Backroads of Benton County III: Alsea and Lobster Valleys (1982)

Horner Museum Tour Guide Series

Backroads of Benton County III:
Alsea and Lobster Valleys

Compilations from various sources and a tour guide commentary by Kenneth Munford
(Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1982)

Route: (also see Itinerary)

From 53rd St. in Corvallis drive south on the Bellfountain Rd.

At Bellfountain turn right (west) to Dawson.

Return to Bellfountain Rd. and continue south to Alpine. There, turn right (west) and drive through Glenbrook, continuing on to Alsea. Stop to see Alsea Falls (picnic ground exit) if you wish.

At Alsea drive west on Highway 34 to Five Rivers Rd.

Turn south (left) on Five Rivers Rd., swinging back to the east through Lobster Valley and returning to Alsea.

Return to Corvallis on Hwy. 34.

Tour Guide Commentary

The first iron horse came snorting into Corvallis one evening in January 1880. He had pulled a train load of passengers from Portland via Hillsboro, McMinnville, and Independence in one afternoon. Local people hoped he would keep going south and reach Junction City, where the east-side and west-side rail lines were supposed to join.

That junction never occurred, but rails were laid southward from Corvallis in the 20th century. Here is how Ed Culp (Stations West, p. 148) describes this venture.

Corvallis & Alsea River Railway Company (SP)

Built by Stephen Carver in 1908, this line extended for some thirty miles from Corvallis south to Monroe, Alpine and Glenbrook. The line was intended originally to be constructed on to Alsea and thence to the Pacific Coast, but the panic of 1909 prevented Carver from securing
adequate credit to finance the remainder of the road.

In 1911, Alvadore Welch purchased the C&AR along with the streetcar systems of Salem, Albany, West Linn and Eugene with the idea that these lines would be the nucleus for an electric railroad to be built from Portland to San Francisco. But in 1912 the Portland, Eugene & Eastern Railway Company (Welch's corporation) was sold to the Southern Pacific.

On this tour we parallel the old Corvallis and Alsea River Railway through southern Benton County. It will be about three miles east of us most of the time. We will see it first as we follow a branch of it up Oliver Creek to Dawson. Later, along the valley of Hammer Creek from Alpine to Glenbrook we will follow the abandoned line along the route originally intended to take it over the summit of the Coast Range and down into Alsea Valley. As you will see, building a railroad through that rugged country would have been a difficult undertaking.

Trappers' Trails

In the 1820s and 1830s, fur-trading brigades out of Fort Vancouver bound for southern Oregon and northern California used at least two routes through southern Benton County. In dry weather they could fan out across the frequently-turned-over grasslands almost anywhere. In wet weather they had to stay to higher ground, among the rolling foothills to the west.

We will have a look at two of their possible traces on the well-drained uplands. Going out we will start on SW 53rd Street and eventually join Bellfountain Road. Coming home we will take Decker Road on our way into Philomath.

The Blue Rampart

When we get out into open country, take a look at the undulating blue barrier to the west. This is the Coast Range which has protected the Willamette Valley for countless centuries and which we propose to scale today.

You will see four peaks. Everyone can identify Marys Peak (elevation 4,097 feet). The next mountain to the south is called Old Blue (3,000 feet). The next one to the south is Flat Mountain (2,700 feet). Then comes the humped back of Green Peak (2,797 feet).

Our nooning destination is the town of Alsea, due west of Green Peak. To get there we are going to skirt the south slopes, the far side, of Green Peak. On the way home we will climb over the pass between the 2nd and 3rd mountains, Old Blue and Flat Mountain.

You may be able to see a 3,500-foot ridge beyond Green Peak. It is Prairie Peak and Prairie Mountain. It keeps its winter snow the longest of any slope in this part of the Coast Range. It is south of Alsea. You can bet a better look at it when we reach the Alsea Valley. Lobster Creek forms on its western slopes, runs into Five Rivers, and then into the Alsea River.

