Writing a Home Town Romance

My childhood years were spent on a farm 12 miles from the nearest town (population 1,000) that sat on the banks of the Malheur River in Eastern Oregon.

We usually ventured into town twice a week – once for my piano lessons, and on Sunday for church. Mom usually did her grocery shopping while I pounded the ivories. If my lesson wrapped up early and the weather was nice, I sometimes waited for Mom outside, studying the old buildings, imagining what the town might have been like when they were constructed.

One building, in particular, always fascinated me. It was made of stone and the oldest building in town.

Through the years, I learned more about the Stone House, as it’s called.



Built in 1872, this sandstone structure was the first permanent building in Malheur County, Oregon.

Jonathan Keeney had previously settled there, near the banks of the Malheur River where pioneers on the Oregon Trail crossed it, and enjoyed the hot springs bubbling nearby. He sold his property to Lewis and Amanda Rinehart, who replaced the log house Keeney had built with the sandstone house. The house opened to all on New Year’s Day 1873 with a grand ball upstairs.

Just picture how welcoming that lone two-story house would have looked to weary travelers. After crossing the Snake River, it was about twenty miles across sagebrush-covered hills to reach the Malheur River. In the summer, it would have been miserable. Hot. Dry. Dusty. With mile after mile of sagebrush, rocks, hills, and not much else.

In fact, one weary traveler is said to have perished (supposedly from thirst) not far from the river, given up his battle to survive just a few yards too soon.

But on the other side of the Malheur River stood the Stone House. In fact, many referred to the community as Stone House for years, until the town was incorporated as Vale.

The house became a wayside stop for travelers until the early 1900s. It was a stage stop where travelers could wait to board. And during the Bannock Paiute uprising of 1878, it served as Field Headquarters to General O.O. Howard as well as a refuge for settlers on outlying ranches and farms.

Amanda Rinehart was known as a gracious hostess, welcoming visitors to her home.

The Stone House original floor plan



Originally, the house had six “rooms” downstairs: a main lobby area for passengers waiting for the stage with a curtain separating it to create a space for women and children. The dining room took up most of the first-floor space, with a sizeable kitchen, a pantry, and the Rinehart’s bedroom. Upstairs was originally a ballroom which was then converted to rooms for guests. And the stairs to reach the second story were located outside.

Today, the Stone House is a museum that reminds of us the past. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

When I was invited to participate in the Regional Romance Series again this year, I thought about how fun it would be to write a romance set in the community of Stone House before it became the town of Vale. A few old records refer to the town as Rinehart’s Crossing, and I loved the way Romance at Rinehart’s Crossing sounded. All those times I sat and imagined the stories of the buildings in town were finally going to be put to use as I envisioned the Rinehart’s Crossing of my story.

Before I started writing, I made a trip to visit the Stone House and took my dad along. He had a grand time because he knew the volunteer working there that day and they farmed at least two acres while I wandered through the rooms, snapping photos of the things on display.

Like this horse hair coat (which I mention in the story!).

And just look at all the neat antiques in the kitchen.

I will proudly note the stove was donated by my dad to the museum. When I was very young and we lived in what we called the “old house” it had a place of honor in our dining room. The stove originally belonged to my sister-in-law’s grandmother. It was sitting out in a shed and she asked Dad if he wanted to buy it, so he did. I love to think of all the meals it cooked and all the memories it holds.

This enormous hook was used with the ferry at the Snake River Crossing. The volunteer (thanks, Gary!) gave a detailed description of how the hook worked, and how the ferry could be adjusted to flow with or against the current.

When we finished up at the museum, we drove a few miles out of town to Keeney Pass, named for Jonathan Keeney, were you can actually stand right on the Oregon Trail. With the dried weeds and grass, it’s a little hard to see, but where the dip is on the right and left are the actually ruts made by the wagons that rolled through the area. I get goose bumps every time I go out there, picturing the hot, tired, weary travelers as they head up another hill to see the river and a little town in the distance.

It was fun for me to write about an Oregon Trail town, especially one where I grew up!



Tenner King is determined to make his own way in the world far from the overbearing presence of his father and the ranch where he was raised in Rinehart’s Crossing, Oregon. Reluctantly, he returns home after his father’s death to find the ranch on its way to ruin and his siblings antsy to leave. Prepared to do whatever is necessary to save the ranch, Tenner isn’t about to let a little thing like love get in his way.

Austen – After spending her entire life ruled by her father, Austen Rose King certainly isn’t going to allow her bossy older brother to take on the job. Desperate to leave the hard work and solitude of the Diamond K Ranch, she decides a husband would be the fastest means of escape. If only she could find a man she could tolerate for more than five minutes.

