The year was 1939 when Willamina was moving right along. A new high school was about to open, the brick plant was in operation and with timber being in high demand in the United States, several logging companies and sawmills were harvesting and producing almost 350,000 board feet of lumber a day.
Willamina was always on the lookout for new opportunities to encourage new business. January came an opportunity from the State of Washington and the Timber Company. A deal was made with the Olympic Veneer Company and the timber company, a 25 year supply of peeler logs would be provide to the company who would create plywood. In order to process the logs, there had to be a mill, not just any mill though, a mill close to the source and a railroad. The first choice was Grand Ronde.
February rolled around and it was discovered that Grand Ronde was not going to work. Instead of being disappointed that the mill was not going to be build nearby, the Willamina citizens found this as an opportunity. They made a proposal. They found the Kershaw wheat field just east of town could work. Unfortunately, they still needed to raise $9,200 to purchase the 28-acre parcel of land. Pledges came in but as time drew on, the fund was still $1,000 short. At the last minute, a McMinnville business was interested and decided that the economic benefits of buying the wheat field were too good to let go. Officials of McMinnville pledged the additional money needed and the company accepted the offer.
By March of 1939, excavation was underway for the 8-acre log pond and the main building. The farm field that used to graze sheep was going to be the new location of veneer plywood plant.
Once the 4-acre building floor was in place, the town started celebrating with a “Yamhill County’s greatest epoch in the lumber manufacturing industry” with a family roller-skating party. In May, an open-air dance took place in the new floor. One of the largest crowds ever came to celebrate in Willamina, nearly 25,000 people, some as far as Olympia.
There was a boomtown atmosphere in the air. Strangers by the dozen were seen in the streets, all seemed interested in the new ventures revolving around the expected weekly payrolls of $1500 to $2000 earned by 250 men who were expected to be employed. These men were going to need housing, business goods, and things for their family. This created a flurry of real estate, land was in demand and plans for new houses were being made. Forward thinking individuals were planning new business buildings, new infrastructures, and even a hospital for the town.
September 15, 1939 the Pacific Plywood Corporation opened and started operations, with full operations running 6 days a week, 24 hours a day. They say the area tripled in population, as people came from all parts of the country to work, raise their families, plant roots, and become the new citizens of what would become known as “The Little Town with the Big Payroll”. Those who always lived in the area watched the town change, found new work, opened new businesses, started new adventures, met new friends, or even married someone they may have never met if the mill had not opened.
The plant was known as the Pacific Plywood Corporation but it was going to be a part of a branch of the Olympia Company. Pacific Plywood became Associated Plywood in 1945, then U.S. Plywood purchased it in 1955, where the corporation then changed its name to Champion International in 1977, which was a division of U.S. Plywood. 1977, the division name was changed to Champion Building Products; it was 1 of 4 major divisions of Champion International.
The pond was estimated to hold 10,000,000 feet of peeler logs. The plywood plant wanted a way to store wood during the summer fire season and harsh winter months. There were no deliveries during these conditions and they wanted to keep operations open year round.
Construction of the pond would require 50,000 yards of dirt moved. Engineer O.C. Yocom and his assistant, Art Anderson would complete the plans and specifications before the start of construction. Soil tests were taken to ensure proper holdings for such a large quantity of water, with little leakage and filtration system in place. The idea was to have the logs from the storage pond be raised by log lifts (seen west of the plant) and use electric power on all the machinery.
The plywood facility operated as the veneer plywood mill until 1983, John Hampton of Willamina Lumber Co. then purchased it. This was going to be Willamina Lumber’s new $11 million veneer mill and would employ 65 people. One reason for purchasing the plant was to use the veneer from our mill and then we can operate at full capacity. Hampton did not purchase the plant for a “sense of community spirt” but to insure full capacity of the production of the companies veneer mill. It was going to be a major investment for Hampton. The log pond was going to be used as an extra storage-holding pond for the Hampton (Willamina) Lumber mill facility already in production. The end nearest the pond was demolished between 1985 and 1988. The plywood mill was officially closed in January 1990 due to a heavy windstorm that damaged most of the mill. The remaining buildings not damaged were used for hay storage for a few years, while the surrounding properties have appeared to be used for residential and agricultural purposes.
It has been almost 80 years (2022) since the original construction of the plywood log holding pond was built. Hampton owned the pond after purchasing it from the U.S. Plywood Corporation; it’s been donated to the city in 2007 with a large grant to build a park around it.
Vern Huddleston was the creator of the original fishpond at the old location in the Willamina’s Public Works facility, now a wastewater lagoon. Hampton donated the land but Huddleston was the fishing pond creator.
Today the pond is home to many different animals and serves as a park for those who fish, walk, and enjoy the outdoors. Who would have guessed the far-reaching effects of a decision made many years ago.