History tidbits: How much do you know about Mount Angel and Silverton?

December 2022 Posted in History & Culture

By Melissa Wagoner

A stroll through Mount Angel or Silverton can feel like a walk through the past – if you know where to look. 

Kennedy High, the Mount Angel Abbey, Coolidge McClaine Park, even Silver Creek – all of these landmarks are rooted in the past, their stories are sometimes obscured but not forgotten by the men and women whose job it is to preserve them. Those, like Bill Predeek, President of the Mt. Angel Historical Society and Chris Schwab, Secretary of the Silverton Country Historical Society, supplied the following facts about these two beloved communities.

Mount Angel

• Mount Angel Abbey was destroyed by fire twice – once in 1892, when it was located at the base of the abbey hill, and again in 1926, after relocating to its current location.

Mount Angel Abbey as it was in 1889.

Mount Angel Abbey as it was in 1889.

• In 1893 the town’s population was only 250 and yet four trains came into the station each day carrying both freight and passengers.

• The first order of business for the city council in 1893 was the all-important issuing saloon licenses because, outside of a few dollars from city hall rent, this was the only source of income for the city. Each quarter the saloon owners paid a whopping $100 for the license – quite a sum in those days.

• At one time, a tax of one day’s work was levied against property values for road and street improvements. Or, in lieu of actual labor, property owners could pay the Street Commissioner $1.50.

• In 1894 a motion was passed that all requests brought before the City Council must be discussed in German.

• In 1902 a speed limit of six miles per hour was set for all bicycles.

• In 1905 all persons with free-ranging cows running were ordered to keep them off the streets for the Fourth of July. Then, in 1910, cows were voted off the streets and alleys altogether.

• Between the late 1930s through the early 1950s, the Mount Angel Flax Festival was almost as popular as Oktoberfest, drawing visitors from neighboring towns.

• In 1931 a man named Marshall Bigler asked the town council how he could call for late-night help if an emergency arose. He was told to fire three shots from his pistol and help would respond. Curious, he apparently tried it out, but no one came. The next day he went out and bought a shotgun.

• In the early 1930s a group of businessmen dreamed up a Businessmen’s Club that would meet during the lunch hour each Monday. The day and time were chosen based on the town’s washday – which was Monday – with the idea that their wives would not be distracted from the washing by the need to fix their lunch. Incidentally, this club later became the Chamber of Commerce.

• Only boys were allowed to attend high school at Mount Angel Prep, located on the abbey hill, while girls attended school at the Mount Angel Academy. Then, in 1958, when discussions began about building a new school, which would move the boys closer to town, a nun is quoted as saying, “We are not anxious to have the boys any closer.” The nun’s sentiments aside, the construction of Kennedy High began and the school was opened solely to boys until 1964.

Silverton

• Established in 1845 by James Smith and his wife, Sarah Jennings, the town of Silverton was originally called Milford and was located about two miles upstream, on the banks of Silver Creek, near present-day Quall Road. In the mid-1850s the site was abandoned and the town moved to its current location.

• Legend has it that Silver Creek got its name because James “Silver” Smith, founder of Milford, brought a bushel basket of silver dollars along to his new homestead. Or else, a traveler on horseback tried to ford the creek when his horse’s struggles caused his saddlebags filled with silver to come loose. The truth of these tales is yet to be determined.

• Relations were routinely uneasy between the Native Americans living in the area and the first white settlers who homesteaded here. That unrest erupted into what would become the first and only major battle – the Battle of the Abiqua – in March 1848. Thirteen died in all and the Klamath Tribe – who traditionally traveled to the area in order to escape harsh winters and to participate in trade with the local Molalla Tribe – were permanently evicted from the area. 

• Polly Crandal Coon Price coined the name Silverton in 1854 after inheriting the land from her husband, Thomas.

• Silverton’s Timothy Woodridge Davenport, a teacher, doctor, farmer, surveyor, Indian agent, store owner, and legislator was the father of Country Boy author and famed Hearst cartoonist, Homer Davenport.

• In 1880, prominent businessmen and friends, Ai Coolidge and Jake McClaine founded the Coolidge and McClaine Bank. Then, in 1909, shortly before his death, Coolidge donated a five-acre tract of land designated as a park, which is now Coolidge McClaine Park.

