1950s Kids Browing Library

Deschutes by the Decades: 1950s

Deschutes County entered the 1950s with 21,692 people, a nearly 20% increase over the preceding decade. Not only was the county population on the rise, so was the library’s circulation of books. The previous decade saw circulation increase 41% to more than 10,000 volumes a year. As we entered the 1950s, the library collection also increased more than two-fold, from 18,600 books to 39,469. A report in The Bend Bulletin noted that “Circulation per capita … is one of the highest figures of any library in the United States. In spite of Deschutes County’s isolation and reputation for rugged individualism, the area is one of the ‘best-read’ in the United States.”

The library had locations in Bend, Redmond, and Sisters, with library stations or outposts maintained at seven points throughout the county: in stores in Alfalfa, Brothers, La Pine, and Terrebonne; at Sunset Senior Home just outside of Bend; and in a personal home in Tumalo. The bookmobile extended the library’s reach even farther, making regular stops at schools and at the Brooks-Scanlon Camp and at Millican. Serving every school in Deschutes County from Bend to one-room school houses at Lower Bridge and Harper, the bookmobile brought up to 1,200 books at a time to children and families who otherwise could not make it to the library.

Completed in 1939, the library on Wall Street in Bend was already outgrowing its space, with a brief article in The Bend Bulletin in 1953 noting that the library was “feeling growing pains and is overcrowded.” Likewise in Redmond, where the town’s growing pains were felt at the library.

The Benson Building on Wall Street, gifted to the library by the Benson family in the 1930s, was sold in 1956 for $25,570. The sale funded the 2,200-square-foot expansion of the library in Bend, which was completed in 1957 and provided space for an additional 15,000 books. In 1958, work was also underway on a 224-square-foot addition to the library in Sisters to provide additional shelf space and books.

Around Deschutes County, the 1950s marked a time of economic change. 1950 ended with the Shevlin-Hixon mill’s closure and sale to rival Brooks-Scanlon. Shevlin-Hixon crews felled the last tree on December 12, with the last log sawn and milled on December 26. While Brooks-Scanlon operated beyond the 1950s, over the decade the log trains gave way to log trucks and logging camps were disbanded. The trestle timbers from Shevlin Park were re-milled and used for the expansion of the Bend Library.

Hollywood came calling in the 1950s. A production company owned in part by Kirk Douglas built “Fort Benham” near Benham Falls, a western movie-style frontier ‘fort’ specifically for the movie Indian Fighter. The movies Tonka and Oregon Passage, as well as episodes of the TV show Have Gun Will Travel, filmed at the fort.

The Redmond Airport terminal was dedicated in 1950, and in 1951 construction began on Central Oregon District Hospital in Redmond. In 1952, the first traffic lights arrived in Central Oregon. Cable television arrived in fall of 1955; cost of installation was $149.96.

The Skyliners Ski Club reactivated its membership in 1954, building new ski huts and improving access to skiing at Tumalo Hill. Two members of the Skyliners, Bill Healy and Gene Gillis, thought bigger: Bachelor Butte, which opened October 1958 with one lift, two rope tows, and Egan Lodge. A new economic driver for the region was born, with day lift tickets costing $3, and season passes $50.

The decade came to an end with drama in the skies: residents were consumed with the news of a UFO sighting over Redmond. The population of Deschutes County has inched up only slightly to 23,100.

Page Last Modified Tuesday, April 28, 2020