Buyers of the town of Tiller, Oregon have plans to turn it into a campus with a focus on teaching permaculture. Buyers of the town of Tiller, Oregon have plans to turn it into a campus with a focus on teaching permaculture. (Photo: Landleader.com)

Tiller, Oregon, a small town built at the turn of the 20th century on the fortunes of the timber industry, may soon become a beacon for a more sustainable future.

Located in the sprawling Umpqua National Forest, Tiller went from virtual unknown to international star earlier this spring after it was listed for $3.85 million. Included in the sale is 257 acres with 28 tax lots, multiple domestic and agricultural community water rights, six houses, the shuttered local market, a gas station, and associated infrastructure like sidewalks and fire hydrants. There's also nearly a mile of scenic waterfront along the South Umpqua River and Elk Creek. The local elementary school, which closed in 2014, is available separately for $350,000.

You can see a promotional video detailing both the town's history and sale below.

“The new owners of this extraordinary opportunity will find the ability to structure a wide variety of different zonings, tax lots, structures and natural resources into a prosperous future along the natural flowing South Umpqua River,” the narrator says over drone footage of the town's natural beauty. “The region has a vast variety of fish and wildlife abound. And recreational options rivaled by none.”

According to the AP, Tiller's decline occurred roughly three decades ago in the wake of environmental regulations that effectively limited timber production in the forests surrounding the town. As jobs dried up and families moved away, one local resident began buying up properties. When that individual passed away several years ago, much of the town was tied up with the deceased's estate.

“Between the dying economy and the dying owners, Tiller became a new opportunity that had never been available before,” Richard Caswell, executor of the estate, told the AP. “I started getting inquiries from all over the world, essentially, ‘What was it? And what could you do with it?’ It’s the buyer and their imagination that’s going to determine what Tiller can become.”

Deciding the next chapter for Tiller

The shuttered Tiller Market was once a hub for the more than 250 residents that live throughout the region. The shuttered Tiller Market was once a hub for the more than 250 residents who lived in the region. (Photo: Landleader.com)

Immediately after the listing for the town went viral, realty agent Garrett Zoller says interest began pouring in. Speaking with Oregon Live, he said the pitches included everything from developing the site into a senior care facility to a fishing retreat and even a hemp production hub.

The first buyers to get the town under contract, however, was a couple from Oregon in the nearby town of Ashland. Zoller won't yet say who they are, hinting at a larger unveiling sometime in the next few weeks, but he did reveal that they are involved in an industry and have "grand plans" for the site. They also intend to turn the school into a campus with a focus on permaculture.

"He said the plan is to help people get back to the land in an area with a long growing season and productive soils," Oregon Live reported, adding that the buyers have financial backing from California to make it a reality.

Tiller's natural beauty, long exploited for timber, may soon support a more sustainable industry. Tiller's natural beauty, long exploited for timber, may soon support a more sustainable industry. (Photo: Landleader.com)

A quick search of permaculture businesses in Ashland turned up a number of firms, including the nonprofit Southern Oregon Permaculture Institute. Could this group possibly be planning a big expansion into Tiller?

Whatever entity steps forward to breathe new life into the town, Zoller says the forces behind it are intent on making the transition as welcoming to nearby residents as possible.

"They realize they have one shot at making a first good impression," he added to Oregon Live. "I think people will be happy. There will not be dynamic change. No NASCAR raceway."

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.