How Bennett Flat Became the County Seat

..by way of Franklin, Wallowa City, and Enterprise

February 11, 1887 marks the date that Wallowa County was legally separated from Union County. The formation of a new county set off a fierce competition for the county seat. Joseph was designated the interim county seat until the voters could determine the final location.

Not surprisingly, the Chieftain, which at the time was located in Joseph, came out strongly in favor of the County Seat remaining in Joseph. Frank D. McCully, the state representative who introduced the legislation to form Wallowa County, was the owner of the Chieftain and the editor was McCully's first cousin.

However, there were some ambitious business men who thought otherwise. Despite threats of a boycott by Joseph residents against anyone who started a store in Bennett Flat these pioneer entrepreneurs took action to establish a new town that would be a contender for the County Seat.

A letter published in the Union County newspaper The Oregon Scout in the spring of 1887, declaimed Bennett Flat as the most beautiful town site in all of Wallowa County. "There is (sic) golden chances here for good live energetic men in all departments of business. We hope to see this the model town of the valley in a few years, in which such things as factions, cliques, rings and saloons will be unknown."

The new county presented an opportunity that was irresistible to the owners of the Island City Mercantile and Milling Company. They were looking for free land in exchange for establishing a Mercantile and Milling Company in Wallowa County. Having been rejected by the town fathers of Lostine and Joseph who didn't think government should donate land to private businesses, the IM&M Company owners declared they would build their own town.

The good, live, energetic men of Bennett Flat got busy. In July 1887, a plat that had been filed in 1886 by Robert F. Stubblefield for a town named Franklin was revised with the addition of Zurcher's homestead for a larger town now named Wallowa City. The plat prominently featured a Courthouse Square in the center of town and just a few weeks later, a deed was filed in the name of the Island City Mercantile and Milling Company for the choicest section in the new town (City Park, where the IM&M built a flour mill). The sale price? Just $1.00.

The new town had to be renamed yet again because the U.S. Postal Service refused to approve the name of Wallowa City because it was too similar to the name of a post office in the lower valley. The town fathers held a meeting in the temporary tent store of the Island City Mercantile and Milling Company to pick another name. Enterprise was finally selected to be the name. The story is that R.F. Stubblefield was inspired to suggest the name Enterprise by the entrepreneurial spirit of the community.

The city of Joseph, not to be outdone by a non-existent town with too many names, offered the new county rent-free office buildings and a jail. Despite the best efforts of the McCullys and the Chieftain, Enterprise was narrowly approved as the County Seat in early June 1888. Enterprise was formally recognized by the State of Oregon as an incorporated town in 1889.

The information for this article came from 5200 Thursdays in the Wallowas by Lloyd W. Coffman, the History of Wallowa County and The Forgotten Grist and Flour Mills of Wallowa County, Oregon by Irene Locke Barklow.