The city of Fossil was named by Thomas Benton Hover for fossil remains that he discovered in a clay-like formation near his ranch-house on Hoover Creek. The more renowned fossil beds – open year round to the public – are located in the city of Fossil, behind the Wheeler High School. Visitors from all over the world come to Fossil each year to dig fossils that are found strewn across a hillside behind the school.
Fossil, centrally located to the three separate units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, was officially incorporated in 1891, with Mr. Hoover as mayor, W.W. Steiwer, B. Kelsay, P.Potterton, and C.W. Halsey as councilmen.
The City of Fossil serves as the Wheeler County seat and features a walking tour with many historic buildings, including the 1898 courthouse and three museums. A professional rodeo, bull riding and other western events are held each summer during the Wheeler County Fair and Rodeo located at the county fairgrounds near the edge of town. Other ongoing events include the Wheeler County Bluegrass Festival, golf tournaments at the nearby PGA-certified, six-hole Kinzua Hills Golf Course.
Wheeler County Courthouse
Fossil’s school system includes its elementary school, serving students in grades K-8 and its high school. Some high school classes are open to junior high school students. Educational opportunities are exceptional due to small classroom size, averaging from six to 15 students. Scholarships are plentiful and many Fossil graduates receive academic scholarships that are competitive statewide.
Fossil was one of the first communities in eastern Oregon to receive internet service and among the first to step up to DSL. Its public library recently expanded its size. A new county family services building was built a few years ago. Downtown buildings have been renovated and community spirit is strong. The city’s water system received a significant upgrade and a new well this year
Wheeler County itself is among Oregon’s most beautiful counties. The wild and scenic designated John Day River runs through the county, known worldwide for its native salmon runs and exceptional bass fishing. Other recreation includes swimming, boating, hunting, photography and wildlife viewing.