Wednesday, October 19, 2016

McLane Island probably named after John Burch McClane - also Rev. Obed!

For someone with a pretty straight-forward name in English, John Burch McClane's name sure isn't very stable! I've seen Mclain, McClane, M'Clane, McLane; Birch and Burch; and J. B. in addition to all the combinations of John, Birch, and McLane. (I think we're just missing the variations with Mac-!)

So what shall we settle on?

January 21st, 1892 (that 26th is wrong!)
The obituaries agree on John Burch McClane, so that's what we'll use.

The "Island" isn't very Stable either!

An exact citation to prove that our particular McLane Island is named after him remains elusive, so it may not be possible to state that with 100% certainty - but it seems pretty clear, so we'll go with it for the moment. An "island" is associated with him and has been for a while. In addition to giving McLane Island its name, then, he was an important figure in early Salem history.

The island as we know it also looks like it may be a 20th century creation, possibly an artifact of dredging, channelization, and changed stream flows more than a product changes wrought by flooding. But this remains obscure and uncertain. (Somewhere there must be more documentation! We may circle around this in another post or two.)

Chitwood Bar came off Mill Creek in 1915

No bar, but an island in 1940

1915 and 1940 maps overlaid
(USGS historic maps)
Sources are confusing. Writing in the 1950s about Boon's, Ben Maxwell says
J. D. Boon's business journal between 1852 and 1861, when he was proprietor of a country general store on The Island (an area of 15 lots north of Mill creek and along Liberty street to its intersection with High) is now a property of L. H. McMahan, Salem collector of historical books and manuscripts....Old Man Chitwood rented Boon's house opposite The Mills (the Mission saw and grist mill located about where Larmer's warehouse now stands) for $8 a month.
"The Island": Larmer site and Boon's, 1880s
(notes added; the original is a large image with lots of detail!)
Salem Library Historic Photos
He also references "J. B. McClane's 'Island' plat." A note from 1896 says "For several weeks past a force of about thirty men has been employed In erecting a large warehouse...on the east bank of the Willamette river just north of McClane's Island and just one half of a mile south of the poor farm." It is possible that the referent of "McLane Island" shifted from the seasonal bend in Mill Creek near Boon's and the site of McClane's plat to a new island in the river. Or maybe it's always been a loose reference for the general area. At any rate, there's a well-enough-attested link between McClane and an island. (More on Larmer's site here.)

Biographical Clips

Back to John Burch McClane the man, here's a compilation of sources. It will require more reading and interpretation for judgement, but there are suggestions that his name deserves to be uttered with William Willson as a "city founder." At any rate, even if he isn't judged a true founder and city father, his contributions have been minimized by the losses of time and memory.

From the Capital Journal

Unexpected and Sudden Death of a Well-Known Oregonian.

Hon. John Burch McClane died quite suddenly and unexpectedly at 3.10 a. m., Thursday, Jan. 26 [sic], 1892. He has been sick only one week. Several days since an operation was performed for hydrocele. He was was kept under the influence of opiates, and was in an unconscious condition most of the time thereafter. The real cause of his death is not yet definitely ascertained and cannot be announced.

was born in Philadelphia in 1820, and came across the plains in 1843. He is believed to have driven the first wagon across from Fort Hall. Ho took up a donation claim comprising what is now North Salem, which he held until business reverses obliged him to dispose of It, Mrs. McClane retaining her half in her own name. In all his relations to the community deceased was a public-spirited and liberal-minded man. Socially he possessed fine spirits and his klindly nature won him the constant affection of his family and an almost unlimited circle of friendship. In his earlier life he was a Methodist and also took the first steps toward joining several orders, but did not continue.

had a great charm for him and he served in many capacities, he was one of Salem's first postmasters, served as county treasurer, state librarian and bailiff to tho supreme court. Under President Cleveland he was Indian agent at Grande Ronde. Mrs. McClane, six sons and three daughters survive him, and he has a brother living in New Jersey. The funeral will take place at the residence In North Salem at 11 a. m Friday, Rev. Whitaker officiating.
He is buried at Pioneer Cemetery, and their record also has the obituary from the Statesman:

Death of Hon. J. B. McClane, Founder of North Salem and Salem's First Postmaster.

The funeral of Hon. J. B. McClane, who died at his home in North Salem early Thursday morning, was conducted from the family home, on his original donation land claim yesterday afternoon, with service at the house, conducted by Rev. Robt. Whitaker. The body was given interment in the I.O.O.F. Rural cemetery, and was followed to the grave by a large number of friends who deeply sympathize with the family in the loss they have sustained.

Mr. McClane was one of Salem's earliest settlers--in fact, he might be termed the founder of Salem, for it was his mill that in the early days demonstrated more than anything else that this was the place for the building of a city. This grist mill occupied the site which in later days became known as the woolen mill property.

