Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Ice-Skating Pond at Court and Liberty Leads Old-timer Recollections in 1918

Was a pond: Looking east on Court Street from Liberty, 1912
(Composited from this high-res and this low-res image;
though they were scanned separately, clearly they are a pair.
Salem Library Historic Photos)

July 1, 1918
Back on June 29th in 1918, Salem held a Homecoming for old timers in Willson Park. Organizers had sent out a call for people with automobiles to pick up attendees, mostly elderly, at the train station and ferry them around town.
The first was the automobile excursion about Salem to the visitors changes that have taken place since they moved away....Mrs. Hallie Hinges Durdall, who as a girl delighted the men and women of Oregon with her songs, appeared before them again Saturday, and many said that her voice had lost none of the richness of years gone by.
There is a thirst, maybe even a desperateness, in the nostalgia and wish to show off hometown pride. The background of World War I seems to give a different mood to the festival relative to ones from just a few years earlier, which have seemed less fraught and more playful in news accounts.

July 10th 1918
Some who could not attend the homecoming later sent in some of their own memories, and one of them was later published in the paper several days later (links added).
Charles Bagley Recalls Some Incidents of Boyhood Life In Capital City

There was a nice little pond extending from about where the Roth grocery is now located, diagonally cross the street toward the Meyers' department store and then on across Court street including the present location of the Steusloff meat market. The skating was fine on this pond along in the early '60's and Court street was such a slough that a bridge was built connecting the Meyers and Steusloff corners. A. N. Moores had the time of his life skating on the Meyers corner and he well remembers the wooden bridge across Court street at the Meyers location.

Charles B. Bagley, who is with the department of public works in Seattle, was an old timer in Salem, dating his residence here from 1852 until about 1860. Regretting that he was unable to attend the Homecoming recently held in Salem, he writes Mr. Moores in part as follows:
"We arrived in Salem in September of 1852 and I began going to 'The Institute' soon after. During the next eight years, while I did not attend there all the time I knew all the teachers - Hoyt, Dillon, Gatch, Stratton, Mrs. Thurston, Miss Plamondan and others.

"O, N. Denny, John Cartwright, P. S. Knight, Dick Williams, Boswell Lamson William H. Odell, the Parrishes, Wallers, Boons, Holmans, Williams, Chapmans, Bakers (Joe among them) and others were my schoolmates and some of them my deskmatcs. Every governor, judge and federal official who lived in Salem at that time I knew. Lane, Gaines, George H. Williams, Senator Baker, Senator Nesmith, Asahel Bush, Delazon Smith and most of the succeeding members of the legislature were known by me.

"I knew Roberts, Leslie, Gustavus and Harvey K. Hines, Dickinson, Bishop Scott and all the other notable clergymen, lawyers and merchants of the city.

"Salem from the north where Lute Savage with his quarter horse "George and Pep Smith with his 'Veto'," ran races to the south where old Father Leslie lived and from Wallers to the River, was as familiar to me as my own home today.

"Us boys went in swimming in the creek at Parrish's mill until they turned the waters of the Santiam into it for the mill and woolen mills on the"Island," then called Boon's, but really McLane's. During school days we used South Mill creek for swimming but as soon as any boy become sufficiently expert, he graduated and went to the river.

"In the early days we went to Griswold's warehouse on the river just north of the creek. Later this building was moved up town on State street. My father was an itinerant minister and traveled all over the Willamette valley from the Columbia river to Long Tom and from Silverton and the Waldo Hills to the Rickreall and Luckiamute, holding camp meetings in the summer time. I usually went with him. From 1857 to 1860 I helped assemble herds of cattle to drive to the mines into British Columbia.

"In Salem we picked strawberries on Waller's, Parrish's, Savage's Gilbert's and Leslie's places. Blackberries and raspberries were picked in the river bottoms and south of the cemetery as far south as Holman's and Smiths. It was not difficult to get a ten quart bucket half full, but I never knew a boy to get a bucket full as they were so soft that they settled and soon became juice.

"We slid and skated on the ponds extending from State street down north to Doctor Belt's place. In the summer time everybody went barefooted, and running over the pebbles made tho bottoms of our feet like sole leather. Stone bruises were common as well as painful

"Doctor Shaw brought back from the upper country the ears of Peo Peo Mox Mox and they were a familiar sight in his office until I left Salem. I saw the companies march away to the Indian war in 1855 and 1856 and saw them come back again. I saw the burial ceremonies over the body of Captain Bennett, who was killed by the Indians. Bennett, May and Schwatka were the notable hotel keepers in those early days."
Captain Bennett's monument is spare and lovely,
one of the best in the Pioneer Cemetery.
(But consider also the trophy ears
and our policy of what amounted to ethnic cleansing)
The oldest buildings still in downtown today date from the late 1860s, and very little if anything remains directly from the 1850s or earlier. There isn't much to connect us directly with points in Bagley's reminiscences. Scale is also important: There were only a few hundred people around; the 1860 census lists a population of about 900, and earlier it was much smaller. The name-dropping is also a realistic measure of a small town and "knowing everybody." By 1920 Salem had grown to about 18,000 people.

