Sherman County Historical Society and Museum
Open Daily 10 until 5 May through October
Moro — Gem of Sherman County
Town holds onto its past while adapting to the present
The East Oregonian, Saturday, October 11, 2008

Sherman County's motto for many years has been, "From bunch grass to golden grain."

Rivers surround the county, with the Deschutes River on the west, the John Day on the east and the Columbia on the north. Sherman County - Oregon's smallest - is a peninsula of rolling hills, big skies and small towns. Towns like many in Oregon that struggle to keep its stores open and schools full of kids.

Right in the center of Sherman County is the county seat: Moro, population 350.

A small gem of a town, Moro has all the charms of arid Eastern Oregon - panoramic views and friendly people. The Bank of Eastern Oregon, a few antique stores, a cafe, and the Branding Iron, a restaurant and bar, line its tiny Main Street. A small art gallery offers paintings by the local Western artist Gilbert T. Clarke and drawing classes one evening a week.

"Growing up in Moro was a great place for a kid to explore and get to know people," said Sherry Kaseberg, one of Sherman County's three county commissioners. "I had a freedom that kids don't have anymore."Staff photo by Sarah Britain Main Street in Moro is home to eateries, cafes, an art gallery, antique shops, banks and more.

Kaseberg moved to Moro with her family when she was 5 years old. The town of her childhood, she said, is but a memory. Most of the businesses - and many of the people she grew to love - are gone. The auto sales shop and garage, the farm implement dealer, the Zipper (a sewing and notions shop), the confectioner, the meat market and the local newspaper, the Sherman County Journal, are no more.

The big event when Kaseberg was growing up, she said, was the flood of 1964. Several people died, and the water washed out stretches of the railroad tracks, effectively ending train service in the county.

Since the late 1980s, Kaseberg said, Moro has been shrinking, just like the other two sizable towns in the county - Wasco to the north and Grass Valley to the south.

But new life is starting to shine in this small, seemingly forgotten community. Staff photo by Sarah Britain Workers fill orders at the Azure Standard distribution center Thursday in Moro.

First came the wind farms. Sherman County now has two: Klondike Wind Farm and Biglow Canyon Wind Farm. They injected money into the county like a blood infusion into a dying man. Not only do the wind farms pay taxes - Klondike alone paid $321,206 in its first year of operation - they also provide a source of revenue for farmers who previously relied solely on the wheat market. The windmill companies also have donated money to the Sherman County School District, and the county is using wind revenues to build a new school library.

Then, on a hill overlooking town, next to the cemetery, the latest boon to the economy sits - a gleaming new warehouse for the natural foods producer and distributor Azure Standard.

The company buys foods in bulk and distributes them to small stores and co-operatives in 13 Western states. The warehouse in Moro is one of three Azure facilities; the other two are a flour mill and call center in Dufur. The family that owns Azure also grows organic grains and meat on 4,000 acres in both Sherman and Wasco counties.

Inside the giant Azure warehouse, workers unloaded bags of food from forklifts or zipped around on in-line skates. The skaters, known as "pullers" take products off the shelves to fill individual orders. Anyone can order food from the warehouse, as long as it's for at least $50, and a company trucker will deliver it at the closest drop off point on his or her route.

"We carry almost any food product there is, but it has to be natural or organic," said Stephen Hainline, one of the workers.

Azure built the warehouse last year and at first it was a tough pill to swallow for some townspeople. The construction of the warehouse created a city-wide dust problem and not everyone was happy with the increased truck traffic.

"There was some adjustments," said Donna Birtwistle. "But it was just a small town growing into a bigger town."

Despite the enforced modernity of the windmills and the new warehouse, the people of Sherman County still nurture a few old-fashioned traditions. The Sherman County/ Goldendale Quilters club, for example, recently won national acclaim for its quilt honoring women who have died in Iraq. The club went to Washington, D.C., to unveil the quilt on Sept. 17 at the Women's Memorial Center.

The morning of the unveiling, Brig. Gen. Wilma L. Vaught even drove several members of the club to the women's center.

Another reminder of the past is the Sherman County Historical Museum, which could be called the heart of the town. The museum is chock-full of artifacts and information about Sherman County's storied history. Local volunteers lovingly care for the museum, which has won numerous awards from organizations such as the Oregon Historical Society and the American Association of Museums.

There also is "Sherman County: For The Record," a small pamphlet the Sherman County Historical Society publishes twice a year to tell stories about the people who settled and lived in the county over the years.

One of the first editions tells the tale of a shootout between the first wheat farmers and the local stockmen, who weren't too happy to have fences put on perfectly good grazing land.

Sherrie Martin, the proprietor of the espresso and antiques shop, Now and Then, said the windmills have done a lot for the local economy, but Moro's history and location is the reason for another new source of revenue: tourism.

Martin isn't from Moro, but she married into a local five-generation wheat-farming family and is one of Moro's biggest cheerleaders. Along with espresso and antiques, she sells books, many of which local luminary Jane Kirkpatrick has written.

Kirkpatrick's memoir of settling in Sherman County, "Homestead," recounts her and her husband's "grand adventure" of making a life on a lonely, sun-baked stretch of the John Day River.

"We sell a lot of these," Martin said of the memoir. Kirkpatrick's books also boosts tourism, she said.

The historical interest and spectacular scenery, Martin said, has brought the same people back to the county over and over again.

"We get people from all over- Africa, New York, England. I had a man here from Poland the other day," Martin said.

"We're finally getting on the map."


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