SHINE on Salem 150, celebrating the sesquicentennial of our city's 1860 charter, continues (and concludes) with the 2012 entry.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Salem in 1861

World Events
  • Eleven southern states form the Confederacy.
  • Civil War battles began in Virginia.
  • Kansas becomes a state.
In Salem
The sternwheeler "Onward" on Pringle Creek at Commercial Street Bridge

This year Salem citizens had a problem more immediate than the developing war between the northern and southern states: one of the most hazardous floods in our history engulfed the city and the surrounding area of farms and villages. The Pringle Creek photograph above shows the sternwheeler "Onward" that brought flood refugees to Salem after taking them off houses, trees and barns in surrounding towns. The Willamette River rose to 39 feet, taking out bridges and flooding creeks for blocks into the city. (Flood stage is 25 feet.) Notice the Commercial Street Bridge has washed out. South of the creek the property was farmland at that time, the city's downtown commercial businesses, industrial structures and residences were expanding north along the Willamette River on Front Street and east to the Oregon Institute, renamed Willamette University. There was no Capital (it had burned in 1857 and would not be replaced until 1876) and only a small wooden Methodist Church in the site of the present brick structure.
Another victim of the flood was Salem's original 1846 ferry service across the Willamette River at Ferry Street. Operated by Rhoda White, widow of "Capt." White, (later the survivor of two subsequent divorces) the ferry sank and its load of wheat drifted away in the floodwaters.
This was the same flood that drowned the town of Champoeg, the site where, in 1843, 100 male settlers had voted (51-49) to form an Oregon provisional government under the jurisdiction of the United States.
A memorial was constructed in 1942. Many pioneer Salem names are found there.

When you visit: Site of flood photograph

From the east side of Commercial, near the entrance to the City Hall driveway, look north toward downtown and you will see the view as it is today. The rebuilt bridge, a main corridor of north-south traffic, has been renovated and a pedestrian trail has been created under the bridge to Pringle Creek. When completed, it will link the Civic Center Park on the east and Riverfront Park at the Willamette River.

Other Events in Salem in 1861
  • Edwin Cooke (1810-?) was named as our second mayor. He was Oregon State Treasurer (1862-70), a leading businessman and steamboat owner. His first Salem home was probably on Division Street, near the homes of other prominent citizens. No trace of this home remains, but correspondence of the time tells us the home was noted for it beautiful garden.  By 1872, he had built a Victorian mansion on Court Street, across from the State House. (See 1872 for the story of the next three generations of the family, including Edwin Cooke's granddaughter Luella who lived to be 109 year old.)
  • Salem resident Col. Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of President Lincoln and one of Oregon's first two Senators, is killed in the Battle of Ball's Bluff while leading a Union Army regiment, becoming the only sitting senator to be killed in the Civil War. Lincoln's second son Eddy, who died at four year old in 1950, had been named for Edward Baker. When the news of his death reached the Washington, D.C., James W. Nesmith of Oregon, an Independent who was the other original Oregon senator presented a resolution, passed by the Senate, declaring that the members would go into mourning wearing black crepe on their arms for thirty days. The town of Baker, Oregon and the county, were named for the senator in 1862. Only one year before his election, Edward Baker, an Illinois native, had come to Oregon from his law practice in San Francisco. His family was with him during his brief residency here in Salem, but the location of his home is not known. One theory suggests the Bakers lived on the Willamette University campus. A house, probably of that period in time, was moved north from the oldest, central section of the city and the owners have been given information that it was his home. More research may determine whether his Salem residence survived.
 
Alert Hook and Ladder Fire Company
  • The volunteer fire fighters of the Alert Hook and Ladder Fire Company, located at 58 State Street, assemble on Commercial Street for a photograph. This classic picture is probably the only one we have of this early year of Salem's history. The fire fighters are lined up in front of a two story Commercial Street building in the center of the photograph where McCully, Starkey and Company had a "cash store". A log cabin is seen to the right.
  • This spring, a one-room school was constructed along Military Road (Doaks Ferry Road) and named Brush College in "a spirit of fun and derision" because it was the center of learning for all ages of students and was located where brush had been traditionally burned-over by Native Americans. The school has been enlarged, but retains the original structure. On May 6, 2011 the school celebrated its 150th anniversary with an exhibit including historical stories and photographs.
    Wilson-Durbin House
  • On Water Street, Joseph Gardiner Wilson builds a house soon purchased by Isaac and Olive Durbin. The Durbin family, who operated the Livery Barn in downtown Salem, occupied the home for over 50 years when Water and Front streets were desirable residential locations in the small city. By 1988, the house had fallen into disrepair, but renovation was under consideration by contractor Gregg Olson and a committee supported by the mayor. However, in 1990 before this could be accomplished, a fire of unknown origin destroyed the house. It was reconstructed, with a different upstairs window and porch, in its original location. It is now part of our Gilbert House Children's Museum where it is used for classes and special events.

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