The Lane County Connection (1980)

Horner Museum Tour Guide Series

The Lane County Connection

By Kenneth Munford

(Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1980)

When the first wagon on the Applegate Trail came into the Willamette Valley from the south in the fall of 1846, the pioneers were delighted to see houses of settlers for the first time in 2,000 miles of travel. At present Eugene, Skinner's "little pole cabin," one immigrant wrote, "without door or window looked homelike indeed." At present Corvallis, Avery's pole cabin, he said, was "more attractive to us than a gorgeous palace."

Both of these log-cabin builders had come west by covered wagon in 1845. Joseph C. Avery, a Pennsylvanian, had left his wife in Illinois and he and his brother-in-law Edmund Marsh had followed the Oregon Trail all the way to the Columbia. Eugene F. Skinner, a New Yorker, had brought his wife and brother Alonzo. They turned off the Oregon Trail in eastern Idaho and took the trail to California, where they spent the winter at Sutter's New Helvetia (Sacramento).

At that time there were no white settlements in the Willamette Valley south of La Creole Creek (Dallas and Rickreall). Avery lost no time in going out to look for free land. In October 1845, he later reported, he marked his provisional land claim, staking out what he estimated to be 640 acres on the Marys River. It ran approximately a half mile north and a half mile south and a mile inland from the mouth of the river. By January 1846 he had his cabin, the "gorgeous palace," built. It was near the present highway embankment between 4th and 5th Streets.

In California, the Mexican government let it be known that they did not like so many Americans coming into their territory. Many of them moved on. In the spring of 1846, the Skinners, along with Felix Scott and his family; Elijah Bristow, who had left his family back east; and William Dodson, a bachelor, followed the old Hudson's Bay Company pack trail north through northern California and western Oregon. They also scouted the valley for free land, going as far north as the La Creole, where they left their families with other settlers. The men returned south. Bristow found a beautiful knoll southeast of present Springfield where he started the Pleasant Hill settlement. He finished his house that fall, said to be the first frame house in Lane County, but it was not on the Applegate Trail and the immigrants going on north did not see it. Dodson staked a claim nearby. Scott first planned to settle near Bristow but later moved a bit north to the banks of the McKenzie River.

Skinner sized up the prospects for a settlement where the three forks of the Willamette - the McKenzie, the Coast Fork, and the Middle Fork - come together to form the main channel. The provisional land claim he staked out bordered the Willamette on the north and east and ran to present 8th Street on the south beyond Monroe Street on the west. It encompassed the butte that bears his name.

He soon set about building the little log cabin that delighted the eyes of the weary travelers later that year. The cabin has long since disappeared, but a replica has been built to show how it may have looked.

Both Skinner and Avery were ambitious to build up the settlements on their property, which they considered strategically located for expansion. Skinner brought his wife from the La Creole. She soon helped swell the population by giving birth to Lenora, said to be the first white child born in Lane County. They later had four more children.

Avery arranged for his wife to join him from Illinois. They eventually had twelve children.

Both men platted towns. Avery called his Marysville. In partnership with Judge David Risdon, Eugene's first lawyer, Skinner laid out a townsite at the east end of Skinner's Butte. The detailed surveying was done by Dr. Andrew Patterson, Lane County's first doctor. In this salubrious climate, the doctor did not have enough patients to keep him busy and had to farm and survey to make a living.

The first name for the community, Skinner's, soon gave way to Eugene City, which later became simply Eugene. The townsite east of Skinner's Butte proved too low lying and was twice moved to more favorable locations.

Both new towns soon had post offices, with Avery and Skinner serving as the first postmasters.

Soon after they first staked their claims both Avery and Skinner started ferry service, Avery across the Marys and Skinner across the Willamette.
Transportation and Communication

Communication between Skinner's and the rest of the Willamette Valley was a problem. The old Hudson's Bay Company pack trail, called "the old California Trail" on early maps, ran south from the Marys River staying on the west side of the meandering swamp known as the Long Tom. Passing present Monroe it went almost due south through Lorane to Drain and Yoncalla in Douglas County.

This route later became - and parts of it are still known as - Territorial Road. It became a stage route between the Willamette Valley and California. The first telegraph line into the valley used this route, providing transcontinental service beginning in March 1864, when the mayors of Portland, Maine, and Portland, Oregon, exchanged greetings by wire. Cartwright's Mountain House south of Lorane, a Lane County historical site, was a stage stop and telegraph relay station on this route.

