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ARTIFACTS ALONG U. S. 99 WEST: CORVALLIS TO PORTLAND

by Kenneth Munford

(Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1981)

ARTIFACTS - "products of human workmanship" - are where you find them. Museums collect, preserve, and display them as a means of interpreting particular periods of civilization. Some artifacts because of their nature, size, or location cannot be captured and collected. They remain free in the countryside and in the cities - products of human workmanship awaiting their opportunities to give us a glimpse into the vitality of previous generations.

Along the west side Pacific Highway, U. S. 99W, from Corvallis north to Portland, many artifacts remain in situ, as the archeologists say. When we seek them out and study them a bit, they help us appreciate the enterprise, culture, and accomplishments of the 19th century pioneers in the Willamette Valley. On this tour we try to identify products of human workmanship from that previous time: trails, roads, streets, and highways; buildings, both public and private; educational institutions; cemeteries; features named for pioneers; plantings, etc.

In Corvallis, streets laid out along the boundaries of the Donation Land Claims (DLC) of the earliest settlers provided what are probably our earliest artifacts. Jefferson Avenue from 11th Street to the Memorial Union and south from there along 26th Street mark the northern and western boundaries of Joseph C. Avery's 640-acre DLC which he staked in the fall of 1845. Kings Boulevard and east Grant Avenue are the western and northern boundaries of William Dixon's DLC. West Grant Avenue lies on one of Joseph Friedley's property lines.

Part of the brick building housing Robnett's Hardware at 2nd and Adams was built by Avery in the 1850s. The Court House and Corvallis Arts Center building date from 1888. On the Oregon State University campus at least six buildings erected in the 19th century are still in daily use: Benton Hall 1888-9, Fairbanks Hall and the Women's Studies Center 1892, Apperson Hall and Mitchell Playhouse 1898, and the Foundry 1899. Plantings on the Lower Campus are also 19th century.

The Biddle (now Porter) house at 6th and Harrison is a fine, well-kept example of a mid-century Gothic Revival home. It was built about 1853 for Dr. Benjamin Biddle, an enterprising gentleman who provided dental services, operated a pharmacy, and engaged in other activities in early Corvallis. His daughter, Alice, was one of the first three graduates of Corvallis College in 1870. When she married William W. Moreland, head of the Primary Department and Professor of Natural Sciences in the College, her parents built the house across Harrison from the Biddle home for the bride and groom. Moreland had served as Clerk of the House of Representatives in the Oregon Legislature in the critical period when Corvallis College was selected to develop the College of Agriculture for the state. The Morelands did not remain long as Corvallis residents but sought opportunities elsewhere.

Other Corvallis homes also date from the 19th century, but as yet we do not have a complete and reliable register of them.

Before 1880 Corvallis had two channels of transportation: the Willamette River and wagon roads. In January 1880, a wood-burning iron horse brought a passenger train from Portland to Benton County in one afternoon and evening, thereby cutting the travel time from two days to about six hours and forecasting the demise of steam boats. River boats continued to operate for 30 years but they were doomed. The new rail line, built by a subsidiary of Henry Villard's empire, used the right-of-way still in use on 6th Street; the station at first was north of town near the present highway overpass.

Five years later, in 1885, the Oregon Pacific completed its line from Corvallis to Yaquina Bay and built a depot at 9th and Washington. The OP continued building across the valley. It bridged the Willamette and provided a connection with the mainline Oregon & California Railroad at Albany in 1887. Rails, partly embedded in the pavement can still be seen at 9th and Washington. Nine blocks north on 9th Street, the spur just north of The Old Cannery is part of that line.

The West Side Pacific Highway, later designated as U. S. 99W, completed a strip of concrete from Portland through Corvallis to Junction City in 1923. Just as the railroad doomed river traffic, this highway doomed rail passenger traffic. As the new highway entered Corvallis from the north it used the old Oregon Pacific right-of-way from Fillmore to Van Buren Avenues. Farther north it paralleled the 6th Street line, on which the Southern Pacific Red Electrics at that time were providing several-times-a-day passenger service between Corvallis and Portland.

