A picture of Third Street in McMinnville around 1919 from the collection of Michael Hafner. ##
A picture of Third Street in McMinnville around 1919 from the collection of Michael Hafner. ##

Archive opens window to our community past


For generations, local newspapers have documented people, places and events through photography.

Michael Hafner is a third-generation resident of McMinnville. He is, in fact, a member of the last generation born in the old McMinnville Hospital. After college at Oregon State, he returned home to pursue a lifelong interest in history. He is engaged in a number of local archival projects, including one producing the Vintage News-Register page appearing on Page 4 of Friday Viewpoints sections. He serves on the Yamhill County Historical Society board of directors and volunteers in the society’s research library.

But what happens to these photos after they are published? In some cases, they have been lost or destroyed.

When newspapers are sold or moved, their old negatives often end up in the dumpster. These fragile materials are also prone to damage from floods and fires. As a lover of historic photos, that’s a disturbing thought.

Thankfully, the News Register has preserved its photo archive over the years. Its collection represents an important resource that many communities lack.

There are boxes and boxes of envelopes, loaded with 65 years worth of film negatives. The oldest date back to 1936.

Film was phased out in 2001. From that point forward, photos have been preserved digitally.

Using a flatbed scanner and special software, I have been slowly making digital copies of these precious historic photos. Over several years, I’ve scanned more than 40,000 images, covering the period from 1936 to 1970.

Many thousands of photos remain to be scanned. Once they’ve been processed, they are shared with the community through the Vintage News-Register page, which appears in the Friday Viewpoints section.

Most of these photos were never published. They are outtakes from shoots from which perhaps one or two photos actually saw print.

Getting a fix on who and what these photos depict often requires extensive research. I start by transcribing captions from published photos appearing in bound copies of the original newsprint, as older News-Register issues have not been digitized yet. 

These negatives date to a time when taking photos was more costly and labor-intensive. Photographers had limited chances to get the shot, and couldn’t be sure they’d succeeded until they finished developing the film in a darkroom.

I’m old enough to remember taking rolls of film to Rite Aid for processing.

Now, I carry a smart phone with 10,000 photos archived on it. And with a few clicks, I can either add new photos of my own or access thousands more from the cloud.

By digitizing negatives from the News-Register’s vast collection, we are making it just as easy to scroll through decades of local history. 

I’ve discovered so many interesting stories in the archives. It feels as though I’m engaged in a treasure hunt.

These photos capture many moments, from the mundane to the extraordinary. Parades, meetings, games and other events kindle nostalgia for those who experienced them.

Thanks to our Facebook and Instagram accounts (@VintageNewsReg), people can share the fond memories invoked by these photos.

A recent post captured the original owner of Tommy’s Bike Shop, Erling “Tommy” Thompson. At the time, he was also selling toys and hobby supplies. Many people remembered buying bikes or toys from him. 

For many people, one of the treats is discovering photos of their family from a bygone era.

I’ve even found pictures of members of my own family, including my grandparents attending a banquet and my uncle participating in a junior high basketball game. I’ve also recognized people I volunteer with in the community. 

Among my favorite finds are images of people who have made especially large contributions to our present quality of life. Ranking near the top would be Ralph Wortman, whose family founded McMinnville’s first bank.

A man of many firsts, Wortman owned the first motorcycle, the first automobile and the first airplane in the county. His steam-powered 1901 Locomobile was a staple in local parades, which featured him offering rides to dignitaries and local children.

Ralph and his brother Frank left a legacy of community service. They helped fund many local recreational facilities, including Wortman Park, Wortman Stadium and a McMinnville swimming pool complex in 1956. 

People often take McMinnville’s buildings and landscapes for granted in their daily lives. These photos show us how the places we live and work today have replaced older buildings or open farmland.

Many of our historic buildings have been remodeled over the years, and not always to their benefit.

In the 1950s and ‘60s, many older buildings were given modernizing facelifts that obliterated their historic features. One example is the Union Block building which was given “eyebrows.”

Other landmarks gave way to changing needs, including the First National and U.S. National banks in the 1960s. 

By then, Third Street was beginning to lose its long-held status as the community’s commercial center. As the city grew, businesses increasingly gravitated to the outskirts of town, leaving Third marked with vacancies.

The Mayfair Plaza, now anchored to Grocery Outlet, was McMinnville’s first modern shopping center. At Christmas time, Santa would fly in on an Evergreen Helicopter, climb down the fire department’s ladder truck and greet the local children. 

The 1888 county courthouse was a major local landmark. But by the 1950s, it was falling apart.

The community debated whether it would be best to renovate or replace. In 1964, it was replaced with the current building, which is considerably more utilitarian.

While it’s unfortunate to lose the 1888 gem, I’ve come to accept its passing. I’d rather appreciate the photos that immortalize it for all time than harbor festering resentment over its demolition.  

One of our most popular Facebook photo posts features Newby Elementary in 1962, when what is now Second Street was known as Western Avenue.

Newer residents were amazed to learn it then stood at the very western edge of town. They struggled to visualize the relationship between the landscape of the time and its current, much-more-crowded counterpart.

Nearby stood the Shodeo grounds, where horse shows and auto races were staged. It gave way to Squire Mobile Estates.

Meanwhile, a dairy farm was developed into the Michelbook Country Club, overlooking a newly developed golf course.

Sometimes, it’s not even the intended subject that proves most intriguing to me.

I’ve found many interesting details in the background of car crash photos, capturing buildings and landscapes people forgot to document for the future in a more direct fashion.

I’ve also come across photos of places that didn’t become important until decades later, like the 1940s-era Swift Poultry turkey plant. It was transformed into McMinnville’s very first winery, The Eyrie Vineyards, in 1970, symbolizing a countywide shift from turkeys to wine.

Are you looking for a photo of a specific person, place or event? There are several resources to check out.

A good starting is the website we’ve established at newsregister.zenfolio.com.

The Yamhill County Historical Society maintains an archive of local photos primarily from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other rich repositories are maintained locally by Linfield College and in Portland by the Oregon Historical Society. 

Do you have interesting vintage photos of your own? Please consider donating them to one of the historical repositories.

I hate to think of what gets lost when people pass on or move on. It’s only through the generosity of local individuals that we preserve our collective heritage.

Don’t underestimate the historic value of your old photos. They may be exactly what a future researcher is looking for. 

As a passionate fan of local history, I’m grateful that the News-Register has saved so many of its vintage photos and arranged to share such wonderful images with our community.

Much work remains to be done. Many more amazing stories and images remain to be uncovered. I look forward to sharing these discoveries with you as they come to light.




This is incredibly awesome! I absolutely love looking at old pictures like this and learning more about the McMinnville of years past. Thanks so much for this project!!


AWESOME article!!! Thank you for all your work and especially your enthusiasm for the history of our wonderful community. Thank you Thank you Thank you!!!!


Wonderful article! We so appreciate all of your efforts to help preserve our community's history!


This is absolutely amazing! Thank you for your dedication to preserving so many important memories and making them available. What a treasure to our community!!

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