But this Territorial Road, which missed Eugene City by 12 miles, did not help much in providing communication with the rest of the valley.

Over on the east side of the valley, the old Molalla Indian trail also became a Territorial Road in 1851. It ran along the foothills of the Cascades through Silverton and Lebanon to Brownsville. It was extended south from Brownsville to cross the McKenzie at Spores Ferry and enter the Forks of the McKenzie and Springfield area. Skinner's ferry connected it with Eugene City.

Another wagon road used by some of the earliest immigrants coming into the valley from the south ran north from Skinner's through present Santa Clara and wandered off to the northwest to cross the troublesome Long Tom near Monroe and then on north across the flat, soggy prairie to Winkle Butte and Marysville.

A branch of this road turned northeast at Lancaster to ford or ferry the Willamette near Harrisburg. In seasons when it was usable it provided connection with New Albany and Chemeketa, but much of the time it was impassable.

In the 1920s these routes became the Pacific Highway, 99W and 99E.

The early wagon roads, clogged with mud in the rainy months and suffocated by dust in the dry ones, left much to be desired as channels of communication. Settlers and businessmen on all sides longed for a better way of hauling produce to market and supplies out to the farm and of moving mail, freight, and passengers from place to place.

A steamboat, the James Clinton, ascended the Willamette as far as Eugene City in May 1857, providing hope that boats could operate regularly this far upstream. A steamboat built in Eugene City was wrecked on a sandbar on its maiden voyage. Low water, snags, floating logs, and gravel bars throughout most of the year made river traffic sporadic and boats did not solve the transportation problem in the upper valley. River boats did operate as far upstream as Corvallis, Peoria, and Lancaster until after the turn of the century, but only occasionally upstream.

Railroads, which were enjoying great success in the eastern part of the country, caught the popular fancy. Oregonians dreamed of a network of rail lines throughout the valley and of connections between them and the outside world. Congressional action in President Lincoln's administration provided liberal grants of public lands to help support construction and gave would-be railroad builders further inducement.

While the Civil War was still going on, a surveying party made its way north from the Sacramento Valley to the Oregon border. At Jacksonville dissention among the leaders and running out of money nearly resulted in abandonment of the project. Local businessmen and settlers came to the rescue, making donations in money, grain, and hospitality. The survey continued under new leadership.

In the Willamette Valley north from Eugene City, this survey favored a west-side route. One version of it even bypassed Portland, making the terminus on the Columbia at St. Helens. Portlanders, of course, would not stand for that!

Portland, the Tualatin Valley settlements, McMinnville, and Corvallis all favored the west side route. Milwaukie, Oregon City, Salem, and Albany favored the east-side route. Eugene City was on the west side but did not have to favor either side because both would have to come close to that area and up the valley of the Coast Fork through present Cottage Grove.

As you know, the Eastsiders won out. Under the direction of Ben Holladay, who had made a fortune in stage coach and freight lines throughout the west, the Eastside line of the Oregon & California Railroad was completed to Salem in 1870. After crossing to the west side at Harrisburg it continued into Eugene City in 1871 and on south to Roseburg in 1872. This connection with the rest of the valley gave Eugene its original impetus as a railroad center.

Meanwhile, the Westsiders did not give up. They kept urging that a west-side version of the O & C be built. When Ben Holladay got control of the other, the west-side company, he extended rails west from Portland through the Tualatin Valley and south to St. Joseph, near McMinnville. After Henry Villard ousted Holladay, he continued the line to Benton County, with the first train arriving in Corvallis in January 1880.

Euphoria arose in Benton County in the 1880s over the prospects of Corvallis becoming a railroad center. Plans were for the west-side line to continue south, crossing the Long Tom at Monroe and joining the east-side line at a place to be called Junction City. That would place Corvallis on a main north-south line. The Oregon Pacific was building both west and east, giving Corvallis an ocean outlet at Yaquina Bay and a transcontinental connection - the promoters promised - beyond the Cascades in Idaho.

These dreams did not materialize. The proposed west-side line to Eugene languished and the connection with Junction City was never built. The Oregon Pacific ran out of steam in the canyon north of Santiam.

Rails finally did connect Corvallis and Eugene. In 1908 the Corvallis & Alsea Railway built a line 30 miles south of Corvallis to Monroe, Alpine, and Glenbrook. In 1911, Alvadore Welch purchased this line calling it the Portland, Eugene & Eastern Railway. He built south from Monroe, somewhat paralleling the old Territorial Road and stayed with the business long enough to give one new community on the line his given name, Alvadore. Soon he sold out to the Southern Pacific, which connected the line with another they were building west from Eugene to Mapleton, Reedsport, and Coos Bay.