Between our starting place in Corvallis and Adair Village we pass through the Donation Land Claims of ten of the earliest settlers in Benton County in this order: J. C. Avery, William F. Dixon, S. M. Stouts, John Steward, Heman C. Lewis, William Knotts, Abram N. Locke, Arnold Fuller, Price Fuller, and Thomas Read. All but Stouts and Locke came to Oregon by covered wagon in 1845. All but Dixon, Stouts, and Read were among the first 177 to file claims at the land office in Oregon City. Several had places named for them: Avery, whose claim straddled the Marys River, is remembered by Avery Park, Avery Lane, Avery Crossing, and Avery Lodge. Dixon, whose claim joined Avery's, has Dixon Creek and Dixon Lodge named for him. Lewis, whose claim lay north of Seavy Lane, has Lewisburg named for him, although that community is on the Locke and Arnold Fuller DLCs. As we approach Lewisburg, we see the Locke Cemetery on a wooded knoll west of the highway. The first grave was dug there in 1846.

Beyond Lewisburg, the winding section of old 99W that leads past the entrance into Peavy Arboretum is one of Benton County's most interesting artifacts. This piece of the old Pacific Highway was built on the grade of the Portland and Umpqua Valley Wagon Road, which in turn is presumed to have followed the Hudson's Bay Company pack trail. Referred to on early maps as "the Old California Trail," this pack trail was used by fur brigades from Fort Vancouver as early as the 1820s. Levi Scott, the Applegate brothers, David Goff, B. F. Burch, and others came this way in June 1846 scouting out the wagon road that became known as the Applegate Trail.

Along this section of old 99W, just south of the Arboretum entrance, a well-kept, yellow house sits on a knoll west of the highway. The rectangular two-story front section of this house was built for Thomas and Nancy Read in the 1850s. It has had several additions and now has a new roof and new siding, but the framing, many of the windows, and other features are original.

Nancy (White) Hawkins and Thomas Read carne west in the same wagon train in 1845. Her husband, Zachariah Hawkins, went hunting in Idaho. The mutilated body of a companion was found later but no trace of Zachariah was ever found. Bachelor Tom Read volunteered to drive Nancy's team and help care for her five children (one had died en route) and her widowed mother. Nancy and Tom were married in November the next year. They moved into a cabin on the DLC he had staked out just south of present Adair Village. They hired Bushrod Washington Wilson (later for 30 years the Clerk of Benton County) to build the house that still stands as a compliment to his craftsmanship. Travelers on the wagon road sometimes enjoyed the hospitality of the Reads. Nancy and Tom had six children of their own and prospered also in farming and cattle raising. Both lived four score years.

Adair Village and the Camp Adair site offer a trove of artifacts, but they are so new - dating from no earlier than 1942 - that we do not feature them in our search for evidences of 19th century civilization.

Passing the Polk County line reminds us that from 1847 to 1851 Benton County extended from this point south to California.

North of the Camp Adair Military Reservation we pass through the J. W. Suver DLC. Grain elevators and large warehouses a mile east of the highway identify the location of Suver station established on the railroad in 1880.

This highway between Suver and Monmouth is 20th century. An 1882 map shows no roads in this area. Probably not until the Pacific Highway was graded in the 1920s was this crossing of the Luckiamute flood plain put into use. The winding grade of old 99W on the hillside west of the present highway proved too tedious for the traffic generated by Camp Adair. The long fill in present use was built in wartime.

Henry Helmick, an immigrant from Prussia, and his wife of a few months, Sarah (Streepre), came west in 1845. They staked their DLC straddling the Luckiamute River. He died in 1877. Their children continued to farm the home place. Before she died in 1924, she donated the land where the then-new Pacific Highway crossed the river for Helmick State Park, dedicated in 1925. The railroad we cross here is the Valley and Siletz, which ran from Independence to Valsetz.

Fir Crest Cemetery south of Monmouth dates from 1848. The burial grounds on the west side of the road across from Fir Crest are old cemeteries in a new location. To clear the Adair reservation for training maneuvers, the Army moved three private cemeteries - the English (122 graves), the Liggett (fewer than 25 graves), and the Smith (275 graves) - to this new location in October 1942. I have been told that the Davidson cemetery on the boundary of the reservation was left in place.