After a couple of generations, in 1918 the center of downtown had shifted one block east, from Commercial Street to Liberty Street. The 19-teens also had brought several new masonry buildings there that replaced older wood buildings.

That winters were cold enough to freeze small bodies of water is also evidence for our warming climate. People used to skate on the Willamette, as well.

About the earlier period of the 1850s in downtown, the Nomination for the Downtown Historic District has a little more (footnotes omitted throughout, other links added).
California Gold; Oregon Wheat; Birth of the Commercial District

With the discovery of gold in California, demand for Oregon products increased dramatically (as did the prices for those goods). Exporting Salem-area agricultural products to California necessitated a closer physical connection with the river. It necessitated developing a location that would minimize the logistical problems of collecting, storing, and loading goods aboard river vessels. And, it necessitated the identification and development of a point on the river that would permit the convenient docking of those vessels. The area where the centerline of present-day Trade Street intersects the Willamette River (just south of the historic district) was ideal. The shoreline topography permitted loading and downloading vessels with relative ease, and the presence of a land promontory immediately up-river protected the landing area from the main river currents.

In March 1852, twelve years after Lee's missionaries located mills on Mill Creek in what would become Salem, and during the height of Salem's prosperity driven by California gold, R.P. Boise and Matthew P. Deady arrived in Salem. In a speech he delivered in July 1902, Boise recalled the Salem he saw on that March day:
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.. . . The Willamette flowed clear and beautiful as now, between banks covered with cottonwood, alder, maple, ash and towering fir, undisturbed by crafts of commerce, except the bateau and the Indian canoe....Of physicians there were several, but no drug stores, and the doctors, who had to travel on horseback, carried their medicines and surgical instruments in their saddlebags. There were several merchants in the town, Joseph Herman, J.H. Morse, John D. Boone, William Griswold and George H. Jones and a considerable business was transacted. Money was plenty, consisting of gold dust from the mines of California and southern Oregon. There were Mexican silver dollars and doubloons and soon after $50 gold pieces called slugs....The sources of income to the people were principally from the sale of cattle, horses and other livestock, wheat and flour.
Boise's description of Salem failed to include the passenger steamboats. In 1851 the steamboat Hoosier reached Salem, later to be replaced by the larger Multnomah.

By 1853 the center of the commercial district of Salem was firmly established at the intersection of Commercial and State streets. William Cox, J.B. McClane, Carter and Holman, and J.D. Boon all had mercantile stores serving a permanent population of approximately 100. Hotels of the time included the Bennet House on the corner of State and High Streets (the present location of the Masonic Building); the Marion Hotel run by R.M. May at the corner of State and Liberty Streets; and the Union House on the corner of Commercial and Ferry Streets. The first stage line running from Champoeg (north of Salem) south to Marysville (later Corvallis), passed through Salem carrying mail and passengers in 1853. That year also saw the Oregon Statesman move to Salem from Oregon City. The Statesman had offices in a two-story frame house owned by J.W. Nesmith on the corner of Front and Trade Streets.

Salem's small commercial district also served as the seat of state government. For almost twenty years, from 1857 to 1876, the legislature met in the Holman Building on the southwest corner of Ferry and Commercial Streets (inside the nominated district). The Holman Building (no longer standing) also housed the Oregon Supreme Court, the Secretary of State, and the State Treasurer, as well as a number of other state offices. Across Ferry Street stood another office building that had been erected in 1858 by W.K. Smith, an early druggist; it housed the governor's offices.

Town government also had its genesis in the 1850s. On February 19, 1857, a group gathered in Salem and declared themselves to be the common council for the city. Wiley Kenyon was made mayor. In attendance (and later entitled, "aldermen") were John H. Moores, John N. Robb, George N. Jones, John D. Boon, Connoyer, and Ferguson. Chester N. Terry was named recorder. Jones and Boon were assigned the task of drafting rules for the "government of the common council." In the first year, the common council passed ordinances (including one that prohibited swine from running at large) and elected J.G. Willson as city attorney and J.C. Bell as street commissioner. The council also required the construction of plank sidewalks and prohibited the riding of horses thereon.

1 comment:

Susann Kaltwasser said...

My 4 times great grandfather came to Oregon by wagon train in 1846. They settled south of Monmouth along the Lukiamute River and settled a town later called Lewisville. I am into looking up my roots and reading about what is happening in Salem at this same time helps to put all of that into context.

Sometimes we think of early settlers are living in log cabins, but the truth is that saw mills were already in this area and buildings went up quickly and looked a lot like those on the East Coast. Towns grew quickly and commerce was brisk.

My ancestors grew wheat, hops and raised sheep for wool to be processed in local mills. Beer, berry wines and ciders were big commodities. Interesting to see how much things have changed, and yet how some things have stayed the same!

My grandfather moved to Salem in 1921 and their house on 5th Street is still there! Alas, the house that my mother grew up in on State Street is now gone.