By Steve Lent, Historian
Seneca, Oregon is located along highway 395 between Burns and Canyon City, Oregon. The site around the little community was originally homesteaded in the early 1880s with ranching the primary economic driver. A post office was established at the site on Sept. 17, 1895 and the first postmaster was Minnie Southworth. The postal authorities wanted a short name so Mrs. Southworth chose to name it for Judge Seneca Smith of Portland. Judge Smith was her brother-in-law.
Seneca Smith was born in Indiana on Aug. 18, 1844. He came to Portland, Oregon to practice law in 1847. He was selected to fill a term for a retiring Circuit Court Judge in 1884. He married Margaret Gilliland but she died a few years later. He then married Susan Southworth in 1891. He died on Dec. 28, 1914 and is buried in Riverview Cemetery in Portland, Oregon.
The town slowly grew until 1929 when the Edward Hines Lumber Company of Burns extended the Oregon and Northwest rail line from Burns to Seneca. Logging operations began and large scale log shipments went from the Seneca area to the mill in Burns. The community was primarily Hines employees but the town was developed by Seneca Development Company headed by Edward Barnes. The company was brought from the south to the site by the Hines Lumber Co. Technically Seneca was not a company town as employees had to buy their homes from the development company. A lodge was also built to house visiting lumber dignitaries
The lumber company built a planing mill in Seneca and some railroad shops. Several years later the lumber company switched to hauling logs by trucks as it became more economical. The population grew to 275 by 1940. The town was incorporated in 1970 near the time that the lumber industry began to decline. A school was built by the lumber company in 1932 to serve its employees. Hines Lumber Company ceased logging and shipping from Seneca in 1984 and the rail line was eventually removed.
Seneca again became a ranching oriented community with recreational activities. The population is now estimated at 250. Although it was once a thriving lumber town it is still a robust community.