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Hidden history resurfaces as water level drops at Prineville Reservoir

Low water levels reveal Prineville settlers' communities

PRINEVILLE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Rick Swope is no stranger to the Prineville Reservoir. He's lived in Prineville for more than 20 years, often fishing and boating on the reservoir -- although there isn't much water for him to fish in nowadays.

"You can't mess with Mother Nature," Swope said Tuesday, with a pause, then added, "I don't know what to say."

Seeing the water so low brings anger to his voice, and tears to his eyes.

But through the frustration, it also brings up a memory.

"I had completely forgotten about it," Swope told NewsChannel 21. "And I came down one day and I saw two black spots. And I thought, 'Oh, my God.'"

As a kid, Swope used to visit the area before it became a reservoir -- so he was shocked when he saw a familiar bridge poking out of the water.

Swope reflected on what he remembers the area looked like.

"There was a barn out there by that bridge, I know that. And a couple of little outbuildings," Swope said.

Right now, the Prineville Reservoir is only 21 percent full. Since the water is so low,, you can see structures from before the dam was built in 1961.

Steve Lent, a historian at the Bowman Museum in downtown Prineville, says an entire community existed in the area that later became the reservoir.

"This is gone. All that's left is the abutments that come up to it," Lent said, looking at an old picture of the bridge.

The bridge used to be a county road, and the area that went underwater when the reservoir was created was home to ranches, roads, a school and a Civilian Conservation Corps camp.
Those ranches belonged to some of Prineville's founding families and are responsible for developing this areaof Central Oregon.

Members of Prineville's original families can still be found in town today.

Marty Bailey, a Prineville resident, is in that category.

Baily's great-grandfather, Monroe Hodges, founded the city in 1877. His grandparents owned the Bailey Ranch and Bailey School -- both in the area now covered by the reservoir.

Lent says some of Prineville's richest history can be found underwater -- usually.

"Everybody should be aware that there's not just a reservoir there," he said. "There was actually a thriving ranching environment there."

Bailey says growing up, his family never really talked about their role in Prineville's history. But he enjoys learning about his ancestors, and the roles they played in the town he loves.

"Going back and finding out something new, that I can every time is interesting -- 'Oh, they did that.' Oh, they did that,'" Bailey said.

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Carly Keenan

Carly Keenan is a multimedia journalist and producer for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Carly here.


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