Monmouth was founded in 1852 by settlers from Monmouth, Illinois. These Campbellites (Disciples of Christ) soon established Monmouth University. In 1865, Bethel College, which had been established by members of the same denomination 15 miles to the north, united with Monmouth University to form Christian College. Monmouth people donated 540 acres for the campus and to sell as town lots to raise money to build college buildings. Other donations made possible erection of Campbell Hall in 1871. A wing on the south with a bell tower was built in 1889 and the north wing ten years later. The College began
specializing in preparation of teachers for elementary schools and while still privately supported and controlled was designated as the Oregon State Normal School. The state later took control and developed it into the Oregon College of Education. A handsome grove of Douglas fir trees planted by the pioneers and the bell tower on the south wing of Campbell Hall blew down in the Columbus Day storm in 1962. The huge sequoia tree in front of Campbell, which was planted by the Class of 1887, survived the storm but was later hit by lightning.

Old 99W north from OCE follows a 19th century road. The Thomas Gentle house on the right is a beloved artifact. Professor Gentle came to Oregon Normal in 1911. In the decades he served as a stimulating counselor for would-be teachers, he developed this older house into a showplace and a rendezvous for students.

Although trees themselves are not "products of human workmanship," the way in which they have been planted serve as artifacts. Along this Monmouth-Rickreall road and elsewhere in today's travels, we see plantings obviously the result of human workmanship - the row of Lombardy poplars on the left side of the old highway, for example. Groups of exotic trees - Ponderosa pine and other species not native to this part of the valley - indicate how settlers beautified their home sites and provided for shade and wind breaks.

The railroad we cross does not qualify as a 19th century artifact. It was built in 1903 by Louis Gerlinger, the lumberman who started in Dallas what has grown into Willamette Industries, one of the wood-products giants of today.

On Rickreall Creek, Col. Nathaniel Ford staked claims for himself and relatives who came west with him in 1844. He was from Virginia by way of Missouri and brought with him several slaves, whom he had promised to free after his farm was opened in Oregon. He named the town he laid out and its 1851 post office Rickreall, but in Civil War times the community was nicknamed Dixie, a name which has persisted and is still seen occasionally today.

Ford's DLC lay on both sides of Rickreall Creek west of 99W. The claim of his sister and brother-in-law, David Goff, lay east of the highway. The Burch house built by other Ford relatives can be seen two blocks west of the first intersection in Rickreall. The Nesmith house, much altered by remodeling, is a quarter of a mile east. Ambitious, energetic young James Nesmith married Pauline, daughter of the Goffs. He became the first U. S. Senator from Oregon to spend a full six years in the Congress (1861-67). The Nesmiths became owners of part of the Goff DLC and purchased other land in the vicinity.

When the railroad came through their property in 1879, the station just east of Rickreall (now identified by tall grain elevators) was named Derry for the Nesmith family home in New Hampshire. The Rickreall burial plot and monument to the accomplishments of Senator Nesmith are on the south side of Rickreall Creek adjacent to the Polk County fairgrounds.

A mile north of Rickreall we cross Baskett Slough on the DLC of C. J. Baskett. The Baskett family burial plot on this property is described in the 1978 Oregon Cemetery Survey as being "1 1/2 mi. north of Dixie"!

Holmes Hill on the right and the gap where we cross the railroad are named for Horatio Nelson Viscount Holmes, whose DLC lay north of the gap.

McCoy is named for the man who donated land for the railroad and town site to our left. It has an interesting 20th century artifact - remains of the substation that provided power for the Red E1ectrics that ran along this line between Corvallis and Portland from 1915 to 1930.

To the right at Finns Corner (sometimes called Domes) where the sign points to Lincoln, the road leads to two ghost towns. Bethel, founded in 1846 and the site of the college that became an ancestor to OCE, is a mile east. Zena, where now only the Spring Valley Church and cemetery remain, was on the far side of the Eola Hills. Both of these former communities have fascinating histories of their own.

