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Reinhardt to collect stories of ‘drowned towns’ at public jamboree

Bob Reinhardt, an associate professor in the Department of History, has focused his research on communities in the American West lost to hydroelectric, flood control and irrigation dam construction from the 1920s to the 1970s. He is collecting the stories of these lost places for a public digital platform, the Atlas of Drowned Towns.

In 2022, Reinhardt received a nearly $1 million grant from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to continue his research of lost towns in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Thanks to the grant, Reinhardt, joined by graduate students, representatives of local historical societies, the Army Corps of Engineers and others, will host a “History Jamboree” community archiving and history event. It will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Oct. 21-22 at the Detroit Community Center, 345 Santiam Ave. in Detroit, Oregon.

During the jamboree, Reinhardt and his team will collect oral histories from people who remember Detroit before the construction of the Detroit Dam that forced the original town to relocate to higher ground in 1953. Reinhardt’s team will also have 3D and flatbed scanners to digitize artifacts, photographs and documents to be contributed to the Atlas of Drowned Towns database. Reinhardt will share highlights of his work and workshops are scheduled to help residents learn to care for their artifacts and record their histories.

From the beginning, Reinhardt has wanted to tell stories of the American West and explore the great cost of displacement to people and communities in the name of progress.

“This is a topic no one else is working on. The jamboree will not be just about Detroit, but will be about creating processes and infrastructure for documenting other lost places,” he said.

Reinhardt began his research on the Snake River in towns like American Falls, Idaho, which the Bureau of Reclamation moved to make way for a dam in 1925. The original American Falls, settled in 1800, now sits at the bottom of a reservoir. An earlier grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities Digital Projects for the Public program also supported his research. Reinhardt’s grant will allow him to host jamborees in other communities lost to hydroelectric projects. It will also help support graduate students to aid with research and creating the digital platform.

Reinhardt recently received a 2023 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts and History in the history category. Presented every two years, the awards celebrate people, organizations, and businesses that contribute to Boise’s creative and cultural community.

Find the Atlas of Drowned Towns online at