Maybe you’ve heard stories about what Oregon was like in the early 20th century, but have you ever wanted to see it for yourself? We recently came across an incredible collection of rare photographs from the 1930s and 40s that were archived and made public by Yale University. To put together this article I decided to focus on one single year in Oregon’s history, 1939, and to collect some of my favorite images that illustrate what day-to-day life used to look like.
These amazing photos, taken in 1939 by Dorothea Lange, offer us a glimpse into the past to help us imagine how different (and in some ways, how similar) life in Oregon used to be.
17. A picnic on the Rogue River.
Photo Caption: "Oregon, Josephine County, Grants Pass. Sunday picnic in park on the Roque River. Outskirts of Grants Pass"
16. Houses in Portland.
Photo Caption: "Woodpiles along the street are a characteristic of Portland, Oregon. Costs five dollars and fifty cents per cord, and must be hauled thirty-five miles. (Shows homeowner on porch.) Portland, Oregon"
15. A farm house.
Photo Caption: "Hop farmer's children, small owner, and backyard of house. Oregon, Polk County, near Independence"
14. Main Street.
Photo Caption: "Main street, population 1,248, in hop growing district of Williamette Valley. Small town. Independence, Polk County, Oregon"
13. A horse-drawn wagon.
Photo Caption: "Wagon built on the farm utilizing parts of wrecked Dodge truck. "The team can haul three times as much." Oregon, Kirby (Josephine County)"
12. A street corner in Independence.
Photo Caption: "Street corner, Williamette Valley. Small town during hop season. Independence, Polk County, Oregon"
11. A family on their way to a potato harvest.
Photo Caption: "Just arrived from Kansas. On highway going to potato harvest. Near Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon"
10. A bean field and an irrigation system.
Photo Caption: "Oregon, Marion County, near West Stayton. Beanfield showing irrigation."
9. A church.
Photo Caption: "Old Catholic church on edge of potato town. "The Oakies and Arkies" live four in a room around here. Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon"
8. A hop picker.
Photo Caption: "Hop vine and hop picker. Near Independence, Polk County, Oregon."
7. A highway advertisement.
Photo Caption: "New sign along highway advertises a new enterprise in the lonely town of Maupin, Oregon. Population 245"
6. A political statement on the side of a "fixit shop"
Photo Caption: "Oregon, Salem. See general caption number 25 Caption before agency editing: Panaceas for poor people"
5. A sawmill.
Photo Caption: "Small sawmill on the Marys River near Corvallis, Oregon"
4. A railroad.
Photo Caption: "Western Pacific line runs through unclaimed desert of northern Oregon. Ten miles from railroad station at Irrigon. Morrow County, Oregon"
3. A farm worker and his family's home.
Photo Caption: "The Fairbanks family has moved to three different places on the project in one year. Willow Creek area, Malheur County, Oregon."
2. A doctor and his mobile trailer clinic.
Photo Caption: "The doctor arrives in camp, by previous appointment with the nurse. Seen entering the mobile trailer clinic. Merrill, Klamath County, Oregon, FSA (Farm Security Administration) camp"
1. A school bus.
Photo Caption: "Dead Ox Flat. Children get into school bus on a fall morning. Malheur County, Oregon."
Overall, a lot has changed since 1939. Do you recognize the places in these photographs? Share your thoughts in the comments.