In the 1920s when the Red Electrics of the Southern Pacific were running several trains a day between Corvallis and Portland on the west side, they had a passenger connection through Monroe and Alvadore to Eugene three times a week - south on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays and north on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This connection did not prove popular for either freight or passengers. The Southern Pacific tore up the tracks from Monroe to Eugene about 1936 - most of them, that is. Some rails can still be seen embedded in the asphalt crossings of the Territorial Road.

East Side Electric

Eugene has continued to prosper as a railroad center. The Oregon & Southwestern Railroad from Cottage Grove up Row River to the Bohemia mining vicinity feeds into Eugene. In the 1930s the Southern Pacific rerouted its main line from California, bringing it over the Cascades from Klamath Falls and making Eugene the division point. The Southern Pacific marshalling yards in Eugene are the largest in the state.

On this tour we trace the rail line that once connected Corvallis and Eugene, visit the Lane County Museum, take a tour of Eugene, and return along one of the early wagon roads that provided a Lane County connection with the rest of the Willamette Valley.

Points of Interest

(along the one-time rail connection to Eugene)

J. C. AVERY Donation Land Claim - Avery Crossing, Avery Park, Avery Lane, Avery station.

BOONVILLE. Opposite the airport, Dry Creek runs into Boonville Slough that runs into Boonville Channel. 1878 map shows town of Boonville here. ????

LLWELLYN. Railroad had flag stop. Schrock nearby.

GREENBERRY. Named for Green Berry Smith, early settler. Home of Willamette Grange.

BUCHANAN station. On first road after Smith Loop Road.

WINKLE BUTTE. 1852 map shows wagon road going between the two hills. Early camping place where travelers could find wood and water and get up out of the mud of the flatlands. Three cemeteries - one on top of big butte, one on south side of west butte, and Irwin burying ground on north side of small butte.

JENNYOPOLIS. Richard and Louisa Irwin had store and post office (1852-57), on west side of small butte.

RICKARD (Rechards) station. South of the other end of the Smith Loop Road.

BRUCE station. On next cross road.

BURNETT station, where we first see Long Tom River. In early days Long Tom mostly a swamp that frequently overflowed. Present straight channel dug and embanked in 1930s. Fern Ridge dam now controls flow but still floods occasionally.

ALPINE JUNCTION. Corvallis & Alsea River Railway ran from here to Alpine and Glenbrook to large sawmill.

STARRS POINT. North end of present Monroe. George Starr had store and post office beginning in 1852. Old pack trail came around side of hill from Bellfountain area, forded Muddy Creek just west of here.

MONROE. Name of community changed to Monroe (for President Monroe) in 1872, but new name in use before then. Note: old depot now used as warehouse; Howard McCallum's Museum, Methodist and Catholic churches. Wellshers, who built Wellsher Building in Corvallis, prominent early family here.

TERRITORIAL ROAD. Railroad crossed to east side of highway just south of Monroe to continue south through Coffee Gap. Note Christmas tree farms.

FERGUSON. Railroad grade crossed highway again to go through site of large sawmill which railroad served.

CEMETERY BUTTE. Old IOOF cemetery. Danish cemetery is on knoll half a mile or so to the southwest.

BEAR CREEK. Rail grade and highway parallel this stream for a mile. Note at crossing that rails are still visible in asphalt. Site of Bear Creek station not certain. May have been here or at Cheshire.

CHESHIRE. A growing retirement community. Railroad ran through area now used by DariMart market. Sawmill site to south.

APPLEGATE TRAIL road to south following old pack road.

FRANKLIN-SMITHFIELD. Friends of Daniel Smith wanted to call community Smithfield, but postal authorities would not agree because of another Smithfield in Polk County. Franklin post office was established in 1855 with Enos Elmaker postmaster. R. V. Howard started a store he called Smithfield in 1857. Argument over name went on for a century. Lane County commissioners compromised on Franklin-Smithfield. Note Bethany and Christian churches.

HISTORICAL MARKER just south of town reads: "West Side Old Territorial Road 1848-1865. This marks the old stage route and the Daniel Smith Donation Land Claim homesite 1852-1908. Smithfield dedicated in his honor 1862. Presented by the Lewis and Clark Chapter D. A. R. Eugene, Oregon, 1950." Smith laid out the townsite and recorded it in 1891.

