Make the McKenzie Connection!

Another look at "Sparks City"

Plot plans from 1911 part of Blue River’s recovery

There’s plenty of history associated with the town of Blue River, including its function as a collection station for the McKenzie Toll Road between Springfield and central Oregon from 1891 to 1895. Also playing a key role was the discovery of gold-bearing quartz ledges in the upper reaches of the Blue River drainage, and the boom when mining operations began in about 1890.

Often at the center of that early activity was the Sparks family that built a cabin and a two-story log house, a sawmill, a store, a hotel, and a livery stable while helping to establish the community. In its heydays - from the late 1800s until the 1920s - Blue River kept lively thanks to five saloons and a red-light district that catered to the miners who came down from the hills.

By 1911, Samuel and his sons, Dexter and Felix, had surveyed and mapped out a new town tentatively to be called “Sparks City.” But on July 7th of that year, Sparks died. His widow, Robenia Sparks signed and authorized the subdivision of the town a week after her husband's death. But his dream never materialized.

Those old plot maps, however, are getting dusted off again to help people trying to rebuild after losing structures in the 2020 Holiday Farm Fire. Avery Land Surveying (ALS) of Eugene has been contracted by Lane County to prepare a boundary survey of properties that were included in the original plat of Blue River City and the abutting Sparks Addition.

Part of the boundary survey process will involve gathering records including deeds and previous surveys from public records. Over the next few months, people will see ALS personnel recovering and measuring survey monuments that could include pipes, rebars, or brass caps that were used to define property corners. Those field measurements will be incorporated into a new map that will be recorded in the public records of the Lane County Surveyor.

Fieldwork is likely to start on May 1st. Prior to that, Jonathan Oakes of ALS is inviting people to a meeting to answer questions and discuss concerns. That session is set for Thursday, April 27th, starting at 7 p.m. in the old gymnasium at McKenzie High School.

Anyone hoping the work might lead to the creation of an incorporated area is likely to be disappointed. It’s been almost two decades since a city was incorporated in Oregon - Damascus in 2004 and La Pine in 2006. Both are considerably larger with 10,592 residents in the first and 1,773 in the latter, compared to an estimated population of 230 for Blue River today.


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