Black Butte Ranch
A Brief History
By Jean Nave - Sister Country Historical Society (2002)


For those who are unfamiliar with Black Butte Ranch, Oregon, a little history will help you appreciate what you see today. In terms of "earth time," the land upon which Black Butte Ranch sits is new.

In the period between five and two million years ago, the Cascade Range, which offers the breathtaking views from the Ranch, was created. A combination of violent earthquakes and volcanic eruption raised a mountain chain with towering peaks. About one and a half million years ago, Black Butte, the Ranch's namesake, was created.

Black Butte Ranch - 1972

Volcanic mountains often have tubes and passages running throughout them. Over time, as winter ice milts, water seeps into these tubes and eventually finds its way to the surface, creating a rushing spring. At Black Butte Ranch the largest spring of this type is Paulina Springs.

As the last Ice Age waned, sometime after 15,000 years ago, early-Americans, migrated through this area harvesting plants and hunting wild game, primarily deer and elk. The land that is Big Meadow was once a lake. Over time it filled with rotting vegetation, Mount Mazama ash (Crater Lake eruption 7,700 years ago) and sediment becoming a marsh. Today it has dried into a meadow offering summer grazing for the Ranch horses.

We know, based upon Native-American oral history, that Paulina Springs was a campsite for early-American migration between the Great Basin and the Oregon Coast. A cache of bi-faced tools, found close to Paulina Springs in 1999, and dated to 1000+ years ago, confirms the oral history.


The location of the current residential resort is on property that was an operating cattle and horse ranch beginning as early as the 1880s. The first man-made structures in the area were a small log cabin and a split rail fence built by Till Glaze in 1881 and located on the large meadow east of the "Sisters" gate. (Many people are confused about the small log structure on the Glaze Meadow Golf Course. That is the remains of an out-building which was part of the Graham's homestead.)

The property changed hands several times and sections were added and deleted, changing the shape of the ranching operations. At one point the property was called Swamp Ranch and was one of the landholdings of the Black Butte Land and Livestock Company, originally incorporated in 1902. By the mid 1930s, Stewart S. Lowery, a wealthy San Franciscan, bought Black Butte Ranch and in 1940 installed Carl Campbell as resident manager. (Carl Campbell was active in the Sisters community and was one of the founders of the Sisters Rodeo.) The Campbell family, including, daughter Carole (1952 Sisters Rodeo Queen) made the Ranch their home until Lowery sold it in 1957. .

The Campbell's raised cattle, horses and sheep on the property. The Lowery family spent their summers at the Ranch bringing a large domestic staff and filling their time with horseback riding and swimming in their Olympic sized pool.

In 1957, Stewart Lowery sold the Ranch to Howard Morgan, a former Oregon Public Utility Commissioner. Morgan then sold the property in 1969 and after some deal making, Brooks Resources acquired full title in January 1970.


Brooks became the developer of the current1800 acre residential resort, setting up a homeowners association at that time. The development philosophy was to create a community of residential and summer homes with limited commercial activity. Early lots sold for as little as $5000.

To maintain limited commercial activity at the Ranch, Brooks encouraged development in the nearby town of Sisters. Established in the 1880s, Sisters grew up as a lumber town. By the early 1970s, after local lumber mills had closed, the town was in decline. When Brooks Resources began developing the Ranch, they offered merchants in Sisters $5000 and free architectural help to create a "theme" look to the town. The Sisters planning commission adopted an 1880s theme, which improved the town's attractiveness and returned it to its original roots.

The theme adoption has made Sisters a thriving tourist community creating a unique, quaint town with excellent shopping. In 1982 Brooks transferred ownership of the private roadways, bike paths, common areas and recreational facilities to the Homeowners Association. The remaining assets, including golf courses, the Lodge, sports shops and Ranch maintenance and utilities were sold to the Homeowners Association in 1987. The Ranch is owned and managed by a homeowner's association a unique arrangement for a community of its size. The Ranch consists of 1251 homesites, with a few lots remaining undeveloped.

There are 33 miles of private roadways, 18 miles of bike paths, two 18-hole championship golf courses, 19 tennis courts, four swimming pools, three restaurants, a few shops and a general store. The two golf courses are considered to be among the top in the Northwest.
The Ranch is divided into sections including Golf Home in the north, Spring Home, South Meadow, East Meadow and Rock Ridge in the center and Glaze Meadow in the south. There also are three sets of condominiums and various cluster cabins.

From the time of early settlement in the 1880s until 2002, there is no record of any man-made buildings or homes being destroyed by wildfire on the Black Butte Ranch property. But this changed in July of 2002. The Cache Mountain Fire of that year was fanned by unprecedented hot winds. One day the fire roared into the treetops west of the Ranch. Within a matter of minutes two homes on the northwest corner of the property were completely consumed by flames. Quick work by the Ranch fire department and the US Forest Service, saved remaining homes in the area.

Copyright © 2006 Sisters Country Historical Society