Valerie Cornford has fond memories of her childhood summers spent in Millican, the small ghost town 25 miles east of Bend that her grandparents owned for four decades.
Cornford’s grandparents, William and Helen Mellin, bought the 74-acre town in April 1946 and ran a general store and cafe along U.S. Highway 20. The couple served travelers on the highway, a ranching family three miles away and seasonal workers at the nearby Pine Mountain Observatory.
On Friday nights, the town came alive with the few local ranchers and visitors sharing meals in the cafe and dancing together in the store.
“It was a mystical place where people went to hang out in the cafe and come in and play music and dance in the store,” Cornford said.
She is so fond of Millican, she wants to share it with the world.
Cornford, who works in property management in the Los Angeles area, inherited thousands of pictures and artifacts of Millican following the deaths of her grandparents and her mother, Tina, who grew up in Millican. Cornford is in the process of organizing Millican’s history for a website, millicanoregon.com.
“I’ve become the holder of all the memories and treasures of Millican,” Cornford said. “I want to share it with the people who are interested in it.”
In 1946, William Mellin was 28 and just out of the Navy. He planned to live on a ranch in the High Desert with his wife, Helen. Instead, the couple ended up buying the Millican Trading Post, a general store that included a gas station and a motel with three rooms. The town came with the store, no extra charge
“We were looking for a ranch, but this place was up for sale and it fit our pocketbook better,” William Mellin told The Bulletin in June 1970.
As Millican’s owners, the Mellins ran the town until March 1988, when William Mellin, 70, was shot and killed in the store by one of the store employees. Since then, the town has cycled through various owners with different plans that never got off the ground. A few people live in the surrounding valley, but nobody lives in the shuttered town.
The current owner, Leonard Peverieri, previously told The Bulletin he bought the town in 2010, recognizing its value as the only commercial property between Bend and Brothers. Peverieri unsuccessfully put the town up for sale in 2017 for $1.5 million.
Past owners also saw potential in Millican’s proximity to popular recreation areas. Horse Ridge and the Central Oregon Shooting Sports range are to the west, and the road to Pine Mountain Observatory is off the highway to the east.
Millican was settled in 1870 by cattle rancher George Millican. The town established a post office in 1913.
In 1930, the general store was moved a half mile to its current location when the highway was constructed. At the time, the general store owner and postmaster William Rahn gained national notoriety as the lone resident in the one-man town.
Rahn later sold the town to the Mellins, who ran it for the next 42 years.
Cornford said her mother, Tina, and uncle, Billy, were raised in Millican. Her father, Richard Cornford, grew up in Bend, and Billy was his best friend. Cornford’s father would spend weekends in Millican playing with Billy and Tina. He developed a crush on Tina, and the two later married.
“My dad knew in third grade he was going to marry my mother,” Cornford said.
Cornford was born in San Diego, where her father was serving in the Navy, and grew up in Southern California. But her parents would take her to Millican during the summers in the 1970s and 1980s. She would spend time with her grandparents and play in the vast sagebrush.
Now four decades later, Cornford can still recall those quiet summer days in Millican. Those memories are motivating her to keep the town’s history alive.
“They would put me out in the backyard, and I would wander around the desert,” Cornford said. “I always felt like a cowboy digging for treasures.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7820, email@example.com