Eagle Point Irrigation District began it's journey on August 21st, 1915, when the State of Oregon granted EPID water rights from Big Butte Creek. As the story goes, the District was established on April 15th, 1919 by Waldemar Hammel, James Spencer, William Perry & Wilbur Jacks. These gentleman went on to form a committee among the local land owners to help create the district boundaries.
The Board proceeded to hire Ralph P. Cowgill, graduate of Washington State & Frank Dillard a then recent graduate of University of Oregon. These two men engineered the creation of the canal & laterals from Butte Falls to Eagle Point. To put the plans into action , William Vonderhellen was awarded the contract to construct the main canal, laterals , flumes & bridges . The district hired 3 crews of laborers , consisting of around 20 local men to complete this project by August of 1924. Many of the crew members were family & friends.
In the early stages of the district, a board members life was cut short in September of 1921. Wilbur Jacks was shot in the back side on Main Street of Eagle Point, by a local resident & patron of the district. The district didn't waste much time getting the position filled. The newly elected officer was Mr. Fred Pettegrew , a long time resident of Eagle Point.
Once all laterals and flumes were completed the district diverted water for the first time from Big Butte Creek on April 29th 1924 . Just a few weeks later, EPID sent the first round of water through the Nichols Gap on May 17th at 9:05 P.M. These were the trial an error times. Just 5 days after running water through the Nichols Gap , a land slide occurred , wiping out a large portion of our canal. Water was then shut off for the next two weeks repairing the damages.
Construction of the wooden flume stretching across Brownsboro Hwy & Little Butte Creek began in the spring of 1924, bringing water to the south east part of the valley. This project took a little over two weeks to complete.
By the mid 20's the district purchased a few motor vehicles, but it did come with some set backs. The vehicles were not made for the rough terrain and were always breaking down. In May 1925 an axle broke on one truck while working at a break in the canal. A short time later a crank shaft broke on another. If that wasn’t enough damage, another district truck got totaled, when another gentleman crashed into the district truck while stopped at a stop sign. With motor vehicles not being an asset to everyone working for the district, EPID set up a camp near the work site. Each camp consisted of a cook , and the manager would go shopping each week for the necessities like bread, bacon & eggs. The crew members were making $4.50 per day.
As crops grew around the valley, so did the need for water. In the summer of 1936 the district was running low on water, not sure if they would have enough for the rest of the season. The ground was dry and crops were not producing a great amount of product. When water stops flowing, so does the cash flow of the farmers come harvest season. So the District decided to barter with many of the farmers who couldn’t pay cash for irrigation. The Worthington brothers paid half the bill with 14 head of hogs and 30 tons of alfalfa hay. While Mr. Gossett paid half his irrigation with 10 head of cows & Marshall Minter paid his with a ford tractor. I'm not sure what the district did with the hogs, but the tractor was put to use along with the hay for the working horses along our canal.
During the start of irrigation, the orchard boom began. EPID had many orchards in our district. One of the biggest was the Wilfley Orchard off of Brophy road (Trayhnam Ranches) and the Alta Vista Orchard, which is now the EP golf course. With the orchard boom, the valley grew & so did our district. The summer of 1940 the district hired an aerial photographer to capture the layout of the lands. The photographer captured the irrigated lands from Butte Falls all the way to Eagle Point. Each image was labeled with a number and irrigated properties were outlined in red.
As the years passed the large working crews diminished. By the 1950’s the district didn’t need much more than ten people to keep it running. If you were the canal patrol man, you had a rough 3 months during the summer. Dirty Dogs as we called them, would plug up the fish wheel, stealing the fish and occasionally pulling spill boards too. Each time a fish wheel got plugged, it caused the irrigation to be out 12 to 24 hours each time. These problems occurred every summer for many, many years.
Throughout the 1960’s we went through a few more bookkeepers; Doris Kelley & Clydenne Peterson. In 1973 we hired a lifelong bookkeeper that would stick around for many more years to come and eventually become the manager of the district (the only woman to mange a district, this side of the Mississippi). Hazel Brown was hired on October 31st of 1973 & was the district bookkeeper from 1973 to 1981. She moved up to district manager in 1982 and retired as manager in 2010.
The 70's seem to be a little rough on the guys who working along the canal. According to the journals being kept, they had a hard time keeping the equipment on the canal road. On Dec. 31 a crew member slide the tractor off the bank and ran into the tree. Just months before, the manager slide off the road and got stuck. During the winter months the canal road isn’t the safest. Just think of a very narrow road covered in ice and sticky mud. While one side is a full water canal and more than likely the other side is a steep mountain side. Not much room for corrections. If you weren’t sliding off the road you were falling through old bridges, cleaning boulders out of the canal or unplugging the fish wheel.