Notes from "Changing Geography of Willamette Valley Woodlands"

By Jerry C. Towle, Oregon Historical Quarterly, Vol. 83, No. 1, Spring 1982, pp. 66-87.

This article helps us understand what has happened in the woodlands of the area we are crossing on this tour.

The two maps on the next page (taken from Towle's article) show how the woodlands were distributed when the first settlers came and how they have changed in one and a quarter centuries.

As has been pointed out before, the flat plains of southern Benton County have been grass-covered for a long time, many centuries. Indians burned them occasionally for various reasons - to chase out game, to clear the area for hunting, and perhaps just to see the flaming prairies.

Many early accounts describe the rolling foothills to the west of the plains as "oak hills," grassy slopes dotted with oak trees; Towle calls them open woodlands.

Briefly, what the maps on the next page show are that the thick, wide band of brush, ash, alder, maple, etc. along the swampy river banks has been narrowed for agriculture, andthat the hills to the west that were lightly forested have now become thick new woodlands, principally covered with the vigorous growth of Oregon's #1 tree, the Douglas fir. Old timers remember plowing hillsides and pasturing cattle in areas now densely forested.

On our route today we run along the border between the old grassland prairies and the former "oak hills." You will note that enterprising Christmas tree growers have selected this area for plantations. This border area between plains and mountains is ideal for their purpose. The rich, well-drained soil, the adequate rainfall, and the mild climate are exactly right for particular species of Douglas fir which has adapted itself to swift growth in this unique area.

Surrounding the plantations, especially on the non-arable hills to the west, swift growing woodlands promise in time to become productive forests as a future source of timber supporting the Benton County forest products industry.

Itinerary and Artifacts* Along the Way

*"Products of human workmanship"

SOUTH ON 53RD STREET, crossing Country Club Drive, passing Plymouth community corner, keep going south. Row of Lombardy poplars on hilltop ahead marks former home of the late Ed. C. Alworth and wife Peggy. (Alworth, a Medal of Honor awardee in WWI, organized the fund drive to build the Memorial Union and served as its manager many years.)

BORDEN ROAD, bridge over Marys River, join Bellfountain Road.

PIONEER OAK RIDGE CEMETERY, unique grave markers.

INAVALE SCHOOL, part of Corvallis school system.

BEAVER CREEK. Site of Herbert mill, first grist mill in Benton County, a few hundred yards to the east.

FINLEY NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, 5,325 acres on the left.

BELLFOUNTAIN. Bellfountain Park has one of the five 84-foot-long picnic tables sawed by the Hull-Oakes mill from a single log. Others are in Avery Park, in a picnic grove near Alsea Falls, and in Silverton area.

DAWSON. Hull-Oakes mill still has the capacity to cut 85-foot timbers. Most milled are limited to 26-28 feet. Twelve x 24 inch timbers 40-60 feet long now begin sawed to be shipped to Nova Scotia for bridge building. Southern Pacific runs three trains a week from Alpine Junction to this mill. Five or six cars loaded here will carry the timbers to Nova Scotia by way of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.

ALPINE TO GLENBROOK. Both the rail line once planned to cross over the mountains this way and the large sawmill at Glenbrook now abandoned. Look for photo of mill in Benton County Historical Museum.

PASS OVER COAST RANGE about 1,400 feet in elevation. Note several rock quarries on west side of the pass.

ALSEA VALLEY, approaching from the southeast. Farms of the Rycraft brothers were between where we cross the South Fork of the Alsea River and the town of Alsea.

ALSEA HIGH SCHOOL. Lunch.

Afternoon. Visits to MISSOURI BEND SCHOOL and LOBSTER VALLEY.

ALSEA VALLEY LANDS

One clause of the federal Donation Land Act of 1850 provided that "white male citizens of the United States...above the age of twenty-one years" settling in Oregon between Dec. 1, 1850, and Dec. 1, 1853, could be granted 160 acres of public land if single and 320 acres if married.

