Maxville: The Oregon Ghost Town That Flouted Jim Crow

Known by a handful of names over the years, Maxville was home to men of color: loggers at a time when Oregon’s constitution included a provision of discriminatory Jim Crow laws excluding blacks and many people of color from the state. The town seems tiny by today’s standards with a population of about 400 residents, 40 to 60 of them African American. However, it was the largest town in Wallowa County between 1923 and 1933.

Logging crew in Maxville. Image courtesy of the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center courtesy of the Ona Hug Collection / Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center.

“Company jobs were typically segregated based on ethnic origin. Black workers felled the trees in teams, using cross-cut saws, and many had experience as log loaders, log cutters, railroad builders, tong hookers, and section foremen. The Greek workers at Maxville had expertise in railroad building, and white workers worked as section foremen, tree toppers, saw filers, contract truck drivers, and bridge builders.”

Maxville was mapped according to an often-used template in company towns, one that segregated residents by marital status and ethnicity. In 1926, two buildings, one for white students and one for Black students, were hauled to Maxville. The school for white students was located on the south side of Maxville and taught up to 75 students while the school for Black students was located on the north side of town and taught around 13 students. Maxville’s schools were the only segregated schools in Oregon at that time.

Maxville Wildcats Baseball Team

Despite all of this, friendships among Maxville families flourished in a time when such was considered “improper.” Although the schools were located on opposite sides of Maxville, kids found ways to connect and play, meeting up after school to forge friendships.

Baseball was an essential pastime during the 1920s and 30s. The lumber company enforced strict segregation rules here as well, and although the black and white teams played each other in town matches, the two teams merged when they competed against other local teams. This interracial team became the “Maxville Wildcats”, destroying the local white teams of Wallowa, Joseph, Enterprise, Elgin and La Grande. According to a newspaper article, the integrated team “played rings around the other team, scoring at will.” 35 cents earned you a seat at a game in 1925.

Economic conditions, especially the Great Depression and downturn in the lumber market, led to Maxville’s eventual decline as a town. In 1933 the Bowman-Hicks Lumber Company closed. Some of the residents settled in the nearby town of Wallowa. A few lingered at Maxville to work in what remained of the timber industry until a bad winter storm in the 1940s caused most of the remaining structures to collapse. After that Maxville became a ghost town. Some 60 years later, the children and grandchildren of the original logging families began researching the history of the town and uncovering the stories of their ancestors. This effort led to the founding of the Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center.

Image titled “Friendships Say No To Jim Crow”, 1937, Image
courtesy of the Ona Hug Collection / Maxville Heritage Interpretive Center.