The City of Willamina was founded in 1879 and incorporated in 1903. It spans 616 acres of land and water in Yamhill and Polk counties. The city experienced its heyday in the late 1930s, when the Pacific Plywood Corporation opened a plant there. But Willamina’s economy, almost wholly dependent upon the production and manufacture of timber, was not equipped for the industry’s precipitous decline.
The production and manufacture of lumber and wood were once Oregon’s main industry. But in 1980, 13,000 lumber and wood workers around the state were laid off. Mills were closing all over the Pacific Northwest, and Willamina was especially hard hit. The closing of Champion Building Products alone put one-quarter of the city’s population out of work.
Katie Vinson, co-owner of Willamina’s Wildwood Hotel, talks about the despair experienced by the community during that time. “There was a huge downturn. It felt like two steps forward, two steps back for a while because we did not have the economic base. When families go into survival mode, they don’t care as much about making the town look cute and presentable for tourists.”