Riley Rural Community

A Brief History

In the 1940’s and 1950’s conditions in Harney County’s rural areas were not that far removed from the conditions of earlier days. Telephone service was marginal or non-existent until the 1960’s. Dependable electric power service wasn’t available in most rural communities until 1958. The following first person account by Marie Macomber, postmaster of Riley, tells of her latter-day pioneering experiences. Her account is typical of the experiences of other rural communities in the county during that time.

My husband, Charles, and I moved to Riley from Chehalis, Washington. What a different world Riley was. We were accustomed to electricity, telephones and inside privies. Riley families had “light plants” to generate power individually – if they were prosperous enough. Coleman lanterns served the middle class in addition to kerosene lanterns and lamps and everyone had standby candles.

The telephones were, at best, not good. The old wall phone had a handle to operate the ringer. Every household on the line had a coded ring – one short, two long, three short, etc. Seven rings meant emergency, everyone answered seven rings. The neighbors decided that a better telephone system was needed and to get it they would have to build it themselves. They organized the Silver Creek Telephone Company. The same short and long ring system was used, but with the new system the operator would answer one long ring and then connect the caller with the Burns system’s operator. At last, the outside world could be reached. This system served the community until the 1960’s.

Electricity was brought to the rural areas of the County and northern Nevada in 1958. This modernization brought irrigation wells, sprinkler irrigation systems and an increase in the production of crops.


The unincorporated community of Riley has a zoning designation of Rural Commercial Area (RCA).  The zoning for this community provides for a multitude of uses although space may be limited.