Friday, June 5, 2009

Buncom, Oregon - Southern Oregon's Hidden Ghost Town

Contrary to popular belief, there are very few standing ghost towns left in the West in this day and age. Although books and web sites often say that this town or another is a ghost town, most of those so-called "ghost towns" actually have a few residents still living there at least some part of the year. In the case of Jacksonville, which is one of our local "ghost towns" that you may find listed on many web sites or in books, Jacksonville actually has several thousand residents and is simply a very well preserved gold rush era town that has a few developmental laws in place to insure that new buildings conform to the look and feel of the place. Meanwhile, you can also find Placer, Oregon in many of those books. Placer exists and yet doesn't exist at the same time. The actual town of Placer is gone, but many of its buildings are not and they may be found hidden amongst the relatively recent housing developments of Sunny Valley, Oregon's outskirts up on Placer Road. There is also Kerby, Oregon (which I was named for), where numerous remnants of the frontier era still exist, including the old hanging tree where fast judgements were typically dealt out by Judge Lynch. Though Kerby is listed as a "ghost town" in many places, its few hundred inhabitants would argue different. Meanwhile, another local ghost town is All Hours. As its name might indicate, All Hours was a pretty rough place back in the day and saw more than its share of frontier violence. All Hours is a ghost town all right and its such a ghost that not only is there nothing left of the place, but nobody seems to know for sure exactly where the town site actually was.

Buncom, Oregon, however, is a REAL ghost town and it's one of only two of its kind in this part of Oregon (the other is Golden). But unlike Golden, Buncom is not even too well known by long time locals, likely because it is located in some forested country that is a eleven miles from Highway 238. That said, Buncom is not exactly isolated. The buildings are located on the private property of Mr. Reeve Hennion (the official "Mayor" of Buncom) who lives in a house nearby and sit upon the shoulder of the crossroads of Sterling Creek Road and Little Applegate Road. Though these are not busy roads, they are paved and a great number of people do live out here, hence a few cars go by every so often.

Despite the fact that Buncom is not well known by even locals, people have lived here for eons. Prior to the 1850's and the coming of American settlers, the Latgawa Indians had a village nearby at the mouth of Sterling Creek. Miners discovered gold here in 1854 and during the Rogue River Indian Wars, the Latgawa who lived on the banks of Sterling Creek were entirely wiped out. Owing to the fact that a good amount of gold was located in the basic vicinity, a number of communities were established, one of which was Buncom, as well as nearby Sterlingville which was believed to be the larger of the two and also had its own cemetery.

One gets to Buncom by traveling on Oregon Highway 238 (either from the east out of historic Jacksonville or from the west via Grants Pass, both of which are accessed easily from Interstate 5). At the small community of Ruch, take Applegate Road to the south and then turn left on Sterling Creek Road and just drive on to Buncom, which is eleven miles from Ruch.

While traveling Highway 238 from either direction, you'll be driving through proper Gold Country, the remnants of that era still being seen along the roadside in the guise of old mining flumes, ruined cabins, moss covered gravestones and numerous old homesteads. Unseen from the naked eye on the densely forested mountain sides, hundreds of old mines honeycomb the area, while down along the river bottom lands of the Applegate River lay some of the finest farmland in Oregon. In times past, it mainly supported vegetable and grain crops, but in recent years, numerous vineyards have appeared. It's also some of the oldest land you will find in the West and the Applegate River, though relatively small, is truly an ancient stream. Eons ago much of the Western portion of North America lay underwater, but at its western most edge were two large islands. One of these islands consisted of the mountainous country of northeast Oregon, while the other is today the Siskiyou, Applegate and Rogue countries. Where I'm writing this, which is less than a mile from the southern banks of the Rogue River, would have been beach front property back in those days. In that age, numerous species of animals not typically found in North America once roamed here and the bones of ancient camels and the little three toed prehistoric horses have been found at the ancient campsites of the area's first locals. Local museums also have samples of Mammoth remains, the forebears of modern elephants.

Buncom proper is composed of three standing buildings including the Buncom Post Office (which also doubled as a general store), a large cookhouse and a long narrow bunkhouse. The remains of a fourth building are also across the road, but as you traverse the area, one can also see old sheds, barns and cabins in varying states of condition that were also part of Buncom.

The main cluster of buildings mentioned above are maintained by the Buncom Historical Society who has done quite a lot of restoration work to see that they remain for the future. Due to its relative isolation, vandalism is a problem.

