DESCHUTES COUNTY - A segment of the Pilot Butte Canal between Cooley Road and Yeoman Road in Bend and unincorporated Deschutes County is Oregon's latest entry in the National Register of Historic Places.
The construction of the Pilot Butte Canal was a result of the vision of east-coast real-estate investor Alexander McClurg Drake. Drake sought to irrigate the lands surrounding the Deschutes River under the provisions of the federal Carey Desert Lands Act, which encouraged the establishment of irrigated farms in the arid West.
Construction on the canal began in 1903. The critical Cooley Road to Yeoman Road Segment connected the already-constructed flume from the Deschutes River and traversed the basalt bedrock on its way north. However, the section was particularly difficult due to the terrain, and resources were concentrated here. Laborers using horse-drawn Fresno Scrapers and steam-powered drills finished this portion of the canal on February 10, 1905.
The canal's completion spurred rapid growth and development of central Oregon, including the establishment of Bend, Redmond, and other communities. It also provided an economic boost to the entire state with the growth of the agriculture and timber industries. The basalt floor and sides of the Cooley Road -- Yeoman Road Segment of the Pilot Butte Canal still show the tooling marks left by the scrapers and the steam drills, and its rough, unfinished nature reflects both the difficulty in digging the canal and the importance of finishing the project quickly.
The National Park Service under the authority of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 listed the Pilot Butte Canal segment in the National Register after an extensive public process beginning in December 2014. The review process included comments from the Central Oregon Irrigation Company, residents, advocacy groups, and local, state, and federal agencies. NPS' decision is based only on the National Register criteria, which considers the degree to which the property retains its historic appearance and its historic importance.
More information about the National Register and the Pilot Butte Canal Historic District, including a description of the nomination process and a full copy of the nomination document is available online at www.oregonheritage.org (click on "National Register" at left of page and then Pilot Butte Canal Historic District, Deschutes County).