MEADOW VIEW ROAD. Two miles to rail grade crossing.

ALVADORE. Named for Alvadore Welch, who built railroad between here and Monroe. Still has a Railroad Street and evidence of rail grade passing through the town. For photo of Alvadore depot, see Culp, Stations West, p. 149.

FERN RIDGE is the knoll a mile south of Alvadore. Fern Ridge Dam and Reservoir are a half mile to the west.

CLEAR LAKE ROAD. Rail grade half a mile east hardly discernible. Clear Lake on left a mile beyond.


CRABTREE HILL on right. Railroad ran along base of hill on this side. The Amazon Creek Diversion Channel that connects with Fern Ridge Reservoir has taken over the railroad right-of-way from here to the junction with the Coos Bay line.

SOUTHERN PACIFIC crossing. This is the line from Eugene connecting through Veneta, Mapleton, Reedsport, and Coos Bay to Myrtle Point and Powers.

LANE COUNTY MUSEUM in county fair grounds. Glen Mason, director. [Update: Robert Hart, Executive Director. Lane County Historical Society web site]

Tour of Eugene

See A Freewheeler's Guide to Eugene History, by Christine Ermenc, published by the Lane County Museum, 1978.

Leaving Eugene, take the Washington-Jefferson St. bridge, go north on Delta Hwy. and exit at Valley River Center. Proceed north on Willagillespie, east on Cal Young, south on Coburg to Harlow. Left (east) on Harlow, north on Game Farm Rd. jogging to Old Coburg Rd. under freeway. North on Coburg. Points of interest:

GILLESPIE BUTTE. On the north side of this small hill across the freeway from Valley River Center, was the site of the home of Cumberland Presbyterian minister Rev. Gillespie, who came to Oregon about 1852 and helped found Columbia College in 1856. (Neill Johnson's journal reveals that Gillespie stood strongly pro-slavery, with Josephus Cornwell, in the slavery debates in the Cumberland Presbyterian Presbytery meetings in the late 1850s.)

ELMER HARLOW HOUSE. Mahlon Hull Harlow came to Oregon with what became known as the Harlow-Tandy wagon train in 1850-51. His Donation Land Claim was immediately south of Harlow Road and went to the banks of the old channel of the Willamette River. Harlow as a Master Carpenter who built the County Courthouse in 1855. He was the first County Clerk and later County Assessor. His tenth child, Mahlon H. Harlow Jr. was the father of Elmer Harlow, who built this two-tone brick house in 1922. Its bungalow style was typical of the period, but the brick siding was not. The house has been designated an historic landmark.

JAMES STEVENS HOUSE. The William Stevens family were 1847 emigrants who settled near Spores Ferry on the McKenzie River. One son, James, built this "Rural Gothic Cottage" style house in 1875.

WILLIAM STEVENS HOUSE. Although the front is sadly obscured by the attached church, the eaves decorated with sawtooth design bargeboard help this house retain the stature it must have had when built (about 1853) by William Stevens for his family of ten children. It has been noted that the Federal style of the house reflected Stevens' North Carolina origins. The house is now the oldest documented residence in Lane County.

ASHLAND STEVENS (ABRAHAM LANDES) HOUSE. Ashland Stevens (b. 1850) was the eldest son of William and Hixley Stevens. Nearly a man when the family emigrated in 1847, he built this Classical Revival style 1 1/2 story house with a wide verandah about 1855.

ANDREW JACKSON HARLOW HOUSE. Now hidden in the trees, this house was once the home of another of William Harlow's sons. It now houses a $50.00 a plate specialty restaurant, where dinners are served by special arrangement only.

ARMITAGE HOUSE. George Armitage, born in New York, sailed to California via Panama in 1848 then came north to Lane County in 1849 where he married one of William Stevens' daughters, Sarah Jane. The house, built in 1855, was originally located about 1 1/2miles south of its present location and has been altered somewhat. It originally had six over six double-hung sash windows, clapboard siding and no verandah.

SPORES FERRY (WILLAMETTE FORKS) & JACOB SPORES HOUSE. On the McKenzie, near its confluence with the Willamette, Jacob Spores settled, and in 1847 built a ferry to assist early wagon traffic up and down the valley. The Willamette Forks Post Office was established in 1851, one of 39 post offices in territorial Oregon. With the growth of Eugene City in the 1850s the prominence of this settlement waned.