Black Butte Ranch

A short history of Black Butte Ranch

Until the turn of the century Black Butte Ranch was a land seen only by trappers, army engineers on survey missions, migrant Indian tribes, itinerant seekers of gold, cattlemen who drove their herds over the mountains, one homesteader who manned a wagon road toll station and a family whose 160-acre homestead was used as a summer residence only.

For little more than a decade in the 1900’s the Ranch was the headquarters for the Black Butte Land and Livestock Company, a consortium of cattlemen with six other nearby pasture lands.  The Black Butte Ranch was the poorest of their fields because much of its acreage was swampland.  Efforts to drain it and increase its forage growth were never successful.

When the Livestock Company was dissolved, the property was sold to a lumberman who cut much of the timber, then resold the land to a wealthy California couple who hired a resident manager and use the Ranch as a summer home.  The property had one more private ownership, during which time the owner made several attempts to sell it to the State of Oregon for use as a state park.  These offers were never acted upon, but the owners received bids of $500,000 from California developers.  These they rejected because they feared their much-loved property would be covered with structures, commercial outlets and blacktop.

In 1970 they agreed to sell their 1280 acres to Brooks Scanlon, Inc. a lumber company in Bend whose board of directors in Minneapolis, MN had decided to start developments on some of their many timbered acres in Central Oregon.  The sellers were assured that the new owners respected the beauty of Black Butte Ranch and would do as much as possible to preserve its natural setting.

The developers did a marketing survey that showed 29,000 families in the state had an annual income of $40,000 or more. They hoped that five percent of them, 1,450, might be interested in a second home.  The developers embarked on a bold and unusual sales program, instead of advertising in state newspapers, television and radio stations or in regional magazines, they mailed posters to the prospective buyers.  The first mailing had a colorful picture of the Ranch meadow and a heading which read “There is a Place.”  In smaller type at the bottom were the words “Black Butte Ranch.”  It was the “marketing teaser” to which there was a 20% response.

Engineers and land planners were hired in 1970.  They were told to reduce the visibility of any of the home sites by planning cul-de-sacs and to create a feeling of tranquility which would tell owners and guests to “listen to the quiet.”

Home sites were put on the market in the late summer of 1970 and by the following year a lodge was built, the first 9 holes of golf had been carved from the forest, roads were completed within the area of properties for sale (the average price of which was $8,000) and a swimming pool and tennis courts in the Lodge area were readied.  The development became an instant success.

In 1982 the Black Butte Ranch Homeowners Association finalized a “turnover agreement” with the developing company, whereby the Association assumed ownership and responsibility for the Recreation Center, tennis courts, swimming pools, roadways, bicycle paths, water distribution system and meadow.  Four years later Brooks Resources notified the board that all their properties were to be sold.  A price was negotiated and ballots were mailed to Oregon owners in 80 locales and to others living in 33 states and 8 foreign countries.  By the March 1987 deadline 1001 owners had voted for acquisition.

There are several things that make Black Butte Ranch unique.  One is that it was begun in 1969 by a handful of young men whose average age was 30, none of whom had ever had any experience in resort development.  Also, it was being built prior to the proliferation of governmental regulations and restrictions, some of which would prevent its creation in the 1990’s.  But, what is the most singular difference between it and other resorts are that no developer remains to control any part of it.  It is owned and managed by the people who purchased the home sites.  Each of them owns an undivided and equal share of everything within the Ranch boundaries.  As far as is known there is no other resort of its size and structure totally owned and managed by its owners.

—By Peggy Lucas, Ranch homeowner and author of There is a Place