Fourteen settlers in and around the Alsea Valley obtained land in this manner. Three of them filed claims at the federal land office in Oregon City, the others at the Roseburg office. Applications moved through government bureaucracy leisurely. The land had to be surveyed. The land commissioner had to be assured that all provisions of the Act had been complied with. It was 1874 before any of them received patent (clear title).

Among the first to file claims for land in this area were the Rycraft brothers, Squire Little and George H. The land Squire staked south of the present town of Alsea turned out to be 159.62 acres. George's claim nearby measured 189.56 acres. The other DLCs patented in this area (alphabetically):

  • James Edwards and wife 321.33 acres
  • A. E. Ellis 159.95 acres
  • E. T. Ellis 159.38 acres
  • David Fudge and wife 317.50 acres
  • Allen Hayden and wife Sarah 320.00 acres
  • (Sarah was a widow by the time she and other heirs received patent.)
  • Thomas Hayden and wife 319.67 acres
  • Jacob Holgate and wife 319.50 acres
  • John (or Joseph) Kellum 160.00 acres
  • Basil Longworth 161.18 acres
  • Jeremiah Mason 160.28 acres
  • Emerson Rednours (or Rednor) 160.28 acres
  • John A. Williams and wife 322.75 acres

Later settlers who did not arrive by the December 1, 1853, deadline were able to obtain land under the Homestead Act of 1862, which provided 160 acres of land to the head of a household who resided on it and cultivated it for five years. Later amendments made it possible for the settler to reside on the land only six months and pay $1.25 an acre. Other lands could be purchased: school lands (two sections in each township) and, after 1870, Oregon & California Railroad grants, which extended into this corner of Benton County and even into what is now Lincoln County.

Squire Little Rycraft

On September 30, 1922, S. L. Rycraft celebrated his 94th birthday with family and friends at the Odd Fellows Hall in Alsea. The Oregon Journal reported on October 3rd:
Although near the century mark, Mr. Rycraft, who stands 5 feet 5 inches high and whose weight is 116 pounds, is as erect as an Indian and walks with the grace and ease of a man of 50 years. He has a fine face, somewhat timeworn and marked by a jovial disposition. He eats heartily and carefully, hums old-time tunes frequently, and takes but little medicine, When asked what he does to preserve his wonderful vitality, Mr. Rycraft said, "I practice physical culture a good deal on the farm and in the garden and walk to and from the town of Alsea every day. I imagined not long since that I required medical treatment, but when the medicine arrived I was running saw in the timber. I do not think much medicine is necessary in this country...with a little care it is comparatively easy to live a happy, contented life and reach a ripe old age in Oregon."

A native of Ohio, Rycraft lived in Indiana until 1850 when he crossed the plains to California. In 1851 he worked in a butcher's stall under an oak tree in Yreka. In 1852 he passed through Oregon on his way to look for gold in the Sound country but returned in 1852 to locate on a Donation Land Claim in the Alsea Valley.

In the fall of 1853 Squire and his brother George took a stock of provisions to meet incoming immigrants on the Barlow Trail. They traded food and supplies for nearly worn out oxen. They brought the stock back to Alsea, fattened them, and drove them to Yreka, where Squire said, "We butchered them and sold the meat at good prices to the miners. We came back with a good stake."

With David and John Fudge and Henry Clark, the Rycraft brothers built a sawmill on the South Fork of the Alsea River. In a few years Squire retired from the sawmill and thereafter devoted his attention to farming and stock raising.

In 1858 Squire married Sarah Jane Hawley, whose nephew, Willis C. Hawley, was a Republican Congressman from Oregon from 1907 to 1933. The Rycrafts raised six sons and six daughters, "all natives of Alsea valley and all Democratic."

At the age of 97 Squire died in 1925. He had taken pride in being not only the oldest man but also the first farmer in the Alsea Valley.