At Amity an amicable agreement led to the building of a school in 1849 and gave the place its name. Ahio Watt gave up plans to go to the gold mines in California to become the first teacher. A post office was established in 1852 and the town plat recorded in 1859. The Disciples of Christ (Christian) congregation here claims to be the oldest of that denomination in the far west, though the present building is 20th century. Other structures in town are earlier.

At Whiteson, narrow-gauge railways from Sheridan and Willamina and from Airlie, Monmouth, and Dallas crossed the standard-gauge line. These smaller lines provided some passenger service but their principal purpose was to take the produce of Polk County farmers to the river boats at Dayton for shipment to Portland.

McMinnville, plated in 1854, soon became the site of McMinnville (now Linfield) College. Sponsored by Baptists, it granted its first degrees in 1870. Pioneer Hall, replacing an earlier frame building, was dedicated in 1883. Note the huge oak tree by Pioneer Hall, said to be 500 years old. The railroad from Portland which had been stopped by financial problems only three miles away in St. Joseph since 1872 finally reached McMinnville in 1879 and provided direct service to the Tualatin Valley and Portland. The old depot has been preserved. After a bitter fight, McMinnville succeeded in taking the county seat away from Lafayette in 1888.

Continuing on 99W we cross the North Yamhill River. On the left are the St. James cemetery and the 50-acre Evergreen Memorial Park, which got their start in the previous century. The railroad we pass under was built as the Oregon Central West Side Line, which became part of the Oregon & California system, and then a Southern Pacific branch. Its terminal from 1872 to 1879 was at St. Joseph, which is now only a siding on our right a quarter of a mile. Here Ben Holladay, the railroad magnate, planned a city (named either for St. Joseph, Mo., or for his brother Joseph), but it never developed. This was the end of the line for bankrupt Holladay. Henry Villard, the next magnate, was the one who built the line on to Corvallis in 1879-80.

In 1914 the Southern Pacific electrified two lines from Portland to St. Joseph - one following the old Oregon Central route through Beaverton and Hillsboro and the other composed of what had originally been narrow-gauge lines through Dundee, Newberg, Sherwood, and Oswego. It ran the Red Electrics passenger trains on both lines from St. Joseph to Portland. It is the latter route that we follow into the Portland suburbs.

Lafayette got a great early start as a political and commercial center. Situated at the Falls of the Yamhill, where the old Hudson's Bay Company pack trail forded the river, where water power for industry seemed a possibility, and where river boats could ascend from the Willamette in high water, it was a natural area for development. The first settlers hereabouts came in 1840, years before the great covered-wagon trains began rolling west. In 1846, Joel Perkins laid out the town, naming it for his home in Indiana. The Provisional Legislature selected it as the seat of Yamhill County, one of the four administrative divisions into which the Oregon Country was divided. Yamhill County then included all of the land west of the Willamette from here to California. When the Circuit Court met, Lafayette became known as "the Athens of Oregon" as Matthew Brady, George H. Williams, and other great orators of the day pleaded their cases.

Lafayette's location on the pack trail to California helped it boom as an outfitting center for would-be miners setting out for the gold fields in 1848 and 1849. It continued for some time as the commercial center for this part of Oregon. It began to fade, however, when the railroad to St. Joseph bypassed it in 1872. By the time it had a rail connection with Portland twenty years later, McMinnville had stolen away the county seat. Lafayette Academy, which had enjoyed a promising start, combined with La Creole Academy to form Dallas College. A prominent leader of Lafayette Academy, Rev. D. D. Poling, moved to Dallas to head the new college, taking with him his son, the later famous Dr. Daniel A. Poling. The town languished for decades. Only in recent years has it achieved a renewal of spirit, partly as a bedroom community for commuters to Portland. The Evangelical Church, built in 1893, where Rev. Poling preached, has been preserved as the Yamhill County Historical Museum.

At Dundee, William Reid from Dundee, Scotland, located the shops and principal operating base for the narrow-gauge Oregonian Railway. Another narrow-gauge line, the Portland and Willamette Valley Railway, ran from here into Portland. After Southern Pacific took control, all lines were converted to standard gauge, and as mentioned before, for a time powered by electricity.

