▶️ Little Did I Know: The Box Factory’s history and the women behind it

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If you’ve lived in been since at least 2016, the odds are that you have probably been to The Box Factory.

But have you wondered why it’s called The Box Factory?

I have, so I decided to look into it.

Little Did I Know that the story behind The Box Factory is really about the women behind The Box Factory.

It’s the turn of the century and pine and juniper scented gold has been struck in Central Oregon.

“In fact, The Bulletin had been reporting there are billions of board feet of timber ready to be harvested. So in moves Shevlin Hixon and Brooke Scanlon in the spring of 1916.” says Vanessa Ivey, Museum Manager of the Deschutes Historical Museum.

They couldn’t just order a cardboard box from Amazon when they wanted something and there was a ton of lower grade wood just lying around. Perfect for making boxes.

“Back then boxes were used for everything,” she said. “Whether you’re doing fruit and veg, soap, cereal and even by the wartime…ammunition. In 1917 the Brooke Scanlon had to build a warehouse to store these wooden shooks so that they could keep producing and producing.”

Right at that same time, Johnny got his gun and headed over there to WW I, leaving a huge gap in the labor market.

“And so you can’t just stop the mill; you can’t stop production; you have to find a new workforce and on the 26th of July of that same year, The Bulletin reported Brooke Scanlon is hiring women,” Ivey said. 

So before there was Rosie The Riveter, I guess you could say there was Bertha from The Box Factory.

And The Box Factory was a pretty darn solid gig.

“The work was good. It paid well. There’s a really great quote The Bulletin did: ‘The work in the factory is clean and as so much of it requires more intelligence than brawn, a woman can do the work just as well as the man. The wages in that line of work is high compared with other employment for women.'” 

“So this was wonderful and when the war was over and the guys were coming home, Brooke Scanlon kept these women on. In fact, in 1923 they had 50 men and 24 women working at The Box Factory,” Ivey said. 

Sadly, like all good things, they come to an end.

Eventually, The Box Factory became more like a ghost town.

“But then you in 2016 – we’re celebrating the Centennial of Deschutes County, but it’s also the Centennial of the year the mills arrived in Bend,” Ivey said. “That part of town, that part of the mill was redone, and done beautifully, and we now have The Box Factory in a totally new light.”

So just as Bertha from The Box Factory helped breathe new life into Central Oregon’s economy, The Box Factory has also been given a new breath that is only getting deeper by the day.

“Kelly, our Executive Director has this great thing she says, ‘the best historic preservation is breathing new life into sites and places and not freezing them in time but giving them a new purpose’ and that’s what happened with the box factory,” Ivey said.

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