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Shaniko: Once thought to be the “best” ghost town in Oregon

David Goran

Shaniko is a city located on Highway 97 in Wasco County, Oregon, about 8 miles (13 km) north of Antelope. The Shaniko area was first settled by a pioneer named August Scherneckau, who came to the area after the Civil War, in 1874. He bought a farm not far from the site of where the town would be.

In just a short while, this pioneer’s ranch served as a stage coach station.

An old “Welcome“ sign in Shaniko. By Tedder CC BY 3.0

An old “Welcome“ sign in Shaniko. By Tedder/CC-BY 3.0

 

City name written on barn in Shaniko. By Benjamin Chan Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The city name, written on a barn. By Benjamin Chan/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

 

Shaniko is named after the first settler in the area, August Scherneckau who was a German immigrant. By Ljlabarthe CC0

Shaniko is named after the first settler in the area, a German immigrant named August Scherneckau. By Ljlabarthe/CC0

 

Old West style buildings line the alley between E and F Streets. By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

Old West style buildings line the alley between E and F Streets. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

The spelling of the town’s name reflects the local pronunciation of Scherneckau’s name. The town was originally called Cross Hollows, and a post office by that name was established in May 1879 with Scherneckau as postmaster. Cross Hollows post office closed in 1887, and Shaniko post office opened in 1900.

The same year, the Shaniko Hotel was built, originally known as the Columbia Southern Hotel. The structure was built with 18-inch thick walls and handmade brick and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

View east across E Street from the porch of the Shaniko Hotel (the historic Columbia Southern Hotel) in Shaniko, Oregon, United States, including the current City Hall. By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 3.0

View east across E Street from the porch of the Shaniko Hotel (the historic Columbia Southern Hotel) in Shaniko, Oregon, United States, including the current City Hall. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 3.0

 

This set of buildings, with the blacksmith shop in the foreground, By Don Graham Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

This set of buildings, with the blacksmith shop in the foreground, By Don Graham/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

 

The historic cabin (built ca. 1900), located on the block bounded by E, 4th, F, and 5th Streets. Wikipedia Public Domain

The historic cabin (built ca. 1900), located on the block bounded by E, 4th, F, and 5th Streets. Wikipedia/Public Domain

 

An old rusty tractor. By Don Graham Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

An rusty old tractor. By Don Graham/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

 

An abandoned truck in a wheat field in Shaniko. By Don Graham CC BY-SA 2.0

An abandoned truck in a wheat field in Shaniko. By Don Graham/CC BY-SA 2.0

With the Columbia Southern Railway now connecting the town more to the outside world, Shaniko’s abundance of sheep allowed it to become the “Wool Capital of the World.” In fact, in 1901, 2000 tons of wool were shipped out of Shaniko.

The old bank building. By Don Graham Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The old bank building. By Don Graham/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

Sadly, Shaniko would only have less than a decade of prosperity due to better railroad routes bypassing the town and a devastating fire in 1911. Funds were not available to rebuild, and the slow but steady drop in population began. The railroad finally stopped coming to Shaniko at all in 1942, and most of the townspeople left.

The house fronting U.S. 97 at tax lot 2400. By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

The house fronting U.S. 97 at tax lot 2400. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The house fronting U.S. 97 at tax lot 2300. By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

The house fronting U.S. 97 at tax lot 2300. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The house at the intersection of 5th and F Streets. By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

The house at the intersection of 5th and F Streets. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The historic house (built ca. 1900) located on the southwest corner of C and 6th Streets. y Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

The historic house (built ca. 1900) located on the southwest corner of C and 6th Streets. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

Shaniko is not technically a ghost town. Today, around 20-25 people live here, but there is much to see in Shaniko, and many claim it is the best ghost town in Oregon. Several of its buildings are maintained in an Old West theme, complete with authentic boardwalks and false fronts.

The historic municipal hose house located at the corner of 6th and D Streets. By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

The historic municipal hose house located at the corner of 6th and D Streets. By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

The historic Shaniko School (built 1901). By Ian Poellet CC BY-SA 4.0

The historic Shaniko School (built 1901). By Ian Poellet/CC BY-SA 4.0

 

 

Just a few of the many antique vehicles gathering dust in the old Shaniko Livery Barn. By Don Graham Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Just a few of the many antique vehicles gathering dust in the old Shaniko Livery Barn. By Don Graham/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Still standing are the old water tower, the City Hall complete with an old jail, the school, and the post office. The old Shaniko Livery Barn now stands as a museum featuring a number of antique cars in their original state.