The thriving little town of Lancaster lay on the river between Harrisburg and what would become Junction City. Property values dropped in Harrisburg as Lancaster grew. But that all changed with the December flood of 1861. People stood on the bank and watched with horror as the flood washed away houses, barns, and livestock. When the waters receded, the river’s course had shifted half a mile to the east, leaving Lancaster no longer on the river. The flood put Harrisburg back in business as a “landing”, and more warehouses were built. as farmers once more brought their produce to Harrisburg for shipping down river.
There was no suitable land available for sale in Harrisburg for the expanding railway, but a large flat area to locate a roundhouse, depot, and housing for permanent railroad workers was found just south of Harrisburg. The owners named it Junction City in anticipation of becoming a major railroad junction and division point because Junction City was a one-day trip from Portland by a wood burning engine. And, although the railroad junction never became a reality and the division point was moved to Eugene, the town was nevertheless a thriving and prosperous place to live.
When Junction City was incorporated in 1872 the population was reported to be 600 persons. Over the following years the city grew as stores, boarding houses, homes, schools, churches, a post office, mills, warehouses, a city prison, saloons, and even a beautiful opera house sprung up. Although it was not located on the Willamette like Harrisburg, the railway yard running through it’s eastern edge allowed it to became an important agricultural trade center for local farmers. And, as more and more logs were brought in from lumber camps like Horton in the coast range, the railway continued to be an asset.
In 1891 pioneer James A. Bushnell built the hotel block, constructed entirely of brick at a cost of $20,000. It was located on Front and Seventh Street in Junction City. The building occupied a half block of Front Street, which was the main street in town. Businesses were housed on the first floor, while the second floor held a magnificent opera house, 50′ by 100′ considered the finest between Seattle and San Francisco. This second story also included a ballroom. Unfortunately, the building only lasted 24 years as the entire block burned in 1915 fire and making 6th the main street and expanding Junction City west.
In 1902, Mr. AC Nielsen Sr..from Tyler, Minnesota bought 1600 acres of land east of Junction City. He advertised in a Danish weekly newspaper at Cedar Falls Iowa and encouraged many Danish people to make a new life here. The families that were attracted by the article bought land parcels of 10 to 60 acre plots in the area now called Dane Lane. They established farms and planted hay, raised hogs, chickens and milk cows. That same year the Danish Lutheran Church was established and a church and parish hall were built. Over the next two years forty families, some 200 people arrived in the area.
The bridge across the Willamette to Harrisburg (and hence to Junction City) would not be built until 1924; but a way to cross the river was vital. The first attempts at a ferry was the lashing together of two small boats and building a platform to put a wagon on. Livestock would be towed behind the ferry. In 1854 Asa McCully established a ferry service. A rope was used to pull the ferry from bank to bank. In 1863 a man named DeWalker built a ferry large enough to carry a wagon and team without unhitching the team. He attached a cable to the poles high enough to allow steamboats traveling to “Eugene City” up river.
In 1877 the Junction City council offered $500 towards the purchase of a fire engine if the citizens would contribute matching funds. The citizens voted not to put up the funds and the council withdrew the offer leaving the town without fire protection. October 5, 1878 devastating fires destroyed nearly a quarter of the town.. A tax was levied for the purpose of procuring a fire engine, but the voters once again rescinded the petition. Several more fires causing tremendous financial loss occurred before the city finally purchased a horse drawn steam pumper in 1897. Steam pumper #1 saw service until 1935.
Our area, along with the rest of the country, was beginning to recover from the Great Depression. Even so, the middle of the 1930s saw a period of growth in Harrisburg as many farmers from the dustbowl states made their way to Oregon. In Harrisburg, some of Roosevelt’s WPA projects assisted in building an new gymnasium, High School, and City Hall. The census year of 1940 recorded 612 people in the town. In 1941 the three Morse brothers started a sand and gravel operation, and today The Morse Brothers Corp. remains a leading supplier of road and bridge construction materials from the valley to the coast.
In 1960 Junction City had become a very depressed town. The new I-5 freeway had been built and the town was missing out on the traffic that had flowed down Highway 99 in the past. Dr. Gale Fletchall searched for something unique that would draw people to town. He developed the idea of celebrating the Scandinavian culture with an annual festival in August. With help from area residents he created a four-day event that included dancing, entertainment, food, crafts and lots of flowers. Much to everyone’s surprise, 25,000 people came to the first festival held in August 1961. Today the event is host to over 100,000 visitors.
Who could guess in 1961 that this modest little festival would grow to be one of Oregon’s most popular events?
By this time Junction City’s Scandinavian Festival had become one of the main identities for the town. 100 miles to the north in Portland, an historic steam locomotive that had originally been given to that city by the Finnish consulate was looking for a new home. Applications were submitted from around the state for communities that were willing to fund land and build a shelter for it. A committee was formed to try and raise enough money and apply for the gift, and Junction City was selected for the honor in 1979. A park was built around the shelter, and at a large ceremony became one of the hallmarks of the town.
At the 1980 Scandinavian Festival a ceremony was held to install the locomotive in it’s new park at 5th and Holly.