Thursday, August 2, 2012

Stayton ~ Focused on Regional Service

Florence Street in Stayton, 1914
         Waterpower has always been a major component of this area of Marion County. Stayton was founded by Drury Smith Stayton, who purchased 29 acres of forest land in 1866 and, with his son, began digging a ditch off the North Santiam River to bring water to the industries of the town that would be named for him.  Previous to this date, in 1857, the Salem Ditch had been constructed which channeled water to Salem from this same river. Both Stayton and his son died before their dream of transforming farm products into industry was realized, but the new factories of the town soon began using steam from the ditch to power their machinery.
        An interesting online note from the Chamber of Commerce says: "Drury Smith Stayton was a generous pioneer father who gave each of his children a building site and enough lumber to build a home. The original town was built around their plots. Postmaster Samuel McCauley honored the founder by naming the town Stayton. It was officially incorporated by the Oregon legislature in 1891." The city had been previously founded as a town with a post office in 1871.
        A ferry crossing of the North Santiam River operated from 1876 until a bridge was constructed in 1888. Leander Brown convinced Marion and Linn counties' officials to build it before they discovered he had no authority as mayor since the city was not incorporated. That incorporation was accomplished in 1891. The 1885 Leander Brown residence stands at 227 2nd Avenue.  Leander Brown (was also involved in establishing the lumber industry in Mill City) and his sons, Charles and George, ran the sawmill after the Staytons. Several other local entrepreneurs contributed to the growth of Stayton: the Thomas Brothers, A.D. Gardner and others. Their thriving local businesses made Stayton a center of commerce for logging, mills, retail stores and professional services. T. H. McGill published the first newspaper, The Stayton Sun, in 1889.
        The late Ernst Lau, Stayton's most prominent historian, was quoted as saying four things influenced Stayton's early architecture: the prosperity of the area, the availability of materials, the published style-books in the 19th century, and the skill of local builders as evidenced by the use of masonry, especially the popular "Wonder Block". (These were pre-cast concrete blocks with different textures on the faces.) Oscar Hagen was a builder who brought "modern" conveniences to the housewife, especially in the kitchen. Some are still in use.
         During the Depression years, the stately 1902 Charles Brown home became a hospital. In the same years, migrants came to Stayton for work and many made their homes there. German speaking Catholics from the mid west had come to Stayton as early as the 1870s, establishing a church in 1903, but many others arrived during the 1930s, finding their place in this primarily Protestant community. After World War II, the new prosperity caused many older buildings to be replaced. Despite economic reverses, the city continues to grow. It honors its traditions through the Santiam Heritage Foundation.

          Between 1894 and 1933 the following Stayton items appeared in the Capitol Journal newspaper:

1894: An item from Stayton said, "Last Monday a few ... gathered at Mrs. Robertson's to give a surprise party for her daughter, Miss Ester from Salem. The crowd was very select and picked, composed mostly of old maid schoolmarms and bachelors."

1894 J. R. Miller of Stayton arrived in Salem astride a homemade bicycle. Wheels on Miller's boneshaker were nearly three feet in diameter and were geared to the crank by use of harvester pinions and a steel chain. Miller's ride to Salem took him four hours.

1898: Telephone connections were established between Salem, Stayton, Aumsville and Sublimity. [Telephone poles begin appearing in photographs of downtown Stayton in the early 1900s.]

1923: Paving between Stayton and Sublimity, to start early in July, would be over a log road 10 feet high laid down by Downing in the early 1870s. Between these points in 1871, F. T. Wrightman recalled, there was a great morass. Through this swamp Downing laid poles 10 feet high and covered his road laid on piles with earth. By 1923 the pole roadbed had sunk out of sight. It was the foundation of that part of the road between Stayton and Sublimity that was soon to be paved.

1926: A large golden eagle trapped in the Stayton area and released by the Oregon Humane Society was back at its old depredations. At the time of its capture the eagle was averaging a lamb or a goose a day.

1927: A debate between Sublimity and Stayton men was held on the question, "Resolved: that the dish rag is more important than the broom." Judges decided 2 to 1 in favor of the dishrag.

1928: Marshall Henry Smith of Stayton didn't disapprove of celebrating the Fourth of July but couldn't go along with Donald Brockberger, a transient fruit picker who exploded dynamite in the city's street. Smith took Brockberger into custody, along with a little fermented berry juice and a dozen sticks of powder.

1933: Antiquated high-wheel horse carts in the fire department were replaced by four-wheel trailers.
(See "Ben Maxwell's Salem, Oregon", edited by Scott MacArthur, 2006.)
Stayton's outstanding library

 Today Stayton is 2.7 square miles in size and home to about 9,000 residents. We found the 15 minute Highway 22 drive from Salem to be through a pleasant rural countryside. One sees small hills that hint at the Cascades yet to come further east. Local boosters remind us that Stayton is within easy driving distance of both the Cascade Mountains and Pacific beaches, but they focus on the pleasures and community services of Stayton, serving today as a regional resource center. The downtown business section offers both retail and professional services that serve its residents as well as the smaller towns that surround it. There is also a hospital conveniently located in town, an indoor swimming pool, vintage movie theater (owned by the city and leased, showing first-run films) and a YMCA. The fire department maintains satellite stations on the Little North Fork and other areas remote to other facilities. The school district serves Sublimity and Lyons. An outstanding feature of the city is the sunlight-filled, state-of-the-arts library, enlarged in 2007, with tranquil park views from its generous windows.
       Tom and I, as historian-visitors, were especially interested in photographing Stayton's historic structures, following Mr. Lau's online guide. We were fortunate in the sunshine of the first Sunday on November. After parking at the library, Tom snapped pictures of the Charles Brown House, just beyond the Salem Ditch, framed in leaves turned gold. Then we stepped up onto the porch and peeked in the windows of this gracious old residence, now empty. Further into our walk, we were disappointed to see the Deidrich Building is also unoccupied. (Both are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.) We were able to walk everywhere on Mr. Lau's list, enjoying a leisurely pace that the small city invites.

Covered bridge in Stayton's Pioneer Park
         A highlight of this adventure was revisiting Stayton's Pioneer Park (at 7th and Marion Streets). There tall, sheltering trees stand as sentinels along the river and the Jordan Covered Bridge tells a story of survival: in 1988 it was relocated from a Linn County site and reassembled; then rebuilt in 1998 after a fire. What an Oregonian feat of enterprise!
        We interrupted our research to stop at the Covered Bridge Cafe for lunch where the servings were generous and the staff friendly. We especially liked the local pictures decorating the walls and would bet the customers were all local, too. 
         We need to return to Stayton for at least two reasons: the Historical Museum was closed and we haven't attended the Santiam Summerfest.
         Each Tuesday, after a city was featured in that Sunday's Statesman Journal, KMUZ broadcasted "Marion County 20". To learn more about Stayton, listen to the podcast listed on KMUZ archives.

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