Laidlaw: A community with dreams of grandeur
The community of Laidlaw began to develop with big irrigation plans just after the turn of the century. It arose to rival Bend as the main community in western old Crook County, only to fade to a farming community.
Irrigation projects in Central Oregon resulted in a short boom as water and irrigation companies pushed to construct dams and canals.
In 1902, the Three Sisters Irrigation Company signed a contract with the State Land Board to sell irrigation water for large acreages on the west side of the Deschutes River near Tumalo Creek. The manager of the company, W.A. Laidlaw, claimed that more than 12,000 acres had been reclaimed and that 85 miles of canals and laterals had been built, and he asked for a patent, which was granted.
The Columbia Southern Company later acquired the project. In 1904, a post office named Tumalo was established at the Wimer Ranch on the Bend-Sisters road and was utilized primarily by canal construction crews.
On Dec. 17, 1904, the Laidlaw Post Office was established and named for W.A. Laidlaw. The community soon became a boomtown as irrigation construction expanded. There was news of a projected sawmill nearby, and the belief that an east-west railroad would pass through the town.
The new town boasted of having more than 20 businesses, and it was similar in size to Bend. Regular stage service began to run between Shaniko and Laidlaw. A bank, hotel, restaurant, newspaper, Odd Fellows hall, saloon and blacksmith shop made the community begin to have dreams of being the commercial center of western Central Oregon.
But not all was well with the irrigation projects. It soon became apparent that the irrigation companies managed by Laidlaw were not capable of providing the necessary water to meet projected irrigation needs for which it had been certified.
In 1907, the State Land Board sued the Columbia Southern Irrigation Company, asking for cancellation of its reclamation contract because of misrepresentation. By 1911, the hoped for railroad by-passed the community, the projected lumber mill did not materialize, and the irrigation project was deeded to the State of Oregon.
Laidlaw was hung in effigy in his own town. The town began to fade in prominence. Disgruntled members of the community did not want their town named for a disgraced person, and the Laidlaw Post Office was discontinued on Jan. 20, 1915. The Tumalo post office was reestablished and relocated in the community, and it became known as Tumalo.
The town with grand plans for the future rapidly changed to a quiet farming community.
Steve Lent is a local historian and assistant director of the Bowman Museum. He can be reached at: 541-447-3715.