Claire – Two thousand miles of travel. Two thousand miles of listening to her parents bicker about the best place in Oregon to settle. Two thousand miles of dusty trails, bumpy wagons, and things that slither and creep into her bedding at night. Claire Clemons would happily set down roots that very minute if someone would let her. What she needs is her own Prince Charming to give her a place to call home. When a broken wagon wheel strands her family miles from civilization, she wonders if handsome Worth King, the freighter who rescues them, might just be the answer to her prayers.

Kendall – Anxious to escape her mother’s meddling interference, Kendall Arrington leaves her society life behind, intent on experiencing a Wild West adventure. Hired as the school teacher in a growing town on the Oregon Trail, Kendall hopes to bring a degree of civility and a joy of learning to the children of Rinehart’s Crossing. However, the last thing she expects to find is a cowboy with shaggy hair, dusty boots, and incredible green eyes among her eager students.

Will love find the three King siblings as Romance arrives in Rinehart’s Crossing?

Read all the books in the Regional Romance Series featuring historic locations, exciting drama, and sweet (yet swoony) romance!

If you could write a story about your hometown, what would it be about?

Any key buildings or characters you would include? 

Post your answer for a chance to win an autographed copy of Romance at Rinehart’s Crossing! 


Website | + posts

After spending her formative years on a farm in Eastern Oregon, hopeless romantic Shanna Hatfield turns her rural experiences into sweet historical and contemporary romances filled with sarcasm, humor, and hunky western heroes.
When this USA Today bestselling author isn’t writing or covertly hiding decadent chocolate from the other occupants of her home, Shanna hangs out with her beloved husband, Captain Cavedweller.

72 thoughts on “Writing a Home Town Romance”

  1. If I were to write about my hometown, it would be Worland Wyoming. There is a river on one end of town, and before the town was a town, they used the frozen river to pull several houses, and buildings to the other side, because it was higher, so less flooding. I always wonder who the people were that settled the town, and as a junior in high school had the honor to interview a lady, whose family crossed the river, with their smal house to help start the town of Worland. She said they didn’t move the house far enough from the river and ended up watching it sail down the river several years later. Luckily they had gotten most of their belongings out before the flood took it away. They then moved south of town, rebuilt, and became farmers, until one year, that house also flooded. They moved back to town.
    In all my years living in that town, I never saw the river totally frozen, but did see lots of large chunks of ice going by from up river. Worland is surrounded by farms, bad lands, the stories I can think of, since up the road 30 miles is mineral hot springs, and Buffalo.

    • Hi Veda!
      Wow! What great history you have in Worland. I wish I could have seen them moving the houses on the ice. Wouldn’t that be something!
      It sounds like a neat town that would have many stories to tell!
      Thank you for stopping in today!

  2. My hometown has a former hotel, now a bar and restaurant where Poe allegedly stayed during his travels up and down the East Coast. Named the Deer Park, it has a black raven behind glass–not sure if it’s an actual taxidermy.

    Lots of other history, too, dating back to colonial America. My alma mater. Mason-Dixon line.

    • Hi Denise,
      That is so neat about Poe allegedly staying there, and history that goes back to colonial times. That’s awesome!
      Thank you for popping in today!
      Have a beautiful end to September!

  3. My hometown was too small to boast of much, but it developed on a river, and many beautiful homes were built there in the 1800s. Even the town (Roaring River) reflected the importance of the river to the area.

    • Hi Laura!
      I wish that stove could have talked. So many stories it would be able to tell – and yes, was definitely the center of the home back then. Thank you so much for stopping by today!

  4. I loved this nook. If I could write a story about Stephenville, Texas, it would be Rodeo related and I’d have Burris Arena as the focus. I wish I had a dollar for every horse that’s ridden into that arena to compete, train, or just for exercise. I’d have a nice bank account.

  5. I guess if I was going to write a story about my home town it would have to be about the bridge. Since I am from High Bridge and the bridge is historical I would write about that.

  6. My hometown where I grew up is a suburb of Wichita Kansas. It would be interesting to research when it was called El Paso (I’ve been told the name was changed later to Derby due to the trains and not wanting confusion with the big El Paso in Texas).
    It might also be fun to write a story set there during the 50’s when the tiny town experienced a major boom in growth due to the airplane manufacturing companies coming to Wichita.

  7. Well, my little hometown’s claim to fame is that we’re next to the town that The Door’s Jim Morrison was born in. We used to be a sleepy little cow town years ago, on the Space Coast of Florida.