John Burch McClane was born in Philadelphia on Jan. 21, 1820, where he resided until he attained his majority. He was a member of a company of men who started to take part in the Mexican war. The party broke up and all but Mr. McClane returned to Philadelphia. He got as far back as Iowa, where he spent the winter of 1842-43. He came to Oregon in the spring of 1843, driving the first wagon from Fort Hall to Oregon. Arriving in Oregon, Mr. McClane came to Salem and took as a donation land claim (320 acres) the present site of North Salem. He went to the Cayuse war in 1847, and returned with the party detailed to escort the body of Col. Gilliam to the valley. This memorable trip they made by boat, descending the rapids of the Columbia. In the fall of 1848, Mr. McClane went to California, attracted by the excitement attending the finding of gold, and returned to Oregon in May, 1849. On his return he bought a stock of general merchandise, with which he conducted a store at Salem. This was the second store started here.

On May 9, 1849, the subject of this sketch was married at Salem to Helen C. Judson, daughter of Rev. L. H. Judson, one of the early missionaries.

As a public servant Mr. McClane honorable filled many positions of trust in the gift of the government and the people. He was Salem's first postmaster, having received the appointment at the hands of the postal agent at San Francisco in 1850. He was elected county treasurer the same year, and in 1853 he returned to the Atlantic coast, where he remained three years. Again in 1861 he was appointed postmaster. From 1865 to 1872 he was state librarian, for ten years he served as bailiff of the supreme court, and from 1885 to 1889 he served as agent at the Grand Ronde Indian agency. Nine children--six sons and three daughters--are left to mourn with their mother the death of father and husband. The sons are: Geo. F., of Portland; L. B., J.L., and C.H., and two minors, H. G. and J. B. Jr., of Salem. The daughters are Mrs. J. H. McCormack, Salem; Mrs. S. Matheney, of Gaston; and Mrs. P. Grimm, of Nestucca.
In a more fragmentary way, they also cite notes from 1871 and 1874, and bits from the Marion County Historical Society publications:
We believe the first burying ground in Salem was that in North Salem near the present residence of J. B. McClaine. A rather singular fact in connection with this, to Salemites, anceint burying ground is that the graves were dug and the corpses laid North and South - heads to the North. There were only the remains of a few persons deposited here and we are told they will be removed to the old Missionary Cemetery. [Weekly Salem Mercury 29 Apr 1871]

Postmaster of Salem, office established 08 Nov. 1849, opened for business 1850 MCHS Vol 1, p.20 First postmaster in Salem, appointed Nov. 8, 1849, although it was the spring of 1850 before mail arrived on the ship Carolina. John McClane had a store in the Jason Lee house where he opened the first post office in Marion county. MCHS V. 1 p. 15

1874 Salem City Directory, pg. 51: STATE LIBRARY J. B. McClane, Librarian; library rooms second story of Smith's brick, on the corner of Commercial and Ferry streets. The last Legislature appropriated $1,500 for the purpose of purchasing necessary law books for the use of the Supreme Court, and commissioned Hon. W. W. Upton to make the purchase, which has been done. There were, according to the last report of the Librarian, 5,420 volumes, including 734 pamphlets, and since that time there have been received 775 volumes, making in all 6,196 volumes. The library is open from 9 A.M. until 4 P.M. and is free to all who wish to avail themselves of the privilege. There are on file twenty-six newspapers, consisting mainly of those from this State and Washington Territory...
In a lengthy address published in the Oregonian, "Salem as it was in 1852: How the Capital City of Oregon was carved out of the Wilderness," in 1902 Judge Rueben Boise said:
...Before 1859, Dr. Wilson had platted this city, and L. H. Judson, or J. B. McClane, had platted North Salem, and the building of this city began. In the division of the property, it was stipulated by the missionaries that a part of the land claimed by Dr. Wilson should be held in trust tor the Oregon Institute, now Willamette University, and it was so held, and has been so applied. Dr. Wilson was a man of liberal views and generous impulses, and believing in the future growth of the country, and the development of Salem, he made most ample provision for the building of a convenient and beautiful city. He made the streets 99 feet broad, and reserved from sale Wilson avenue, Marion Square, and sites for a Courthouse and various churches. This wise forethought of his is now becoming more and more manifest as the city grows, and the convenience, and even necessity, of these public grounds Is seen and felt by our citizens.

