, you come upon a lime green building that reads, “General Store.” You stop in to pick up snacks for the drive to your next destination when you realize that the store is a part of a blink-and-you-miss-it small town. Looking back where you came from, you see a tall sign that reads, “Shaniko.” You just stepped into a ghost town, one still inhabited by the living.
Located in Wasco County, the city was founded in 1874 by August Scherneckau, but was pronounced Shaniko by the local Native Americans. After establishing a Post Office and the Shaniko Hotel in 1900, financiers built a warehouse for wool, and Shaniko became a trade center for Eastern Oregon. With an intense upswing in the wool industry, and Shaniko being the market hub for sheep ranchers in the surrounding region, the town was proudly dubbed “Wool Capital of the World.”
With Shaniko’s huge success in the trading business and its location on a railroad line, how did Shaniko end up a ghost town? Its population peaked at 600, but when an alternate railroad connected Portland and Bend with a more direct route, bypassing Shaniko, the population declined. While the town still stands today, there is a population of only 25, and a fraction of the original structures remains open.
As you walk around the town, you can visit the City Hall, a Post Office, an Antique Shop and the Historic Stage Coach Shop. The Shaniko Hotel has been closed for many years, but you can still visit the rustic building.
As you get back in your vehicle to continue on Route 97, you reflect on your unexpected discovery and ponder what life might have been like in Shaniko’s wool-capital heyday. You realize that ghost towns are more than what meets the eye.
Shaniko is located about an hour south of I-84 at Biggs Junction. For more information on this slice of history, go to traveloregon.com/places-to-go/cities/shaniko.