In the summer of 1850, at the height of the California Gold Rush frenzy, members of the chartered Umpqua Exploring Expedition sailed out of San Francisco Bay bound for the Oregon Territory. 

The attempted to land at the mouth of the Rogue River, at present-day Gold Beach, but the local Tututni tribe prevented them from coming ashore. 

The expedition continued north and entered the mouth of the Umpqua River, where they founded a settlement at present-day Winchester Bay. They went upriver as far as present-day Scottsburg. Unable to continue in a schooner, they proceeded in small Fort Umpqua, a Hudson’s Bay Company trading post near the confluence of the Umpqua River and Elk Creek. There, they laid out and surveyed a townsite which they named Elkton.

Some members of the expedition rowed up the serpentine Umpqua as far as the Oregon-California Road, where a local boatman operated a ferry. They surveyed another townsite which was named for Herman Winchester (or his younger brother John) both members of the boating party.

The expeditionaires sailed backto San Francisco and with a company of about 100 settlers, they returned to the Umpqua Valley in the autumn of 1850.

For a few years the small hamlet of Winchester, Oregon, was the most populous settlement in the Umpqua Valley. Winchester served as the county seat until it was changed to Roseburg, five miles to the south, in 1854.

Winchester township on the Umqpua River, 60 miles from the coast, is frequently confused with Winchester Bay.

By the 1880s, the town of Winchester was practically abandoned.

In the spring of 1890 Henry Dumbleton bought the defunct town of Winchester along the North Umpqua River. He convinced manufacturers and business to relocate and establish an industrial-based city there, on the assumption that a dam on the river would supply sufficient power.

In June of 1890, Dumbleton award the mill dam construction to Charles A. Briggs, a contractor and sawmill operator from nearby Coles Valley, Oregon. 

There are references in literature to an earlier “weir” dam at the same location where Briggs built the Winchester Dam. The four-foot-high dam was built of log cribbing made from the old growth pine trees that grew along the river. In those days, the timber were “handled with pulleys and blocks.”

By August of 1890, Briggs had completed the excavation, construction of a pier, and the seat for the gigantic turbine, which, according to the August 28, 1890, Roseburg Review, was “…tedious [with] rapid percolation of waters [and] bailing with buckets as the pumps were inadequate.” 

Briggs Power and Saw Company, Roseburg, Oregon

Completed in October of 1890, the November 2, 1890 issue of the Roseburg Review reported on the grand opening festival on the banks of the North Umpqua River:

“Last Sunday was a gala day for Winchester … People came from every direction and by noon the town presented an appearance not unlike a Fourth of July celebration … The dam is a massive structure … timbers consist of huge pine trees not less than four feet in diameter … flooring laid with planks about a half inch apart to prevent swelling … to be filled with sand and natural debris…”

Designed with a seven-foot head, the Winchester Dam’s 104-inch diameter Leffel turbine weighed 16,000 pounds ­– possibly the largest such turbine brought to the Pacific Coast at that time. At the southernmost end of the dam face, stood the dam powerhouse, capable of generating 2,000 horsepower.

But Henry Dumbleton’s dream of a thriving industrial center in Winchester never came true.

The Panic of 1893, one of the most catastrophic financial crises in American history, bankrupted Dumbleton. For the ensuing decade, the township of Winchester remained mostly abandoned. 

In 1903, an inlet downstream from the powerhouse at the south end of the dam became the city of Roseburg’s primary source of drinking water.

The following year, Fred J. Blakely, Lewis G. Dumbleton (relationship to Henry Dumbleton unknown), and Louis Bargee founded the Winchester Townsite Company, and tried their hand at turning Winchester into an industrial center.

In August 1904, D. S. West, editor of the Roseburg Plaindealer, described “…a pleasant drive…” to Winchester for a visit:

“[They] piloted us through the great power plant of the company which supplies Roseburg both light and water. Three large turbine water wheels of about 250 horsepower each supply the power for the great plant while a 250-horsepower boiler and engine is held in reserve to meet any emergency that may arise.”

But Blakely, Dumbleton, and Bargee were unsuccessful in their endeavor. Three years later, in 1907, the Winchester Dam and the sawmill were sold to J.L. and S.A. Kendall, businessmen from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who owned vast timber holdings in the North Umpqua Watershed.