Excerpts from the Diary of Basil W. Longworth, Oregon Pioneer

In 1938 the Works Progress Administration (WPA) published the transcript of the diary of 1853 pioneer Basil Longworth. The diary begins in March of 1853 and ends early in 1854.

Excerpts presented here begin with his arrival at the Columbia River in September 1853 and gives merely glimpses of his life as he made his way to Benton County and then settled in the Alsea Valley.

From the Preface:

"Basil N. Longworth, whose diary is presented, was a member of a company, organized by Rev. T. J. Connor and Jeremiah Kenoyer, to make a long journey by boat and wagon train to Oregon in response to a plea by Mr. George Bethers, a pioneer settler of Benton County, Oregon, for preachers to go to that region. The Ohio Conference of the United Brethren Church contributed $500 to help defray the expenses of the company.

On March 15, 1853, the company, consisting of 98 persons, members of 16 families, and about 30 wagons gathered at Council Bluffs, Iowa, to begin their long and arduous journey into Oregon; on October 6, they camped near Albany, just across the river from Benton County. In 1859 or 1860, T. J. Connor became the first clergyman of the Bethel Chapel of United Brethren Church. He was chiefly responsible for the founding of Philomath College, at Philomath, Oregon, in 1867.

The diary contains little of the personal comment found in many journals; it might almost be called a guide, since it describes faithfully journey, distance covered from day to day, costs of commodities, etc.

Basil N. Longworth accompanied his sister and brother-in-law, Mary and James Edwards, on this journey. The only copy of the diary known to be in the possession of the family is owned by their grand-daughter, Mrs. Caryl Edwards Kyle, of Monroe. Mrs. Kyle has given the Historical Records Survey of Oregon permission to issue a mimeographed edition of the document, thus expressing her interest in the aim of the Survey of gathering historical material which relates to the history of our country and making it available to researchers, teachers, students, and others who enjoy following American history from its beginning."

From the Diary:

"Sept. 17th, 1853. This morning we drove six miles and came to the Columbia River. Here we met Brother Bethards (Bethers), from Oregon, who had come to meet us, and who had butchered a beef to have a feast with us. Afternoon we drove four miles to DesChutes River, a rapid stream heading in the mountains and on hundred fifty yards wide. The wind being high we could not ferry. We then concluded to ford it-the ferryman declared all would be lost, telling enormous lies to alarm us, but we employed an Indian guide who rode before each wagon giving us the course to the island, the ford being very crooked; he then rode in front of one team, the rest following in a string, the course being nearly straight across the second channel. We paid him two dollars for his services, all being across safe and dry. Our ferriage would have been $15.00, thus we saved $13.00 by fording. We then ascended a long steep hill and camped a little over the ridge by a spring affording water sufficient for camp use.

Oct. 2nd. This morning we paid a bit a head for pasture and drove three miles to the Clackamas and paid fifty cents a wagon and a bit a head for loose cattle. Then drove one mile to Oregon City. Here we left Mr. Crow's wagon which we brought from The Dalles. We then drove seven miles and camped, turning our cattle out among the bushes.

Oct 6th. We drove four miles and called to see Br. E. Parish, one of the old settlers. We continued up toward Santiam, crossed the stream one mile above the town, paid 50¢ a wagon and half a dime for cattle and camped near Albany, with fine grass and good water.

Oct. 11th. This morning we drove towards Marysville. At noon it commenced raining and rained all evening. We crossed the river at Marysville and late in the evening took our lodging at Mr. Newton's house, where we felt at home as it was raining.

Oct. 17th. This morning I walked five miles to Mr. Butterfield's to make rails for him for which I received $1.50 per hundred. This day was cloudy and rained a little and I cut a little timber. This was the first work in Oregon.

Oct. 22nd. This morning very beautiful and I split two hundred rails by noon, which closed my week's work having made eight hundred rails. This week I was unwell all the time and did not work very hard, but still I earned $12.00, which seemed like good wages compared with Ohio wages where I could not have received more than three dollars. This evening I went to Marysville and paid 50¢ for a pound of candles, 50¢ for an ax handle, 25¢ for matches, 25¢ for a bottle of ink.