    • Hi Trudy,
      What a fun claim to fame. And that’s so neat it used to be a sleepy little cow town. I bet there are some great stories buried in history!
      Thank you for stopping in today. Have a beautiful autumn season!

  8. I love this post, Shanna! What a fascinating background to your series. I love the stone house that inspired you even from your childhood. How fun to bring it back to life in your stories! I adore touring historical buildings, and the little museum in the Stone House looks right up my alley. Your series sounds wonderful!

    • Oh, thank you so much, Karen! I love museums and old buildings and I truly have been fascinated with the Stone House since my childhood. It was so incredible to be able to finally include the house and town in my series. Thank you so much!

  9. An enjoyable and informative post. History is so fascinating and wonderful.
    My hometown was a large city with charm, history, and uniqueness. Old and filled with so many captivating stories.

  10. Growing up in a big city I thought that this city was the center of the universe and nothing could compare with it. I still do think that since it is incomparable in many ways. So much to do, to explore, such a setting with historical attributes. It shaped me, educated me and taught me a great deal.

    • Hi Ellie,
      That is wonderful how much you loved your hometown. It sounds like a lovely place to grow up. So glad you enjoyed living there!
      Have a beautiful autumn and thank you for stopping in today!

  11. What a great post! I love historical information like this. It fascinates me to get a glimpse back through time to the people who came before us. The stone house would be a great place to visit. I don’t know what I would write about my hometown. While I love to read a great story, I just am not an author by any means. I’ll leave that up to you pros! 😉

    • Hi Christy,
      It is so fun to visit places like the Stone House. I’m glad you enjoy it, too! History is so fascinating and full of stories.
      Thank you for stopping by today. Wishing you beautiful autumn days ahead!

  12. Hi Shanna, Thank you for sharing your about your hometown and the beautiful photos. I love, love the stove, it is pretty and how nice that your dad donated it to the museum. The town where I grew up actually grew alot. I was born in TX and when I was about 4 yrs old my dad built us a house in NM, pretty close to the city in TX where I was born. Well, when we were having our house built , it was the second house there, there was alot of desert and not much to it. As the town grew , I remember my mom and dad would go pick up a Priest to give Mass, and we would actually have Mass on our carport, there was no Church building yet. Well, as the town kept on growing all the people would hold different things to make money to build a church, and the Church building was eventually done. One of my brothers still lives in the house we grew up in, and the town has really grown, it is unrecognizable . We had a beautiful childhood and lots of very beautiful memories in that town, I was in my late teens when I moved out. Have a great rest of the week and stay safe. God Bless you and your family.

    • Oh, I love what you shared about your childhood and literal growing up with the town. How wonderful your brother still lives in the house, even though the town has changed so much. It’s neat your family got to be part of its beginnings. And that is so awesome you had mass in your carport! Love it!

  13. I would write about my hometown, Hillsboro, Oregon. Two characters that would need to be included are Wilbur who was disabled and drove his small ice cream truck all over town selling ice cream. The other would be Billy who was severely disabled and could not speak but would use his motorized wheelchair to sell the local paper, the Hillsboro Argus. He carried the newspapers that were placed on his wheelchair and people would take a paper and place their money in a container attached to his chair. They were both local town celebrities. Everyone knew and loved them both.

    • How awesome you had those two wonderful characters in your hometown, Barbara. I love, love their stories. I can picture them both, doing their thing. So neat they both had something to fill their days and give them purpose. Thank you for sharing that with us!

  14. I’ve longed for a hometown of my own. Being in a military family, one who worked with NATO, meant living over seas most my life. I was born in Sacramento, CA, but, I was there for three months. I’ve loved seeing the world. Back in the 60’s and 70’s, the world was so different and countries weren’t commercialized like they are now. Having lived in Iceland for 4 years, its culture was preserved and it was amazing! I look at pictures now and it saddens me to see the bars and neon lights. But, at the same time, I craved a hometown. Where people knew me, cared about me. I understand how it felt to up and leave, going to the unknown.

    • Oh, Marlene! I’m sorry you never had your own hometown, but how wonderful you got to see so much of the world. I’ve always wondered what it was like in Iceland. I hope you now have a town that feels like home.

  15. When I was a child we had a wonderful old school building that was two stories, plus a scary basement, which was used for spook alley’s at Halloween carnivals. It had a big gym with a balcony all across the one end. When you walked in the front door there was a staircase with probably 8 steps, which in that landing divided into two staircases going up in opposite directions to three classroom’s in one side and an auditorium in the other side with a cool stage that we did plays in. I loved that building so much. It has since been torn down ?? Soo I would write about my childhood experiences in that wonderful school building and of course there could be a romance with a teacher going on ?

