The old barn on North Dayton Street in John Day that has recently undergone a complete renovation, has been a subject of interest and speculation during the past year. Purchased from Jerry Daake and Glen Johnston by Bill and Gloria Smith as a home for the People Mover bus line, it has been completely restored and renovated by Dan Graikowski Construction and is not virtually a new and modern facility.
The old building and its related history, however, is a worthy subject and does rate a few more lines.
According to Carl Born, the building was built about 1910 by his uncle, Ed Born, for J.G. Jake Sliffe as a retail lumber sales building. His father, Charles Born, a long time freighter-teamster, had hauled all lumber for it from the mill in Fox Valley.
Sliffe has an arrangement to market lumber in the John Day Valley from the Halstead Mill. The Halstead Mill was a good-sized mill for its day and in addition to the sawmill, had a planer and kiln. It was no two-bit operation; it could cut large and long bridge timbers as well as standard sizes. The logs to supply the mill came from private homesteads in Fox Valley, and included his own (Halstead), Bill and John McBride, Ed and John Born, and a little from the Charles Born Homestead. A practice of the day was to cut the big ponderosa trees to log length to about the bottom branches, taking the clear, and leaving the upper, limb-laden portion to rot away on the ground. Halstead paid $2.50/M ($1,000) for logs delivered to the mill; sold his best boards at the mill for $30/M with the rest, including rough for $12 to $15/M. He employed about twenty men including Jess and Ed Johns, Dick Shouten family names still familiar in the county. Vickie Corchran, of Pioneer Federal Bank Eminence, is the great-granddaughter of Charles Born.
In addition to the bus barn building, a second barn was built of similar size and type to house more of the kiln dried lumber there was no outside lumber storage. That building became the subject of much interest to the people of John Day in 1937 when it went up in smoke and flames. This second barn was located adjacent of the first barn and just north of the present senior center. Bank robbers deliberately set it afire as a diversion while they robbed the Grant County Bank.
Sliffe operated the business until Albert Halstead closed the mill, sometime between 1919 and 1923. Albert wanted his son to have a high school education, so he closed the mill and moved to John Day where he bought the Ira Boyce mercantile store. This was later Guy Boyers Furniture Store, later still the site of Roger Simonsens Standard Oil service station and now the site of Mark Smiths Dairy Queen.
Use of the old barn for many of the intervening years is unknown, however Jim Maple, owner of the John Day Hardware Store acquired the property and had used it in the 1940s as storage for building materials. During the early 1950s it was used as a freight terminal and office site for Cummings Freight. Otis Cummings said of the time that the building was a receptacle for all of the slot machines that had been rounded up when gambling became a no-no in John Day.
No one knew what else to do with them, Cummings said.
It again became a storage facility for the hardware until acquired by Jerry Daake, a logging and forestry services contractor, who used it for equipment storage acquired the building.
The ground appears to have been mined at one time, and Carl Born believes that it likely was mined by Chinese miners. The activity by Chinese miners occurred for the most part between the late 1860s and 1900.
During the recent construction, Dan Graikowski and his crew commented that old timbers in the building were still good and sound except for two that had some dry rot. They also found old beer cans, old pop bottles and many, many old whiskey bottles.
Of the abundance of old discarded whiskey bottles, Daake said, Yeah I know all about them. I hauled away a pickup load.
Born added, Well, it would not have been Jake Sliffe because he was a teetotaler!