Saturday, March 28, 2015

Fish and Flowers and Walking; A Quibble on Mill Creek

A little over a week ago there was some twittering chatter about big fish in Mill Creek. The days of a salmon run in the creek are in the mythic past, it seems, and so it was something to investigate!

At the Front Street Bridge there were fish! Lots of them.

Unfortunately, a reader confirms, the fish are almost certainly suckerfish - but they're big! 18 - 24 inches, maybe more. They're probably spawning.

Still, life in the urban creek is interesting.

We don't talk about life in the creeks enough, and our city parks and plans don't really involve the creeks much. It's like we only talk about them when there's flooding. Once the Boise project is done, there will be a path along Shelton Ditch and Pringle Creek almost continuously from 12th street to the Willamette River. That's going to be neat. But we have very little pathage along our other downtown creek, along Mill Creek.

Moreover, the paths always sit on the shoulder or benchland, well above the creek, never related to a wading pool or anything. Only behind the Departments of Agriculture and Veterans Affairs is there a picnic table at the creek. Mostly we turn our backs on the creeks.

So chasing down the fish story was a bit of a special adventure.

On Front Street where it and the tracks cross Mill Creek a very pleasant discovery was an old cherry or plum tree in bloom by one of the Truitt Bros. warehouses. Especially adorning the industrial area, it was a minor astonishment.

This year!
Unfortunately the tree blossoms will be mostly be gone this weekend but the early and sunny spring has offered special treats. Camas, for example, is blooming right now. Don't miss it!

Camas in Bush Park, the second week of April 2014
We're two or three weeks ahead this year - don't miss it!
With Mill Creek on the mind...

A couple of days ago the Historic Landmarks Commission tweeted out a picture of "Mill Creek."

Look familiar?
How about this?

The same trestle, I think!
So is it "South Mill Creek" aka Pringle Creek or what we know as Mill Creek proper? The image is cropped square from a much broader Bush panorama that gives more context.

Though the library's notes on the image say "Mill Creek," it's almost certainly a view of what today we call Pringle Creek, which used to be called South Mill Creek - and sometimes even just Mill Creek.

The railroad bridge on Front Street over today's Mill Creek was completed in 1913 and looks much different than the trestle in the Bush image.

Mill Creek Bridge, 1913
Here's the view in the Bush photo, and even in 1916 after the mill had burned down a couple of times, the north bank still corresponds closely with the right side of the black-and-white image.

View of Bush image sightline on 1895 Sanborn map
About this Pringle Creek site, Salem History says
In 1910, A. N. Bush bought the [flouring] mill but, after it burned again in 1915, Bush sold the site and water rights to Oregon Pulp and Paper Company, whose owner also owned half of the Spaulding Lumber Company - an adjoining sawmill to the north.
Identifying the scene as "Mill Creek" is correct, but also wrong. It's correct because in 1916 they did call it "Mill Creek." But it's also wrong because using that name today refers to a different body of water and conveys a substantially incorrect notion.

It's clunky to explain something like this in a tweet, but the alternative might be to introduce or perpetuate noise in our histories!

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