Settlers came to the Chehalem Valley, in which Newberg is located, very early - Ewing Young in 1834, for example - but the town of Newberg did not get going until the 1880s. Several families belonging to the Society of Friends (Quakers) gave the community impetus. They gave it a commercial and industrial base and formed the first Quaker community in the far west. They started the Academy that became George Fox College. Transportation to Portland for a long time was by water on the Willamette until the rail line made its connection. Newberg has a number of 19th century homes, the most famous of which is that of Dr. Henry J. Minthorn, where his nephew, Herbert Hoover, lived in his early 'teens from 1884 to 1889. The Minthorn House is maintained by the Herbert Hoover Foundation of Oregon as a private museum.

Rex Hill is one of the barriers that made road and railroad building difficult between Lafayette and Portland. The railroad swings north through Springbrook and makes a more gradual ascent. It is on our left at the top of the hill.

Middleton, originally called Stringtown, was given its present name by the railroad company, reflecting its position about half way between Portland and Lafayette.

Sherwood, when laid out by James C. Smock in 1889, was called at first Smockville. The town named developed around the railroad station named for Sherwood, Mi., which in turn took its name from Sherwood Forest in England.

Tualatin, named for the river that drains Tualatin Plains, dates from 1869 when a post office was established here. Post-World War II development of this suburban area and the building of the I-5 freeway have obliterated many of the 19th century artifacts.

Portland traces its beginnings to the early 1840s. Many Portland streets commemorate pioneers who arrived in Oregon before 1850: Abernathy, Couch, Flanders, Flavel, Foster, Gale, Gibbs, Johnson, King, Lane, Lovejoy, McLoughlin, Melinda, Morrison, Nesmith, Newell, Overton, Patton, Pettygrove, Stark, Terwilliger, etc.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The 19th century artifacts we have seen along 99W give us a glimpse into the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and initiative of the early pioneers in the Willamette Valley. Obtaining free land through the Donation Land Law of 1850 or the later Homestead Act just by living on it and making it productive encouraged men and women of enterprise to make this valley their home. They could do with their land as they pleased. They could farm and raise livestock. They could build mills to produce flour and lumber. They could plat towns and sell lots. They could found churches, schools, and colleges. They were individual entrepreneurs who banded together in family or religious groups and learned to cooperate with one another "for the common good."

For major developments they had neither the managerial and technical skill nor the financial backing to become successful. Outside capital and management were necessary, for example, in building railroads. Money came not only from the financial centers of eastern United States but also from Europe. English money helped to build the Oregon Pacific; German money helped to build the Oregon & California; Scottish money built the narrow gauge Oregonian Railway. Settlers and financiers made - and lost - fortunes. All - individuals, clans, congregations, capitalists - in their own way contributed to preparing the Willamette Valley to face the challenges of the 20th century.

ADDITIONAL READINGS

Kenneth L. Holmes, Linfield's Hundred Years. Portland, Binford & Mort, 1956.

Ellis A. Stebbins, The OCE Story. Monmouth: Oregon College of Education, 1973.

Ruth Stoller, Old Yamhill. Lafayette: Yamhill County Historical Society, 1976.

Donna M. Wojcik, The Brazen Overlanders of 1845. Portland: 1976.

Oregon Cemetery Survey. Salem: Oregon Department of Transportation, 1978.

R. Lowry, K. Munford, and H. Moore, Railroading in the Lower Willamette Valley. Tour Guide Series. Corvallis: Horner Museum, 1979.

Kenneth Munford, The Old Oregon-California Pack Trail. Tour Guide Series. Corvallis: Horner Museum, 1979.

K. Munford and Robert Wray, Political Roots. Guide for Horner Museum Historical Tour #5. Corvallis: Horner Museum, 1978.

 

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© 2008 - 2014 Benton County Historical Society & Museum
Philomath, Oregon
The Benton County Historical Society is a nonprofit corporation that operates museum facilities for the preservation of history and culture.  Its mission is to:

  1. Preserve the material and intellectual culture of Benton County, Oregon, by acquiring and caring for significant collections that illustrate and interpret the history of the area and its relationship to the world;
  2. Enrich people's lives through exhibitions and educational programs.