Helix, Oregon Historical Walking Tour

Take a stroll around the small town of Helix, Oregon and visit the historical buildings.

Helix, Oregon Historical Walking Tour

Helix, Oregon 97835, United States

Created By: Lorin Kubishta

Tour Information

In 1879, a young Norwegian named Peter Hjelsing dug the original well for Helix on a quarter section of land that he had acquired by "right of discovery and preemption." Hjelsing decided that because it was ten miles to the nearest town, Centerville (Athena), and 18 miles to Pendleton, the next nearest, a town was demanded in that portion of the county. In the summer of 1882, with John Arnold as engineer, Hjelsing surveyed and platted the town of Helix.

He was to sell his land to A.J. Richmond several years later, and worked hard to develop Helix into a self-sustaining pioneer town.

Although the town was established in 1882, its residents didn't hold its first organizational meeting until 1903. The name Oxford was first chosen as the town's name, but it was rejected because another post office in Oregon had chosen that name.

A well-known resident of the area who was called "Pop" Henderson, had been suffering from an earache. This prompted him to see a doctor and, during the examination, the doctor diagnosed that the affected part of the ear was known as the "helix." This was a new word to Henderson and he could not forget it. As he walked down the street, he met the postmaster, Orange Switzler who asked Henderson for a suggestion for the town's name. "Oh hell, call it Helix," said Henderson. And so, they did. This 2011 story in the Oregonian discusses the naming of the town.

Helix has maintained its small-town charm, with a population of around 200 residents and has a strong sense of community.

Today, Helix is known for its picturesque setting, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. The town also hosts the Heart of the Country Rodeo and the Wheatstock Music Festival which help to bring the community together and celebrate the town’s rich history.

The Helix Historical Walking Tour consists of 18 sites of historical significance in the small city of Helix, Oregon. The tour begins at the heart of the city--the historic Griswold Union High School. Those taking the tour may follow the route as shown, or pick it up at any point along the way.

The full walking tour is 1.6 miles in length and is estimated to take approximately 90 minutes to complete, depending on pace.

Tour Map

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What You'll See on the Tour

Helix was the first district to organize a Union High School in Umatilla County. The law authorizing organization of Union High Schools went into effect  in 1921, and in the same year, a petition was presented for the formation of this hig... Read more
The Masonic Lodge Hall was built in 1899 and underwent extensive renovation in the 1940s.  Fraternal orders were once an important part of the social structure of rural America, and this lodge was one of two orders that once convened in He... Read more
It was on this lot that Helix's first building was built in 1881 by Orange Switzler.  The building, called the old red house, served as a post office, a butcher shop, grocery store, rooming house, birthplace of the I.O.O.F. Lodge, and home... Read more
Originally known as Vernon Kerley's Garage, this building on the northwest corner of Columbia and Main, once had gas pumps, sold tires, housed an automotive shop, and possibly even served as a used car dealership.  Later, the building was... Read more
This handsome brick building historically housed the Helix Lockers. It was constructed in 1920 as Blinn's Store. Fred Blinn lived across the street at what is now 208 Solar Street. The store originally had a post office on one side. Blinn... Read more
Originally built and owned by Sones and Walker, J.S. Norvell bought this hardware store in 1904 and lived next door. Norvell ran the business as J.S. Norvell & Co. for many years. Early in its history, Norvell also branched out and sold... Read more
The existing bank building was built in 1914, as a replacement for an earlier wood frame bank building that existed on the same site.  The articles of incorporation were filed in 1904, with a capital stock of $25,000 (an excess of $835,000... Read more
This building, part of the original Helix Railroad Depot, was located on land just north of Richmond Lane and Harrison Street.  It serviced a standard gauge train line that ran its way north through Vansycle Canyon on its way to the Columb... Read more
This building, now a private residence, was the first Helix Elementary School. Records indicate that the first pioneer school house was built in 1880 behind this building. It was replaced by this structure in 1889. It has also been used for... Read more
The Helix Grade School is located South of Columbia Street at the end of Harrison. Currently the building serves as the Helix City Hall, Helix Museum, and the Helix Public Library. Construction on this brick building began in 1913, and was... Read more
The Helix Baptist Church building was constructed and organized in 1893 on the southwest corner of Harrison and Columbia. It was started by charter members of the Helix  Christian Church: brother and sister A.D. Brooks, brother and sister ... Read more
The Helix Mill opened in 1918. It was lost to a fire in 1968. The facility had a milling capacity of 400 barrels per day, and the bulk storage capacity of the four concrete tanks was 60,000 bushels. The Helix Flour mill was farmer-owned. T... Read more
The Helix Natatorium, as it was then called, was first built by local pioneer farmers using two or four horses and Fresno Scrapers. Construction was completed in 1916 and was one of the first public pools in Umatilla County.  The land for ... Read more
This home, which was once painted a distinctive red, was originally the boarding quarters for the foreman of the railroad crew for this section.  The home was provided as a benefit of working with the railroad and featured bead board pan... Read more
To the northwest, you will be able to clearly see Helix's lone remaining iron-clad grain elevator. A significant change to Helix and surrounding areas was the switch from sacked grain to bulk grain made possible by new technologies. By the ... Read more
This home, built around 1910, served as both the residence and medical office of Dr. William H. McKinney, one of Helix's two physicians. The photo of Dr. McKinney dates from 1920. The town’s lesser-known doctor practiced in Helix during ... Read more
This small jail building was moved here from its original site (today, behind the Helix City Shop) after prisoners attempted to destroy it by burning the door off it. A new concrete jail was built to replace it and this building became Dr. ... Read more
Prominently visible in all of the old Helix  panorama photos,  the Grover House was initially owned by the Dale family.  The house is among the oldest buildings in the city and still serves as a private residence. With a barn next to the... Read more
Helix has maintained its small-town charm, with a population of around 200 residents and a strong sense of community.  Today, Helix is known for its picturesque setting, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland. The town also hosts a numbe... Read more


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