US Mint History
The Dalles, Oregon: The Mint That Never Was
When people hear the term “gold rush,” they immediately think of California and the Forty-niners. That was the largest and certainly the most publicized, but it was far from the only gold rush in the US. The first was in North Carolina in 1802, followed shortly by a rush to the Blue Mountains of Georgia. On the heels of California, there was the Pike’s Peak Gold Rush in 1859 and rushes in Idaho and western Oregon in 1860, among others.
To satisfy the demand for coining the newly discovered gold and silver, branch mints were established in Charlotte, NC, Dahlonega, GA (both closed at the start of the Civil War and never reopened), San Francisco in 1854, Carson City, NV in 1870…and in 1864, The Dalles, Oregon.
A Familiar Situation
Raw gold needs to be assayed and weighed in order to be useful as money. Prospectors in isolated mining areas were subject to the whims of local merchants and bankers who could arbitrarily set their own exchange rates for the metal as well as being victimized by other unscrupulous practices. The best way to get the right value for their gold was for the prospectors to send it to a US mint and have it coined.
But for prospectors in Idaho and Oregon, the nearest mint was in San Francisco, a long, expensive, and risky journey away. So, like in North Carolina and Georgia, local interests lobbied Congress to build a branch mint to serve them.
Location, Location, Location
In 1862 Oregon Senator James Nesmith introduced a bill to build a mint in Portland, figuring it would be easy to transport ore from the gold fields down the Colombia River. But with the Civil War raging, Congress had other concerns and the bill failed to pass.
As the war turned in favor of the Union, on July 4, 1864 Congress authorized a new branch mint to be built in The Dalles, a trading center on the Colombia River in western Oregon much closer than Portland to the gold fields. The following year a bill unsuccessfully attempted to change the location to Portland and plans for the Dalles facility began moving ahead. A construction superintendent, William Logan, was appointed and he headed west.
Tragedy and Timing Take Their Tolls
On June 6, 1865 local resident Mary Laughlin donated a block of land in The Dalles for the site of the new mint. On the morning of July 30, William Logan set off from Crescent City, California on the last leg of his journey to Oregon aboard the paddle steamer Brother Jonathan along with 243 other passengers and crew. After turning back to Crescent City due to an intense storm, the vessel struck an uncharted rock and sank. All but nineteen aboard were lost, including Logan.
A new superintendent, Harvey A. Hogue, was appointed and construction eventually began in 1869, but the project was plagued with delays. Designed as a two-story structure with a domed cupola and basement, construction had only progressed to the first floor when it was suspended in 1870 due to diminished production in the gold fields. That, along with completion of more efficient railroad connections, caused the federal government to abandon its plans for the mint in 1873.
The Heritage of The Dalles Mint
Much of The Dalles was destroyed by fire in 1871 but the partially built mint building survived with only minor damage. The US government gave the building to Oregon in 1879 and it was sold to private interests 1889. The second story and cupola were never built and the building was finished as a single-story structure. In 1943 a second fire damaged the building, which was by then used as a warehouse. It was repaired in 1947 and used by a moving company. In 2007, it was sold to the Erin Glenn Winery which gave it a $1.5 million renovation. Today it’s home of Freebridge Brewing, a brewery and restaurant.