On the shores of the Deschutes River 15 miles south of Bend, tucked away in the ponderosa pines, is Sunriver. This gem of Central Oregon offers world-class golfing, biking, fly fishing, skiing and general relaxation that makes it the destination of choice for travelers from around the world. While it’s now known for its fine dining, championship golf courses and luxurious lodging, its beginnings were much more humble.
Nearly 7,000 years ago lava flows dammed the Deschutes River at Benham Falls, backing up a lake that covered much of what is now Sunriver. When the river finally broke through and the lake receded, a lush meadow surrounded by thick forests was left behind. The area was a natural gathering spot for Native Americans based on numerous artifacts found in the area dating back thousands of years.
During the winter of 1843, explorer John C. Fremont and guide Kit Carson ventured into the area on their way south.
In 1855, the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers surveyed a route through the area for a railroad between California and the Columbia River. This party was led by Robert Stockton Williamson and Henry Larcom Abbot. Among the group were geologists, botanists, physicians, naturalists, engineers and soldiers.
In the late 1800s, cattlemen began to drive their herds to the area to graze in the lush meadowlands. The Vandeverts were among the first homesteaders in the area, their ranch was just south of current day Sunriver. Their children attended the Meadow School, which was located very close to the present Sunriver Lodge.
During the next 50 years the area was used by the cattlemen, trappers and a few hardy pioneers who settled in the area with their families.
In the midst of World War II, the U.S. Government wanted to establish a combat engineer training facility on a site that resembled he climate and topography of Northern Europe. Robert Sawyer, publisher of the Bend Bulletin, persuaded the Army Corps of Engineers to build the Army training post 18 miles south of town on the Shonquist Ranch, the site of modern day Sunriver. It was named Camp Abbot. Local folks were surprised the Army found the almost 9,700 acres straddling the Deschutes River a perfect place to train soldiers.
Those who helped build the camp were remembered as saying what a miserable job it was. Construction began in December 1942 and continued through the worst winter in 30 years, with more than 60 inches of snow through March
1943. Camp Abbot officially opened the following year. Training included basic combat skills, marksmanship, field maneuvers, bridge building and demolition.
The camp was a self-contained city complete with water and sewer systems and housing up to 10,000 people at a time. Many of its structures were built form the surrounding timber and stone, most notably the impressive officer's club with its high ceiling, large stone fireplace and balcony overlooking the main floor. This structure still stands today and is called The Great Hall. It was renovated in 1993 but maintains the feel of the original structure.