BEND, Ore. — For sale: one Central Oregon town. Fixer-upper.
Located 25 miles east of Bend and listed at $1.5 million, the town of Millican comes with 74 acres of sagebrush, an aging corral, a recently remodeled one-bedroom house and a long-shuttered store where passers-by still sometimes pull off the road in search of gas or a cold drink.
Realtor Tim O’Neil is listing the property. A specialist in working with large rural properties — he was one of the brokers involved in the sale of Tiller, a larger but still tiny town between Roseburg and Crater Lake — O’Neil said he sees a lot of potential in Millican, most likely as an RV park. Why, he asked, would the owner of an oversized RV towing a car want to navigate the streets of Bend, when they could stay in a wide-open park in Millican and drive in to Bend in the car?
Despite its seeming remoteness, Millican sits near the center of a number of Central Oregon destinations.
Mountain bikers frequent the Grey Butte area to the east, and motorcyclists the network of off-highway vehicle trails to the west and south. The road to Pine Mountain Observatory turns off from the highway just past Millican. The shots of gun enthusiasts can be heard coming from the Central Oregon Shooting Sports range about a mile to the west, and just a few miles farther west is the nearly 30,000-acre Oregon Badlands Wilderness.
Named for rancher George Millican, the town was put on the map, so to speak, with the establishment of the Millican post office in 1913.
At the time, the store and post office were located a few hundred yards south of where they now sit along U.S. Highway 20. Prior to the construction of the highway, the primary road between Bend and points east ran along Ford Road, today a bumpy unpaved route that dead-ends at the southwest corner of the property.
With the construction of the highway in 1930, the store building was moved to its current location. Postmaster and store proprietor Billy Rahn held down the fort by himself in Millican for more than 20 years, earning a measure of notoriety as the sole resident of a one-man town.
Bill Mellin bought the town from Rahn and ran it for the next 42 years until 1988, when he was murdered by a man working for him at the store.
With Mellin’s death the population of Millican dropped to zero, and since then, the town has cycled through a handful of owners with various plans that never got off the ground.
Owner Leonard Peverieri said he bought the town in 2010, recognizing the value in the only commercial property between Bend and Brothers, and wanting to preserve a piece of Central Oregon history. At the time, it had been five years since the store was open for business, and the property was littered with broken glass and garbage.
“I didn’t want to see it disappear, because it was headed that way,” he said. “It was just completely trashed, and when places are trashed, they just continue to get more and more trashed.”
The property has been cleaned up, but is still well-worn. All but one of the windows in the old store and gas station have been smashed out, and pack rat droppings litter the floor.
Peverieri said he views Millican much the same way he did the gas station he bought in 1993, at the corner of U.S. Highway 20 and 27th Street in Bend. At the time, the landscape around the station looked little different than Millican does today.
“Everyone said, ‘You’re a moron, there’s nothing else out there.'” Peverieri recalled. “But, after I closed escrow, six months later, they started building Costco.”
With the post office long gone, the store closed, and nobody living on the property, it’s the commercial zoning — and the history — that makes Millican a town and not just another expanse of sagebrush.
“If you just want 74 acres, there’s several of those for sale outside of town,” O’Neil said. “But, you can’t build an RV park.”
Convincing a buyer there’s still life in a dead town can take some work, O’Neil said. As he was halfway through putting up a for sale sign along the highway Tuesday, a passing driver stopped to chat. The man appeared baffled by the asking price, wished O’Neil luck and drove on.
“I always crack up when I hear from the neighbors,” he said as the man drove away. “Because a property’s never worth what you’re asking — unless it’s their property for sale.”
Even with the store long closed and few people living in the surrounding valley, Millican still serves as a gathering spot. Peverieri said he’s seen couples with split custody handing off their children there, and when there was a caretaker living at the property, drivers in danger of running out of gas would frequently pull in, looking for a gallon or two to get them to Bend.
Peverieri said he explored turning the Millican store in to a restaurant, a road-trip destination like the famed Cowboy Dinner Tree near Silver Lake. He’s been approached by marijuana entrepreneurs as well — the different zoning on different parcels mean it would be possible to run a marijuana farm in back and sell the finished product at the store along the highway, something only possible at a few locations around the state.
An RV park is still Peverieri’s top choice for getting Millican back on track. The county once approved a 100-space RV park in Millican, he said, and Peverieri remains open to partnering with an investor willing to help make it a reality.
“Believe me, Millican will be a bedroom community of Bend within the next 20 years,” he said. “It’s just going to take somebody with more money and time than me.”
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com