Sunday, April 19, 2020

Second Mission of Jason Lee and Origin of Salem Set for Dig this Month

One of the hobbyhorses here is the way we uncritically celebrate Jason Lee as Founder. Founder of Salem, Founder of Willamette University, one of the Founders of Oregon. He has a prominent place in our myths of origin.

3 cent Oregon Territory Centennial, 1948
But if he founded important institutions, he was also a prime mover in settler colonialism. An accurate history requires looking at the myths, silences, and evasions, and doing a better job in our official histories with ambiguity, ambivalence, and costs. What is likely myth and what is likely truth? What have we erased as we've polished up the image?

"Unappreciated" in some ways, but also overappreciated
as the subject of hagiography later.
In the paper on Saturday was a small blurb on the archeology dig that is preceding the construction of a small apartment block on the corner of E Street and Broadway.

The pieces, and our histories generally, have blurred a little the lot address at 990 Broadway and the house address on 960 Broadway.

Vandalism, with notes on additions - October 31st, 1918
Plaque at the Grier Building (Salem Library Historic Photos)
As I read this photo from the 1880s, though, it looks like the Lee House was actually farther north than the Grier Building at 960 Broadway. The current lot at 990 Broadway might actually be closer to the actual building site. Hopefully this will be clarified!

The house in relation to Boon's, circa 1880s
Big vista looking east from Scotch Mills on Mill Creek,
about Front & D Streets
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
The 1950 Sanborn and current City addresses map
shows drift southward of 960 Broadway (in yellow);
The Lee House was in the middle of the block,
currently under the asphalt parking area.
Of course at the time of construction there were no addresses or lots of any kind, and later lot lines would not fit the first foundations in any neat way. A mill was also in the area and there is a lot we don't know about the whole complex, and archeology could uncover much and clarify what now is uncertain. From OHS on the house:
When a sawmill was established in 1841 on Mill Creek at Chemeketa (present-day Salem), part of the Willamette Mission moved to this new settlement. Here the focus of their work changed from evangelizing among the Indians to ministering to the increasing number of American immigrant settlers in the Willamette Valley. The Lee house was built with lumber from the new water-powered mill, sheathed in boards that were laid horizontally over a hand-hewn wood frame.
Lee house in 1943 from Broadway looking east
(Salem Library Historic Photos)

Lee house from the other side looking southwest,
down Liberty towards the new Police Station site
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
Over the years the house had several gables and extensions added (see that 1918 note in the paper), and they were all detached for the move in 1963.

Preparing for the move, February 1963
(Salem Library Historic Photos)
(Many in the Library's collection of images of the house are scanned at higher resolutions, and you can zoom in on them.)

Lee was a complicated character, maybe even something of an evangelical grifter, and we need a more critical history of him to be generally known. Hopefully this archeology project will help with that.

Previously on Jason Lee see:
And on the immediate neighborhood:
Elsewhere, anthropologist David Lewis counters some of the hagiography in his perspectives on Lee and the settlement:
And it looks like the Willamette Heritage Center is working on digitizing and publishing online Elisabeth Walton Potter's 1965 Masters Thesis on the house. This would be a terrific resource to have more generally available. She's got to be Salem's greatest living historian, and we should still appreciate her yet even more. There's going to be some live-streaming on social media the first part of May, and maybe she'll make a guest appearance.

Maybe we'll get to see this online soon!

Addendum, April 28th

A commenter linked to the City's video, and there might be a few things to note!

The area of the house under pavement, the Grier Building in back
There were some good pictures of the area under the parking lot where the house originally stood.

A nice overlay with the Sanborn map
showing the site under pavement
The north-south orientation of the original part contradicts that 1918 article - which would not be surprising, as I have found other errors in this period and there is surely other evidence to support this. The aerial shows the east-west gable peaks out of alignment, and that alone is evidence they are not original.

sketch with original gable in red
The Tribal Archeologist was also being very diplomatic, choosing words very carefully, and the constrained tone in tension with the spirit of historical investigation. Maybe there will be a franker piece later.


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

(Added image of 1950 Sanborn with current buildings inset)

Anonymous said...

Willamette University sent out a press release today on student participation:

"Students this past semester conducted a geoarchaeological study around the pioneer’s 1841 home, one of the oldest frame homes still standing west of the Rocky Mountains....

Students are working on all phases of the project — including finding Jason Lee’s timber and grist mill, learning more about the missionaries and pre-contact Native Americans who occupied the area — through excavation and analysis of soils and recovered artifacts."

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the link! That's a nice addition, and shows more has been completed already. Indeed, it shows the ground penetrating radar survey over the parking lot area where the Sanborn indicates the house was located. Hopefully some combination of the WU students and City and others will publish more of the findings!

Anonymous said...

The City of Salem has also put together a video on the project.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And thanks for that link. Added a few clips from the video.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

And it turns out there is another video from mid-month. The City's going to do weekly updates, it seems. This one is more queuing up the project with introductory material.