There’s a story behind the name of every locale in Douglas County and UV will try to explain them all — or most of them — in short takes appearing in this and subsequent issues of the magazine.
This time around, we look at two of the county’s unincorporated communities: Scottsburg, named for one of Oregon’s early settlers, and Winchester, briefly the Douglas County seat.
Story by Jim Hays Photography courtesy of Douglas County Museum
Today a nondescript hamlet just east of the Oregon Highway 38 bridge over the Umpqua River — some 60 miles northwest of Roseburg and 20-odd river miles from the Pacific — Scottsburg was thought to be a coming metropolis in the years after 1850, when it was founded by Oregon pioneer Levi Scott.
The area was located at the navigable headwaters of the Umpqua and initially served as a seaport serving the interior of Southern Oregon.
It was also a transfer station for a stagecoach line from Drain, about 35 miles due east. Stage passengers arrived in Scottsburg and transferred to boats for the trip downstream to Gardiner, Reedsport and Umpqua City.
City father Scott was one of Oregon’s earliest pioneers. Along with Jesse and Lindsey Applegate, Scott led a wagon train west on the Oregon Trail in 1844 and settled near Dallas in Polk County.
In 1846, he and the Applegate brothers led an exploration party authorized by the Oregon Provisional Government to find a southern route into the Willamette Valley. The result was the Applegate Trail, a route that went south and east from the Umpqua Valley and linked up with the much-traveled California Trail on the Humboldt River in what is now northern Nevada.
Scott wrote a waybill describing the route, which was published in the Oregon Spectator newspaper on April 6, 1848. He also offered tips for emigrants on the trail, including “Travel in companies of at least 20 wagons, with at least 25 men able to bear arms,” and describing the indigenous population as “poor, cowardly and treacherous.”
During the Cayuse Wars of 1847-55, Scott was commissioned a captain of militia and was responsible for maintaining communications between Oregon’s provisional government and that of California, which became a state in 1850.
Scott lived briefly in 1848 along Elk Creek in what became known as Scotts Valley, then laid out and settled in Scottsburg, where, according to Oregon Geographic Names, a post office was established in 1851. It remains unclear whether Scotts Valley was named for Levi Scott or his sons, John and W.J., who took donation land claims in the valley.
Scott Mountain, a 4,250-foot point on the North Umpqua west of Glide, is also named for Levi Scott. It should not be confused, however, with Scott Mountain in Lane County, whose namesake was unrelated to Levi Scott. Also named for Levi Scott is 8,938- foot Mount Scott east of Crater Lake in Klamath County and one of the Cascades’ major peaks.
Scott went on to be elected to the Oregon Territorial Legislature in 1852 and was later a delegate to the Oregon Constitutional Convention. He died in Malheur County in 1890 at age 93.
Scottsburg, however, had a much shorter life as a center of commerce. After its initial success, the town declined as Gardiner and Reedsport grew and was virtually wiped out by a cataclysmic flood in December 1861. The community never regained its prominence.
Founded: 1850; post office established 1851
Location: 60 miles northwest of Roseburg; about 20 miles upstream from mouth of Umpqua River.
Elevation: 60 feet above sea level.
Once briefly the seat of Douglas County, unincorporated Winchester’s history goes back to 1850, when it was founded by members of the Umpqua Exploring Expedition, a chartered group that sailed from San Francisco in July of that year.
As detailed in the December 1916 issue of Oregon Historical Quarterly, the party first reached the mouth of the Rogue River, where it encountered hostile natives, then continued north to the mouth of the Umpqua.
It established a settlement there — present-day Winchester Bay — but continued upriver to Scottsburg, at the head of the Umpqua’s tidewater. Unable to go further in its schooner, the expedition pushed on in small boats and reached Fort Umpqua, a Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post near the confluence of the river and Elk Creek. There, the party laid out and surveyed a townsite they named Elkton.
The expedition then divided into two groups, one of which explored Elk Creek while the other continued up the Umpqua to a spot where the river’s north fork bisected the Oregon-California Road and a ferry had been established.
Another townsite was surveyed and, according to Oregon Geographic Names, was named after Heman Winchester, the party’s leader — although other sources say the town’s namesake might be John Winchester, Heman’s younger brother who was also in the party.
Regardless, the groups reunited and sailed back to San Francisco, where they recruited about a hundred settlers for a return trip to the Umpqua Valley in the fall of 1850.
For a short time, Winchester was Douglas County’s most populous settlement and was designated the county seat. It was soon eclipsed, however, by Roseburg — five miles south. In an election conducted in 1854, voters chose the latter city as the permanent county seat — although it took until 1860 to complete the move.