Low water levels reveal a Detroit we never knew about

Dec 28, 2015 at 10:36 am

Detroit: It was a boom town built of a corrupt business run by a robber baron. Then, given the changing economic contours of the country, it became a ghost town, untouched for a half-century.

No, we're not talking about the city in Wayne County: We're talking about a little-known place out in Oregon we only just heard about: Detroit, a mining town that was given the name about 125 years ago, thanks to the fact that so many residents traced their roots to Michigan. In the 1950s, Detroit was evacuated to a higher altitude when the Detroit Dam was built, filling in the valley with today's Detroit Lake. 

But the settlement of "Old Detroit" is in the news lately, namely because, in October, the reservoir's levels were so low that they revealed an 130-year-old wagon. That was the lowest level the reservoir had been at in 46 years. Every so often, water levels will reveal the original camp for workers brought in to build the dam, but October may have been the first time a glimpse of the actual namesake of Detroit has been seen.

The location of the wagon was kept secret, to avoid any treasure-hunters, and the lake has again covered over the lost city, so there's no reason to head out to Oregon. (Plus, the photos are right here.) But it's interesting to look back at a time when people proudly named their cities for the Paris of the Midwest, back when the city wasn't a punch line in a Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker film.