Mitchell, Oregon isn’t a destination in and of itself. It’s nestled quietly in the middle of nowhere — the town that bills itself as the “Gateway to the Painted Hills” is usually someplace people find by accident. Time seems to have bypassed Mitchell long ago, much like the new stretch of Highway 26 built years ago. One walk down Main Street, and you will feel like you have transported straight into the past.
Main Street Mitchell
Mitchell is officially classified as a “ghost town,” though the 130 souls that call it home might disagree with you. Well, except the resident ghost Patty, a young girl, who locals say roams the streets at night.
Speaking of locals, I would like to introduce you to Judy. She runs what she calls the town’s “everything store,” aptly named Judy’s Place, and sells everything from antiques to her mother-in-law’s hand-beaded jewelry.
Judy standing next to her cast iron stove.
Turns out Judy is a real Cast Iron Woman. As I was taking photographs on Main Street, she came over, introduced herself, and starting telling me a little history of the town.
“That’s the Sally Winebarger House. Sally lived there until she passed away in 1974. It’s been empty ever since. Started as a hotel, owned by the Boardmans (that the city of Boardman, Oregon is named for), but she ran it as a boarding house until she died. Boy, did she have some stories to tell.”
The Sally Winebarger House
Judy proceeded to tell the story of a young girl, about 15, who, in an attempt to escape her abusive father, had moved into the boarding house and was doing odd jobs to earn her keep. The girl fell in love with a fellow boarder, a young man much older than her. Well, her father showed up and didn’t like this “boy” sniffing around his daughter, and he proceeded to beat the young man senseless. The sheriff showed up and hauled the father away for the violent attack. No one ever saw the father again.
The Winebarger house has sat empty since Sally died. Someone bought it and started converting it to duplexes, but the work stopped and no one has yet called it home. It’s on the market now, so if you are interested in owning a little piece of history, make an offer.
Can you see the “For Sale” sign?
What makes Judy a Cast Iron Woman? Well, her little store doesn’t just sell a little bit of everything, it also doubles as a museum about Mitchell. She has historic pictures of the town, checks from the now defunct bank, and a story about every building on Main Street.
I asked Judy “Are you the official town historian?” she just looked at me and smiled.
“Well, I suppose. When I moved here, I spent a lot of time listening to the old timers tell stories. So I am doing what I can to preserve some of it.”
I don’t think Judy knows how extraordinary what she is doing really is.
So, if you are visiting the Painted Hills, or passing by on Highway 26 to another point further east, stop by Judy’s Place in Mitchell. She’ll invite you in, tell you a story or two, and show you the little piece of history she is working to save.
Note: Like the Cast Iron Women on their Facebook page and follow their hashtag #CIWAdventure on Twitter and Instagram to see all their adventures as they connect the past to the present on the path to the future.