The History of Metolius, Oregon

The community of Metolius is located four miles north of Culver and four miles south of Madras. The area near Metolius was first settled by a colony of German Methodists who were drawn to the region by promotional articles written by railroad companies. The first church in northern old Crook County (Jefferson was still part of Crook County then) was built by the colony in the summer of 1903 and the church was dedicated on July 10, 1904. The town was platted in 1909 with land being brought from Dombrowe, Frank Smith, William Blanchard and others.

The town was laid out by promoter Volley D. Williamson. He built a large hotel, bank and several other buildings. When the Oregon Trunk railroad arrived in the area in 1911, a railroad station and a post office was established. The post office was established on January 14, 1911. The first postmaster was J.D. Maddux.

The name Metolius was suggested by Volley Williamson for its location about five miles east of the Metolius River. It is a Native American term for white fish or light-colored salmon.

The coming of the railroad brought many new settlers to the vicinity. The railroad division point was located at Metolius and a round house was located in the community. The roundhouse could accommodate 8 locomotives and there was a large crew of men to inspect and maintain locomotives. A well was drilled to meet the needs of the locomotives and to supply water to the city. It was also the refueling place for freight trains operating between Bend and The Dalles.

Metolius was first a tent city built for railroad construction workers then rapidly grew to a town of nearly 500 residents. Many new businesses were constructed including the newspaper Jefferson County Record, two merchandise stores, a hardware store and two banks. The town also had five gallons at one time and they all did a flourishing business. A large grain mill and elevator was constructed and ready to receive grain in 1916. It was considered the main economic asset of Metolius, and when it burned down in 1927, it was devastating to the small community.

The population reached about 1500 people by 1917 and the community thrived for several years but began to decline when Bend became the main railroad division point in the 1920's. The post office was discontinued on March 31, 1956, was reopened as a rural station of Madras, but then was again discontinued on March 31, 1974.

Metolius Railroad Depot

This depot currently is located east of the BNSF railroad line in Metolius. The 30 foot x 115 foot structure was completed on May 4, 1911. Metolius was the division point for both James Hills Oregon Trunk Railroad and Edward Harriman's Deschutes Railroad Company. After the depot and a roundhouse were built the community of Metolius began to prosper. Railroad passenger service began to decline in the late 1930's and the depot was mostly abandoned. The city of Metolius bought the depot for $1.00 from the Burlington Northern railroad in 1984 and moved it about 120 feet east on to city property. The depot is a historical site and is listed on the National Historic Register for buildings. It is used as a museum and community center. 


Metolius Train Depot, Present Day


Commemorative Sign at the Train Depot in Metolius, Oregon

Metolius Well 

The Metolius Well was located at the community of Metolius. It was drilled by the Oregon Trunk Railroad to provide water for steam engines on the newly constructed railroad in 1911. The railroad company prepared sites for the arrival of tracks so that a structure for operation was in place when the railroad construction arrived. A series of wells along the railroad route provided water from the railroad and also local communities and farmers. The Madras Pioneer reported on the Metolius Well on September 1, 1910:

Water at 677 feet was struck in the big well being drilled for the Oregon Trunk Railway last Tuesday at Metolius, four miles southwest of Madras. The water rose 30 feet in the well. There seems to be plentiful flow, as the drillers were unable to lower the water level by bailing the well with sand buckets at the rate of 10 gallons per minute for a considerable time. Although there appears to be a strong flow of water in the well the drilling is going right along just as though no water had been found. It's hard to learn much about this well. There is a sign up that reads, " This well is pretty damned deep. It's heading for China." This is the deepest well in Central Oregon. The hole was drilled with a 12 inch tool. The pumping problems will be an expensive one but the railroad company must have the water and is able to get it. 

The drilled continued and a week later it was reported to be at a depth of 876 feet. Some builders were encountered at that level and 10 inch steel casing had to be installed. 

Excerpt taken from: Central Oregon Place Names, Volume II Jefferson County, Steve Lent, Pages 164-168

Metolius Present Day

The city of Metolius is still going strong to this day, with a population of just over 700 people. Some local features include an elementary school, several restaurants and local businesses. The fourth Saturday of each month, there is a pancake breakfast at the historic train depot that is open to the public. Metolius hosts other events throughout the year including the Metolius Spike and Rail Celebration and Santa's Workshop. To learn more about Metolius CLICK HERE.