Top 10 True Western Towns of 2008

7. PENDLETON, OR

It might (or might not) interest you to know that Pendleton was once sold for a span of horses. Seriously.

Or at least that goes for some of the land Pendleton now stands on. Back in the early 1860s, Moses Goodwin convinced a squatter to give up his turf in exchange for a couple of equines. In 1868, Goodwin gave two-and-a-half acres of that land to the town site. And voila! Pendleton was up and running (so to speak).

Nowadays, Pendleton is also associated with horses (and cows and cowboys). That’s beyond the fact that you’ll still find horse rings on downtown curbs. The annual Round-up has been a huge attraction since its inception in 1910, and it’s still considered a premier rodeo event. That’s one reason more than 300,000 people visited Pendleton last year (up from about 200,000 in 2000).

But there’s plenty of other attractions, like the Victorian downtown area. Much of it is a national historic district, and several other buildings are also on the national register. The old train depot is home to the Heritage Station Museum (there’s also an annex), run by the Umatilla County Historical Society. It features exhibits and demonstrations about local history and culture—and includes an 1879 log cabin and a one-room schoolhouse built in 1878. Ten minutes east of Pendleton is the Tamástlikt Cultural Institute, which honors 10,000 years of history for the local Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla tribes. The annual tribal art show, held in August, is a must-attend event on the local calendar.

What’s also impressive about Pendleton is its determination to preserve its past. The urban renewal district is up and running, looking for new ways to use old buildings. This past year, renovation of the Hamley Saddle Shop Building was completed. A facade restoration grant program is doling out more than $900,000 over a two-year period. And officials plan to expand the downtown historic district in coming years.

The locals are eager for folks to see what’s going on too. The county tourism budget hit $124 million last year, and much of it went to an impressive array of promotional and marketing campaigns.

It sure looks like that horse trade more than 140 years ago has paid off for Pendleton—and for those who come to visit.

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