  16. When I was a child we had a wonderful old school building that was two stories, plus a scary basement, which was used for spook alley’s at Halloween carnivals. It had a big gym with a balcony all across the one end. When you walked in the front door there was a staircase with probably 8 steps, which in that landing divided into two staircases going up in opposite directions to three classroom’s in one side and an auditorium in the other side with a cool stage that we did plays in. I loved that building so much. It has since been torn down ?? Soo I would write about my childhood experiences in that wonderful school building and of course there could be a romance with a teacher going on ?

    • Hi Kristie! Old buildings like that school were just the best! So sad to see so many of them torn down instead of restored. Love that you would write a romance in the school! So, so fun!

  17. I loved Romance at Rinehart’s Crossing, I liked how the three siblings stories were woven together. Sadly I don’t know much about the history of where I live. But I will be doing some research to get to know the place I call home, especially since I was born and raised here and decided to raise my family here as well.

    • Hi Laura,
      How wonderful you live where you were born and raised, and are raising your family there too! I hope you find some wonderful history about the place you call home. And thank you for reading Romance at Rinehart’s Crossing. I’m so, so happy you enjoyed it! Thank you! Happy autumn to you!

  18. I am a reader but definitely not a writer. The two towns I grew up closes to have already been part of the classic “Last of the Mohicans” by James Fennimore Cooper. The setting of that novel was before there was much settlement in either community. My current “hometown” was part of Zane Grey’s “Dessert of Wheat”although it was given a fictitious name. His descriptions of the area and things that were happening are in line with stories local old timers have shared.

    Thanks for sharing the pictures of the Stone House. I will have to put it on my list of local museums to look for if I get back to that part of Oregon some day. I have seen the trail ruts near Baker City. They do make you think about all those early travelers and the hardships they endured.

    • Hi Alice,
      That is wonderful you live somewhere that has so much history both now and in your childhood. So neat that Mr. Grey’s descriptions were in line to the local stories. He must have done his research!
      Glad you enjoyed the photos! Yes, if you ever get back to Eastern Oregon, stop in. And the ruts near Baker City are incredible! So glad you got to see them!

  19. The small town I live nearest to (Bear Grass, North Carolina) was once called “The Moonshine Capital of the World.” I’ve heard there was a local man called “Swamp Rabbit” that once walked into and across the bottom of a pond to escape the revenuers because he couldn’t swim.

    • Oh, my goodness! That is quite a claim to fame and a reason to be the Swamp Rabbit. There is definitely a story in there!
      Thank you for sharing about your hometown and for visiting the blog today! Happy Autumn!

  20. I would write about the founding of my home town in northern Ohio. There is a creek that runs underneath some of the buildings. When my sister was little she went to the edge of the creek and fell in and grab a large rock that was barely in the water. The water was moving very rapidly as it was in the spring time. I was attempting to grab her winter coat and we were both screaming. The babysitter heard us and helped my 5 yr sister out of the water. I think that could be a situation in a story.

    • I’m so glad your sister grabbed the rock and the babysitter helped her out of the water. There is definitely a story there! Fascinating the creek runs underneath some of the buildings.
      Thank you for stopping in today and happy autumn days to you!

  21. Oh my goodness, Shanna! I love all the history of Rinehart’s Crossing, Vale, and the portion of the Oregon Trail. I’d really love to see it. Maybe one day I’ll make it to Oregon. Meanwhile, I’ll just have to read about it. Congrats and wishing you much success with the new book.

  22. The first thought that came to my mind was of all the happy childhood memories I have.
    Thank you for that, Shanna! ?
    I would write about family & friends.
    All the fun we had. Parties, ( luaus in our backyard. My mom getting thrown
    in the pool by Sandy Koufax, Norm and Larry Sherry ) vacations, ( beach, mountains & deserts )
    birthday parties, family dinners.
    ( a big Italian feasts )
    And so many more happy memories.
    Thank you for the chance!

    • Hi Doni!
      I love the memories you shared and so neat you had luaus in the backyard. Sounds like a beautiful childhood with many sweet memories. So, so glad you have those. Thanks for entering and stopping in today!

  23. The first thought that came to my mind was of all the happy childhood memories I have.
    Thank you for that, Shanna! ?
    I would write about family & friends.
    All the fun we had. Parties, ( luaus in our backyard. My mom getting thrown
    in the pool by Sandy Koufax, Norm and Larry Sherry ) vacations, ( beach, mountains & deserts )
    birthday parties, family dinners.
    ( a big Italian feasts )
    And so many more happy memories.
    Thank you for the chance!