In 2003 their society released a book entitled "Buncom: Crossroads Station" and written by Connie Fowler and J.B. Roberts to document the history of this aging ghost town.

Until recently, the society held an annual Buncom Days festival on the grounds that attracted hundreds of attendees, but just like Buncom's occupants, it too is now a thing that belongs to the ages.

Though one is free to visit Buncom, visitors should remember that the site is private property and to follow the cardinal rule of all ghost town enthusiasts - no relic hunting - and to leave only with your memories and some photographs.

~ Kerby J.

Map courtesy of Mapquest. The blue line indicates the Oregon-California border and is roughly between Portland and San Francisco.

Photos of Buncom, Oregon by Kerby Jackson. (Jan. 3rd, 2008)

Buncom, Oregon. You likely expect to see a tumbleweed blowing by in this photo, but we don't have any sagebrush on this side of Oregon, hence we have no tumbleweeds. All in all, there's not a hell of a lot of going on in Buncom these days.

Even the woodpeckers gave up a long time ago.

The remains of a house at Buncom, Oregon. As indicated by the growth of moss on its foundation, it has been gone for decades. Part of the fireplace can be seen on the right.

A few bits of debris that someone dug up out of the building's foundation, but fortunately, they followed the golden rule of all ghost town visitors and left them behind for others to enjoy. (And I left them too). Note the distorted bit of glass in the center that tells the tell-tale story of a house fire in decades past. The item on the right is the remnant of what was once a sealed canning jar that likely burst in the pantry during the fire. (By the design, this jar is Post 1915, so is not necessarily as old as one might think).

The same building, only another view.

A side view of Buncom, Oregon.

The crossroads where Buncom, Oregon stands. As indicated by the road sign, Sterling Creek runs nearby. Gold was first discovered here in 1854 and a number of small communities sprung up along the banks of the creek, including Buncom. Also nearby was the mining community of Sterlingville, Oregon which also boasted its own cemetery (I haven't located either the town site or the cemetery yet.) If you happen to visit Buncom and come in the winter, avoid using the uphill section Sterling Road. Though paved, it goes up over the mountainside like a corkscrew and is very dangerous even during the summer months due to its narrow lanes and hair-pin corners that plunge off down the embankment. Due to our wet winters and dense forests, it becomes a little better suited for bobsleds than cars that time of the year due to constant sheets of ice in the shaded areas. Even during the summer it's a pretty stressful drive!

The false fronted building on the right was originally the post office for Buncom, Oregon. It's the youngest building at Buncom, dates back to about 1910 and also doubled as a general store. Quite a lot of restoration has actually been done to it, including repairs to its roof and front porch. The Buncom Historical Society has done a wonderful job preserving it, as can be seen in the historical photos of this building on their web site.
The "bunk house" at Buncom, Oregon. Note that the rear door is ajar. Someone with no respect for history broke the lock on the door and forced it open. Though I chose not to venture inside, I did poke my head in enough to make sure they had not thrashed the place (fortunately, they hadn't). When we got home, I gave local author and Buncom Historical Society officer Connie Fowler a call to let them know about the door being open and she told me that they were having a constant problem with vandals breaking windows and doing other damage. I suspect the problem would be even worse if Buncom was not located on a relatively well traveled road with houses nearby. A close up of the back door. Note that electricity was put in here at one time. Once Buncom officially expired as a town, these buildings were used as homes by a few hardy folks over the years.

Another view of the backdoor ajar. Is that a lens flare or the ghosts of Buncom's past standing guard?

The "cook house" at Buncom, Oregon. Quite a bit of restoration work has been done here.

Another view of Buncom's post office.

And yet another. Notice the broken window pane that a vandal smashed?

A rather unique looking tree at Buncom (behind the burned out house), likely the result of decades of neglect on what was originally a grafted sapling. I'll bet this guy looks a lot like a headless Wampus or Sasquatch on a full moon night.

Here's a side view of the post office. Note the stove pipe hole.

Yet another unique tree. You can almost imagine a bunch of local boys riding it as a make-believe-horse in an age gone by when there was a bit more going on in Buncom, Oregon.


Christin said...

Do you have any idea how to contact the owner of Buncom?

Rick said...

Hey, thanks for posting this. I finally got out there and was able to get some pictures of the town myself.

It was certainly worth the detour from Jacksonville