Nearly 100 people showed up at Mecca Grade Estate on Thursday evening at a history pub to relive the day in 1946 when North Unit irrigation water first gurgled out onto a Jefferson County field, christening a transformative period of growth and prosperity for the county.
The main feature of the event, which was sponsored by the Jefferson County Historical Society, was a slideshow set to a recording of the May 18, 1946, radio broadcast by Bend station KALE from the Rodman farm near Culver.
The recording included brief speeches from officials on the local, state and federal levels and culminated in the opening of an irrigation gate and the sound of the water bubbling through it. The history pub crowd gave a cheer upon hearing it.
The slideshow provided visual images of the crowd gathered to witness one of the most significant events in Jefferson County history, of the irrigation infrastructure at various stages of completion, and of the speakers who took their turns at the microphone.
Water wasn't the only liquid flowing at the history pub. Seth Klann, who operates Mecca Grade Estate with his father, Brad Klann, served up samples of the specialty beers he brews using barley grown and malted onsite and other ingredients produced in Oregon, such as carrot flowers, cherries and rhubarb.
The history pub took place in the estate's spacious malting house alongside the Klanns' huge, one-of-a-kind unimalter that they designed to process barley grown on their century farm. They market their malted barley as a high-quality alternative to the more generic product used by most breweries and homebrewers as the foundational ingredient in beer.
Klann said the estate recently obtained a brewery license so that they can open their tasting room for regular hours and serve samples of beer made from their barley malt.
To complement Klanns' beer, staff from Erickson's Thriftway's deli were on hand with complimentary sandwiches and fruit trays served, as well as glasses of wine served for a fee.
The history pub kicked off with a song by the father-and-son musical duo Toolhouse, composed of Steven (father) and Kevin (son) Tool. They performed a song called "Some Bright Morning" written by 26-year-old Kevin, who is a historical society board member.
The song is based on the memoir of the same title written by Bess Raber, daughter of early homesteaders Mabel and Frank Stangland. The book —and the song — recount Raber's childhood and family hardships on the Agency Plains.
The song was particularly appropriate to the occasion because the Stanglands' homestead was adjacent to the property where the history pub took place — the Seth and Cora Luelling homestead now owned by the Luellings' great-great-grandson Seth Klann.
Chris Horting-Jones, Records Management Specialist at the Bend office of the Bureau of Reclamation, gave a few remarks on the future piping of the North Unit canals and said that the construction records of the North Unit had been moved and lost at some point.
Next, Historical Society board member Jarold Ramsey introduced the main part of the program, saying, "What I hear in listening to those voices from, now, 75 years ago, is that optimism and that confidence and that enthusiasm. And we are the future that they were looking towards and we know that farming now — here, elsewhere, but especially here — has its challenges of all kinds, natural, political, economic, whatever. They thought that we were worthy of all the work that they had done, and I think they were right, but the burden is on us to keep up our spirits and carry on so that our kids and grandkids can inherit all the work that has been done all these years."
The speakers recorded on Water Day included Howard Turner, first mayor of Madras and citizen of Jefferson County, who had a hand in most of the important developments of the county's early history and who was introduced as chairman of the Jefferson Water Conservancy District.
Turner was followed by Robert Sawyer, publisher of the Bend Bulletin and chairman of the Deschutes Project Association. Next came Clyde Spencer, Lyle Cunningham and Goodrich Lineweaver, representatives from the federal Bureau of Reclamation. The slideshow provided photographs of each speaker.
The last speechmaker was Gov. Earl Snell, who enthused, "Today marks the beginning of the transformation of a vast area of Central Oregon's dry and arid land into a garden spot of rich agricultural productivity. Today marks a new era in the economy and industry of this region, the fulfillment of a long-cherished dream."
After the irrigation gate had been opened, the 1946 radio broadcast concluded with a summary by the announcer of the importance of the occasion and a mention of several local old-timers — some present and some deceased — who had contributed to the effort to bring the North Unit to fruition, including the Luellings, the Horneys, the Ramseys, J.R. Mendenhall and Harry Gard.
The radio host introduced Sarah Rodman, widow of George Rodman, on whose land Water Day was celebrated. The Rodmans had homesteaded their property near Culver in 1895. Mrs. Rodman asked everyone to bare their heads for a moment of silence in honor of her deceased husband, and the crowd complied.
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