• Jim Buff may have been one of the first openly cross-dressing residents of Silverton. Born in 1843 in Missouri, Buff settled in Silverton in 1852 where he worked as a teacher for 45 years, often walking eight to 12 miles from his home to school. He is remembered for his wardrobe of capes and women’s corsets. He died in 1910 following a serious stroke.

• The original train depot, built in 1906, was moved in 1982 from its original site on Brown Street – where Goodwill stands today – to its current location on South Water Street due to lack of use and disrepair. It now houses part of Silverton Country Museum, as well as the Silverton Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.

• The area between First Street and Park Street in Silverton once housed two schools – Emerson School, which was built in 1890 and used until 1924 when it was destroyed by fire, and Washington Irving, which was built in 1907 and used as a high school until 1925.

• The siren, which sounds from its post beside the Silverton Police Station at noon each day, is a 1920s-era Sterling Model M that was originally used to call volunteer firefighters. Now, other than its daily call, the siren – which can be heard for miles on a clear day – is only sounded for the occasional multiple-alarm fire.

• In 1922 just after Thanksgiving, a man known as William C. “Billy” Gable took a room at the Cottage Hotel in Silverton. Working as a “lumber loader” for the Silver Falls Timber Company – according to a check stub for $5.13 currently archived at the Silverton Country Museum – and dating Silvertonian Franz Doerfler, Gable also moonlighted as a budding actor in Portland. Later, the one-time lumberjack, now widely known as Clark Gable, became “The King of Hollywood,” acting in more than 60 motion pictures.

• In 1928, a daredevil from Monroe, Washington named Al Faussett rode a canoe over the 177-foot “Silver Creek Falls” located in what is now Silver Falls State Park. The event attracted around 2,000 people and, although Faussett survived, his safety cable broke and he was hospitalized with broken ribs, sprained ankles and extensive bruising.

Double Falls as photographed by Silverton photographer June Drake, in 1907.

Double Falls as photographed by Silverton photographer June Drake, in 1907.

• June Drake, born in Marquam in 1880, was an exceptional photographer who took pictures of almost every building and citizen in Silverton. In 1931 Drake’s untiring efforts led to the establishment of Silver Falls State Park. The area, presently known as Drakes Crossing, is partly named after June and the farm he once owned in that vicinity.

• The Silverton Opera House, which was built in 1905 at the site of the current Palace Theater, was destroyed in a fire in April 1935. That fire, which ignited more than 13,000 feet of film housed in the projection booth, caused explosions that spread the flames to several adjoining businesses, causing damage amounting to over $100,000. The fiery reflections in the sky were reported to have been seen as far as Portland.

• Silverton’s most notable baseball team – largely composed of men working for the Silver Falls Timber Company – was known as the Silverton Red Sox and kicked off their first season in 1937 with mill owner Bill McGinnis managing the team. A farm team division of the iconic Boston Red Sox, each player earned $25 per game. Most notably, major league player Johnny Pesky played one summer in Silverton and the team rated third nationally in 1939. Although the Red Sox broke for the war between 1943 and 1950, the team did not officially disband until 1954. A Willamette Valley Men’s Baseball League team based in Silverton still carries on the name.

• Zetta Schlador was Silverton’s first – and to this day, only – female mayor. She owned a women’s dress shop located on East Main Street, and took office in January of 1938. In 1939 the street in front of the current Silverton Middle School was named after her. Schlador died in 1978 at the age of 90. 

• Located beside the Silverton Museum is a preserved World War II Observation Post, which was originally located two miles up Victor Point Road. Its purpose was to shelter those tracking air traffic in the area both during the war, and later, during the Cold War period. During its use, volunteers from town worked in shifts 24 hours a day. Sightings were reported to an air base in Portland.

• Silverton native Don Pettit graduated from Silverton High School in 1973. He went on to become a chemical engineer and NASA astronaut. He is a veteran of two long-duration stays aboard the International Space Station, one space shuttle mission and a six-week expedition to find meteorites in Antarctica. As of 2017, having logged over 370 days in space, and at age 62, he was NASA’s oldest active astronaut.

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