Sunday, August 4, 2013

At Lincoln Town, Wheat was Big Business; Today, it's Ghost Infrastructure

Willamette Farmer
August 13, 1875
After some rogue GMO wheat was found earlier this year, wheat's been in the news all summer.  It's all about the Columbia River and the east side plateau.

But did you know that there used to be a huge wheat port right here on the Willamette River?  On August 4th, 1875 the Directors of the Lincoln Warehouse and Shipping Company distributed a 20% dividend!  A couple of years later they paid out a 40% dividend.

Wheat was significant business here and Lincoln, just north of Salem on Wallace Road, an important transportation hub.

Writing about the town of Lincoln for the Oregon Encyclopedia, and drawing on the WPA-writers project, Willamette Landings, Jim Scheppke notes
In Lincoln's heyday in the 1870s and 1880s, there were five large warehouses for storing grain, a grist mill, sawmill, beehive factory, blacksmith shop, tin shop, shoe and harness shop, store, lodge hall, church, school, and residences. By the late 1880s, about fifty people lived in Lincoln. As much as 350,000 bushels of grain were shipped downriver by steamboat annually, more than from any other port outside of Portland. As many as three steamboats a day carrying passengers and freight would leave Portland in the morning, go through the locks at Willamette Falls, and arrive in Lincoln by three in the afternoon.

Farmers harvested and hauled their wheat to Lincoln for about two months in the fall. At the height of the harvest, more than 100 carts and wagons would be lined up for a half-mile west on the road to town, waiting their turn at the warehouse. The harvest had to be stored for some months until the river was high enough for safe shipment in the winter and spring.
The scale of the port is hard to imagine today. There doesn't seem much in the way of  photos or maps online.  (Perhaps there are some buried in archives!)

But historical fiction comes to our rescue.

Writer Joel Redon was born in Portland, but his family had settled in Spring Valley.  His great-grandfather was a veteran of the Civil War.  Redon died young in 1995 and is buried in the Zena Cemetery with many of his ancestors.  His third and final book, The Road to Zena, is about the area and contains a map.

While it is not safe to assume this is completely accurate in its exact details, it does represent the scale of settlement, farming, and commerce in Spring Valley and at Lincoln town.

Spring Valley area, with Lincoln
late 19th century, from The Road to Zena
Here's Lincoln today.  The alignment of of the road may be different.  There is a border between lots or fields that is in line with Zena Road, for example, and it is possible that line traces out the old road. The area is still a settlement, but the houses are modern, and few if any vestiges of the 19th century linger.

Lincoln detail today (rotated so north is right)
The factory, hotel, warehouses, mill - none of that remains.  The land is either tree or cultivated field.

As the Salem Area Trail Alliance builds out the Spring Valley site and works on a bike facility in Wallace Park, trails near Lincoln could be part of the connecting trail system along the river.

Jim and Virginia Green also talked about Lincoln on KMUZ
(but the show doesn't seem to be archived yet)
The trail system can't come too soon! There is no better way to experience local history than by bike. A relaxing pace on a bike is still faster than the speed of a carriage or wagon, but conveys the scale of distance and the work required to traverse that distance much better than travel by car. By bike you'll also be able to notice more details. Unfortunately, Wallace Road isn't the most fun - a state highway, its speeds are high, curves sometimes a little blind, and shoulders not so wide. A trail system along the river could provide a scenic and carless alternative.

Bicycling also helps remind you that things change, and it's one of the best ways to reach abandoned infrastructure.

For Lincoln wasn't just a port for shipping downriver.  It was also a vital transportation link, east and west. Lincoln and Spong's landing, directly across the river, were the sites of competing ferries. According to A History of Oregon Ferries Since 1826
The Spong family settled on the east side of the river on property that included a ferry landing opposite Abram's Ferry [the successor in a chain that included Doaks and Wallings ferry at the Lincoln landing] on the West side. Spong then built and operated a competing ferry. Both Spong and Abrams then withheld landing privileges from the opposing party. Tradition has it that the competition between the two became so heated that a shooting fray took place between the two crews, although there were no casualties.
As we continue to talk about a giant bridge and highway, proponents of that bridge make the mistake of thinking that what was true in the late 20th century, will remain true through the 21st.  Progress doesn't always mean more of the same.

Maybe proponents should think more about the meanings of Doak's Ferry, Spong's Landing, and make a trip out to Lincoln.

Postscript, September 4th, 2017

Here's a note about the time, the summer of 1917, during which the bridge of 1918 was being constructed and there was no functioning bridge.

June 25th, 1917
Unfortunately, it's one giant paragraph! (Paragraphs added for clarity, therefore.)
Lincoln People are Awake to Opportunities.

Good coming out of the inter-county bridge controversy. "It is an ill wind that blows no one any good," is a proverb that has not lost its charm with some of the Polk County farmers. As a result of the closing of the Salem bridge, the farmers around Lincoln and Spring Valley have come together with the law of self-preservation in their teeth, and don't intend always to be handicapped by having a bridge condemned and then to rely on the service of a jitney car and an inefficient ferry to get their wares to a suitable market; indeed they think this is a day of progress and a land of great cities to turn to when occasion requires.

These farmers have built a modern warehouse and dock at the boat landing at Lincoln and by the first of July there will be an agent in charge to receive freight. The dock will be free for all shippers both for goods sent and received. The warehouse has cost a neat little sum of money but it is small as compared with the probable loss they sustained by the closing of the bridge.

In earlier days Lincoln was one of the big shipping points on the river and an immense amount of business was transacted. But with the coming of the west side railroad and other means of transportation, Lincoln gradually lost its prestige as a shipping point and about the time the paving got under good sway at Salem it seemed that Salem was in the market for almost all the output from the farms. For the last four years Lincoln has almost been off the map as a shipping point. About two years ago the store and warehouse was destroyed by fire.

It occurred to the farmers that the time had come for the pendulum to swing to the other side and new stars are visible on the horizon of the commercial world and Portland is chief bidder for their commodities. These farmers feel that when such a time comes that they cannot get to Salem they can have their supplies shipped in a boat as well as to ship their produce to a suitable market. For the last few months the boats have made almost regular stops at Lincoln both to receive freight and to land other freight and much more would have went and come by boat had the warehouse been installed.

With it all comes rumors of other enterprises. A good blacksmith show is expected in the near future, and while Lincoln supports a first class grocery store, it is rumored that a general merchandise store is contemplated. As the wind blows now it seems that Lincoln was in a good way to come back to its former record as a shipping and business point.
Lincoln in 1926 - USGS historic maps


Anonymous said...

Here's Virginia and Jim's radio show, "Your Salem Through the Years," on Lincoln -

Looks like KMUZ redid the archiving!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a note about a revival - or hoped for revival - in 1917 during the planning and construction of the bridge of 1918.