Nov. 5th. This morning when I awoke it was cloudy and in a few minutes it commenced raining and continued wet and showery all day and the following night. This day I split one hundred rails and then quit on account of the rain, having made nine hundred rails. At noon I went to town and bought a pair of boots for which I paid $7.00, getting a pair of socks in the bargain. I then bought a vest pattern for $1.25 and returned to my brother-in-law and found them all prospering.

Nov. 7th. This morning I went to town and put a letter in the office and bought twenty four pounds of tallow for a bit a pound, and then went to Mr. Butterfield's and bought a cow and calf, for which I have to pay $100.00 in making rails for which I receive $1.50 per hundred.

Nov. 16th. This morning was warm and very foggy, and we packed some flour and other notions on our ponies and started up the valley to Mr. George Mason's-found them all well. We were here joined by him and his son Jeremiah, when we started for the Alsea Valley to take claims for our future residences. The fog blew away and the day was fine. We traveled up the Valley some twelve miles where dark overtook us and we lodged in Mr. Buckingham's house.

17th. This morning is again pleasant. Here our paths left the valley and struck into the mountains, passing up and down the mountain sides through dense forests of fir timber. At two o'clock in the evening [sic] we found ourselves in the Alsea Valley. We passed down it three miles where we found a house to lodge in, being quite tired from the labors of the day. This evening a misting rain commenced falling and increased through the night.

18th. This morning is very wet and we commenced hunting claims. James Edwards staked off his claim. His standing stake is near the hill at the southeast corner, the line running one mile or until it reaches Redenour's claim, then north until he takes in his full claim. The rain fell quite fast and we, of course, did nothing more this day.

19th. Yesterday he took possession of his claim and today we went to work on it (although the rain was still falling), and cut poles and built a little pen ten feet square-made boards and covered it and moved into it-baked hot biscuit for supper and did all of this before dark, at which time the rain commenced falling quite fast and continued to do so all night, but the roof turned the water well and we were dry-warm and merry.

20th. Sabbath. The rain fell quite fast the entire day and following night which caused the river to rise very fast. We continued in our little house all day, this being the first Sabbath spend in Alsea, and was rather gloomy.

Nov. 22. This morning the rain had abated some and Jeremiah Mason and I started down the valley to select a claim for each of us as a basis for our future homes. I went to the western boundary of Mr. Thomas Ellis's claim and there set a stake as the eastern boundary of my claim. The line runs from this stake north sixty rods, thence (west) 160, thence south 260 rods, thence east 260 rods, thence to my starting stake. I will them form an ell by running from my southeast corner eastward sufficiently far to include 320 acres and then north to Mr. Ellis's line.

23rd. This morning the rain had ceased falling and Mr. Edwards and I secured 115 pounds of fish-dressed them, packed them in sacks to take to the valley.

24th. This morning Edwards started to the valley, and I started my claim and commenced cutting logs for a house and by night I had thirty logged off, then the rain commenced falling and was showery through the night.

25th. This morning I commenced hewing my logs and by night I had eleven of them, the day being rainy and disagreeable.

26th. Through the past night we had quite a wind storm, the rain continuing falling all day and quite hard at times. This day I hewed three more logs, cut down a fir tree (near four feet in diameter) for boards to cover my house. I was then dripping wet and returned to the house-cut and carried wood for Sabbath, which closed my week's work.

Dec 3rd. This morning I went to work on my claim and succeeded in getting a rail pen covered to shelter in, and at 2:00 in the evening [sic] went to try my luck in taking salmon. I speared four salmon which made forty pounds of dressed fish. With one of them I had quite a scuffle to lay him out of the water, in the meantime he bit my finger quite sharply. I carried them a mile and a half to our shanty which closed out labors for the week.

