The History of Vanora, Oregon

Vanora is a former railroad station and is located seven miles northwest of Madras along the east shore of the Deschutes River. Vanora station was established on August 6, 1911 by the Oregon Trunk railroad. It was named for Ora Van Tassell transposing the Van and Ora. He was a farmer and real estate developer that owned the property where the station was established. Ora was born in Michigan about 1878. He and his wife Bertha settled along the Deschutes River and anticipated the arrival of the railroad. He later became a grain buyer and moved to Madras. He installed an elaborate water system along the river that was abandoned when he moved into Madras. A post office was established at the station on March 22, 1911 with John T. Disney the first postmaster. The post office closed on December 15, 1920. The town once had two stores, a grade school, a non-alcoholic saloon, a baseball field and a grain warehouse. 


While the town of Vanora no longer remains. People still live in the area along the Deschutes River in permanent residences or in vacation and fishing homes. 

Vanora Grade

This old road grade is on the north side of the John Brown Canyon high miles north of Madras. It is visible about Highway 26. The grade was first known as Elkins Grade but became known as Vanora Grade after the Oregon Trunk established a railroad at Vanora in 1911. It was a narrow and steep grade that ascended from the Deschutes River Canyon up to Agency Plains. Rock work and portions of the road are still visible. The grade was used by wagons and early automobiles until the present Highway 26 was built in the mid 1930's. The road grade was only a few feet wider than wagons or autos and was a unique traveling experience for early wagon traffic and challenging to early motorists. 


Passing motorists, if they look closely can see the original Vanora Grade to this day as the climb Highway 26 out of Warm Springs, Oregon. 

Vanora School

The school was earlier known as Disney School and was established in 1903 at the site of what would later become Vanora. Local residents John Campbell arranged for the first school and hired and boarded the first teacher Lillian Watts. Mrs. Watts taught at the school until 1908. Vanora was established when the railroad built the line to the area in 1910 and the school name was changed to Vanora. The school operated until the abandonment of the rail line in 1923. 

Vanora Tunnel

This old railroad tunnel is located just southwest of the Warm Springs Bridge across the Deschutes River and above the Rainbow Store. The Oregon Trunk Railroad built their line along the Deschutes from Trout Creek to Mecca and a tunnel was built at this site to avoid a sharp bend in the rail line. The tunnel is approximately 200 years long. The rail line referred to it as tunnel #5. It was completed in 1911 and utilized by the Oregon Trunk until this section of line was abandoned in 1923. It was named for its close proximity to Vanora Station that was about two miles south of the tunnel. After the line was bonded, Lewis "Turk" Irving purchased the site of the tunnel in an attempt to grow mushrooms in the tunnel. The venture did not materialize. Later the tunnel was utilized as as storage space for potatoes and a ventilating system was constructed. It is now abandoned. This is one of the few tunnels not collapsed along the old Oregon Trunk Line. It is sometimes referred to as the Rainbow Tunnel. 


Vanora Tunnel, located in Warm Springs, Oregon behind the Rainbow Market. It is one of the only original Oregon Train Tunnels to still be standing. Photo from Abandoned Rails. 

Excerpt taken from: Central Oregon Place Names, Volume II Jefferson County, Steve Lent, Pages 274-275