  24. I love historical old buildings and learning about them! In my younger years we lived eight miles from “town”. About two miles from my house we had a tiny grocery store that we went to for recipe emergencies. My brother and I also stopped in there to get cold drinks on our way home from a long bike ride in the summer. I remember it had wood siding and next to it was a pharmacy.

    • Hi Tammy,
      What wonderful childhood memories. There is nothing like those little grocery stores! I loved the one we had a mile from our house. It was ancient and smelled of salami half the time, but I loved going in there! So glad you have those fun memories!

  25. Even though I live in South Ogden, not Ogden, I’d have to include some of the older buildings and their history from downtown Ogden-there’s so much interesting history! I find the old buildings fascinating, especially the history of the secret underground tunnels.

    “In 1869, The Golden Spike brought together the first transcontinental railroad, roughly fifty miles to the northwest of Union Station, and created a boom town in Ogden. Looking at Historic 25th Street now, it’s hard to believe it was once home to brothels, political scandals, and the “dark ages” of gang rivalries so intense you couldn’t walk the three-block length in safety.”

    South Ogden is just a quiet, boring town, LOL.

    • The old buildings are so, so fascinating! And I love the history that ties to the railroad. And underground tunnels – love the stories that are waiting there to be discovered!
      Thank you so much for stopping in today, Lynette!
      Happy autumn to you!

    • Aren’t old forts fascinating. And so neat you were an Army brat. Sorry you didn’t have a real hometown, but I bet you got to see lots of interesting places!
      Thanks for stopping in today!

  26. My hometown is in Northern New York bordering Vermont and Canadian. The area was inhabited by the Iroquois, Western Abenaki, Mohican and Mohawk people. Samuel de Champlain was the first ever recorded European that sailed into Champlain Valley and later claimed the region as a part of New France in 1609. The area was actively involved in the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. The town of Plattsburgh was established in 1785. The Kent-Delord House was built in 1797 and is one of the oldest houses in the region of Plattsburgh and is now a museum showing life of that time period. It was used as British headquarters during the War of 1812. That war was fought by ships on Lake Champlain and on land. There was a major battle that destroyed most of the British fleet and led to the end of that war. There is a small island/big rock near town that is the shape of a sailing ship. It is said the British fleet spent a night shelling it trying to sink it. Hence the name Gunboat Rock. In 1836, the American army built an army post there. In May 1850, Major Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson was stationed there. The original stone barracks still stands. President William Mckinley summered nearby and a unit which came to be known as the President’s Own was stationed here. The post closed after WWII and in the 1950’s the Air Force took it over and built a base which lasted until 1995. There is much history in the area. Houses were built of log, lumber, sandstone, limestone, and brick. Most of the old houses are still standing and well taken care of. The big Victorian houses are less so with many being broken up into apartments or just in shabby condition. The details inside and out are beautiful and would be lovely if restored.

    Many years ago, I was a docent at the Kent-Delord house for one of their living history events. The Air Base has been sold off to civilians and businesses. The oval surrounded by Victorian era brick homes is very typical of army bases of that area. Several of the military buildings have been turned into museums as have some of those in town.

    • Oh, my goodness, Patricia! So, so much wonderful history in your hometown. Wow! So many stories to be told of the area. That is so neat you were a docent for one of the living history events. I’m sure it was fascinating! And I agree – those old houses are so full of beautiful details and characters. It’s a shame to see them fall into ruin.
      Thanks for stopping in and happy autumn!

  27. Well being from Stephenville, Texas, the Cowboy Capital of the World, my book would be about all things cowboys. It would include ranching cowboys, a feedlot and the cowboys that worked at the feedlot as well as the cowboy owner & his family, rodeo cowboys & cowgirls and Tarleton State University. It would take place back in the days when Tarleton was an Agricultural college. I had to include a feedlot and its family because I’m a feedlot owner/cattle brokers daughter.

    • I think you’ve got some good stories on your hands with your hometown. I’ve never been to Stephenville, but I hope to see it someday. That would be so neat to include a feedlot owner / cattle broker! Love that you have that background. So cool!

  28. I love lighthouses so I would have to write about the lighthouse here in Pensacola, Florida. It was built back in 1859 and has wonderful history as well as a lovely view.

  29. Enjoyed your post and very cool about your dad and that stove. My dad rescued a similar wood burning stove. He found it in the alley in my hometown, loaded it up and refurbished it. Every time I look at it, I always think what work it would be to cook an entire meal on that stove. It was amazing what women accomplished back then.

  30. I don’t really have a hometown as we moved around a lot. I’ve always been fascinated by older houses though, the people who lived in them and how the houses are still standing today. Visiting historical houses is one of my favorite things to do on trips.

Comments are closed.