Dec 11th. Sabbath. This morning Edwards went with Kenoyer to the Valley and I went to Ellis's to hold a prayer-meeting, this being the first religious meeting ever held in the valley. Two of us were present and we claimed the promise and had a good time. This day was warm and fair.

Dec. 24th. This morning the rain was still falling and was mixed with snow but there was not a sufficient amount to make the ground look white in the valley, but up a short distance on the sides of the mountain the snow laid for some time. This day I logged off twenty-five more cuts, which finished the little grove and my week's work, the day being wet in the forenoon and clear in the afternoon.

25th. Christmas. This day was very rainy and disagreeable. We met again to hold prayer-meeting and had a very good time. After meeting I went with Mr. Mason and his company through the evening.

Sabbath, January the 1st, 1854. This morning is again very pleasing and Edwards and I went to hold prayer-meeting, he conducted the meeting and we had a pleasant time. After meeting I returned home and I employed my self in writing a letter and revolving a train of thoughts in my mind. Thus passed the first day of the year 1854."

Later, Basil Longworth moved to Jefferson, in Marion County, where he served as minister of the Protestant Methodist Church.

The Missouri Bend (Salmonberry) School

Oregon's rural families valued education for their children. Small one room schools dotted every settled area. There were schools in this part of Benton County at Trout Creek, Green Peak, and Lobster Valley as well as in Alsea. The Missouri Bend School on Salmonberry Road seems to be the only building of these schools that remains today.

Built about 1910, this school was called "the new school." It apparently replaced an earlier one in the same area. Mrs. Bernice Perin was the first teacher, from about 1909 to 1914 or 15.

The school served just three families, the Beals, the Welches and the Zandofskys when Lois Waugh (Jorgenson) came to teach in 1927, moving from a job in the previous year at the Trout Creek school. Her life as a rural teacher of grades one through eight was typical of that of other teachers in Oregon's rural areas for decades past. She boarded with one of the families, the Ezra Beals, grandparents of some of the children she was teaching. She walked seven miles to Alsea on weekends to get her mail, sometimes hearing a cougar screaming in the wilderness during her lonesome journey. She coped with nuisances, such as a goat which came in to the schoolhouse and ate the children's lunches from the cloakroom.

In 1927 Lois Waugh had six pupils: Edward and Velva Beals, Martha and Viola Zandofsky and Dorothy and Irene Welch. She taught there only about a year, and the next teacher was Mrs. Barkley. Wayne Beals also taught at the Missouri Bend School, preceding Miss Waugh in the 1920s and again after she left.

During the 1930s the school grew to perhaps as many as 35 children. When Beals left in the spring of 1937 the school closed for lack of a teacher and did not reopen until the fall of 1938. During that time the Zandofsky family moved to Alsea so the children could go to a school. Some other families apparently taught their children at home. A year or two after the school reopened, it was closed permanently and the local children were bused to Alsea.

Mary May Zandofsky (Schrader), who started first grade at the Missouri Bend School in 1935, shares her remembrances:
We had to leave for school in the dark and in the wintertime came home in the dark. We had to walk about two miles, along a trail. Later on a road was built. I can remember cougars screaming on a ridge above us while walking home from school. There were lots of cougars around ... also bear. There still are quite a few bear.

The trail was longer than the road is now. There isn't much left of it but you can use it for a short distance ... I've done so when looking for wild blackberries.

There were a lot of goats and cows around the school when I was going to that school the first time (1935 to 1937), including children from the Shannon, Barkley, Zandofsky, Beals, Poage, Boatwright and Cadwalter families. Mrs. Barkley was the teacher. The school closed in 1937 and started up again in 1938 for a year or so. I can't remember the name of the last teacher but I know she was young and pretty.

After the Salmonberry School closed we went to school in Alsea...got a bus near the Salmonberry School. To go to high school before that you had to walk two miles farther, because the bus only came as far as the road was paved. My oldest sister Viola stayed with my aunt, Maxie Roberts, in Alsea so she could go to high school.

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