Few Improvements at Salem.
In 1852, when the church was established, Salem had but few improvements, and these were generally temporary and rude. They were the Mission mill, in North Salem, and the Mission House, then owned by J. B. McClane; a dwelling-house, owned by J. D. Boon, and a store kept by Mr. Boon, and a few other small houses. There was a bridge across Mill Creek at the present site of North Liberty street. A dwelling occupied by Dr. Wilson was then standing where the house of Mrs. Weller now stands. Cook's Hotel, afterward the Mansion House, was kept in comfortable style by the late E. N. Cook. There were some houses and other buildings near where the Salem Flouring Mill now stands. In one of these, belonging to J. W. Nesmith, the Legislature held its session in 1855, and it was the Capital Building for the time. Dr. Belt then had a dwelling on Cottage street, and there were some houses scattered here and there between Cottage street and Commercial street. The Bennett House, on High street, was then built, and the Supreme Court hold its session in it in December, 1852.

Some of First Buildings.
At that time, little had been done to redeem the present townsite of Salem from the wilderness. All west of Commercial street to the river, from North Mill Creek, including Marion Square, was a dense thicket of trees and brush, and the thick brush extended in patches as far south as State street. There was a schoolhouse on the lot now owned by Charles Claggett, just south of Marion Square. The stately firs that now adorn Marion Square were then small saplings, not 20 feet high. When the late Rev. O. Dickinson built his residence west of Front street, he had to cut a road to it through dense brush, and it was many years before he could see out to observe the growing city from his residence. There was a chair factory on Mill Creek, at the site of the old tannery in East Salem, which was burned some years ago. The Willamette River flowed clear and beautiful as now, between banks covered with cottonwood, alder, maple, ash, and the towering fir, undisturbed by crafts of commerce, except the bateau end the Indian canoe.

Indians then camped in numbers along the banks of both North and South Mill Creeks. The Indian women could be seen daily in the unfenced prairies digging camas or picking berries in their season; while the men sometimes sought work from tho white settlers or fished and hunted, or loafed at their camps. They had bands of worthless horses, and packs of more worthless dogs which would greet you with fierce barking whenever you approached their huts; and were said to have been kept by the Indiana in former times to give warning of the approach or presence of enemies....
The piece is worth reading in full, and we may come back to it! While Boon is somewhat known because of the pub and building, Cook's Hotel is little known, for example.

Cook's Hotel at Table Five08 Corner of State and High
Oregon State Library
Cook's was demolished in 1925 or perhaps 1926, prior to construction of the new Bligh Building, with Table508 in the corner bay today.

Cook's Hotel on the corner of State and High from Grand Theater
The big lawn belongs to the old County Courthouse
Oregon State Library
Lecture on the Rev. Obed Dickinson

Speaking of Rev. Dickinson! It should be noted that there will be a lecture on Rev. Obed Dickinson later this month. "Fighting the Good Fight: Obed Dickinson and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Oregon" will be timely and relevant. He, not Jason Lee, deserves our praise as an early moral authority in Salem and a foil to Asahel Bush's ugly racism.

(Note Boise's rhetoric of "redeeming" Salem from the wilderness: The acts of fencing and mapping were also acts of dispossession. We chartered our government and landed economies by means of land theft more or less. Race nearly always belongs at the center of our histories. That's an important reason to give more respect to the possibility of Kalapuya settlement or other traces in the bridge study area, including McLane Island.)

Update, November 22nd

Mission Mill posted a river survey map from September 1896! It shows low water conditions, and only "Salem Bar" and "Chitwood Bar."

via Mission Mill

Update, May 9th, 2019

Over at On the Way there's an answer to the island question! Here are the 15 lots clearly marked.

A photo of an image behind glass? (via On the Way)

The same area from the Union Abstract Co. 1892 map
(via The Mill)

The general area (1895 Sanborn Fire map)


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Didn't have a chance to consult McArthur's Oregon Geographic Names, which is the standard work on naming around here, and a friend of the blog who has the book helped confirm that McArthur has nothing on McLane Island. Thanks!

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with clip from 1896 river survey map.

Anonymous said...

Thank for this well written article, JB McLane is my 4 times great grandfather, I have always been told that yes McLane Island is named for him- he was our first postmaster general- was the founder of North Salem, opened the first grist mill on the Willamette, he and his father in law I have been told donated a large amount of land to the establishment of the School for the blind and had close ties to the Whitman family, McLoughlins and many others. He and my Judson grandfather were both at Champoeg to vote for Oregon's Statehood and until about 30 years ago we continued to have the family reunions there. Thank you again- It's nice to see they haven't been forgotten! R. S. Portland, OR

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Updated with a positive image of McClain's Island, "Island Salem," it seems. Will work on the source....

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Anthropologist David Lewis has a couple of notes on McClane's later career as Indian Agent, "Selquia’s Charges Against Indian Agent McClane At Grand Ronde" and "Agent McClane struggles with Native Culture, Grand Ronde 1886."