Thursday, August 2, 2012

Scotts Mills Reflects Oregon History

                                   

      Have you ever been to Scotts Mills? If you haven't, I suggest you are missing a fascinating, one afternoon time-trip into basic Marion County history.
   
        For instance, mills were once big business: did you know that their Country Park is the site of what was once one of the most productive grist mills west of Minneapolis? It was built just north of the dam on Butte Creek in 1846 by Dr. John McLaughlin's stepson and local pioneer, Thomas McKay. (An interpretive panel inside the entrance to the park marks the site.) The name of the town came twenty years later, in 1866, when Robert Hall Scott and Thomas Scott had both a sawmill and a flourmill here. The next year, the post office (a vital element in early towns) was moved from Clackamas County, across Butte Creek into Marion County with Thomas Scott as first postmaster. The city was incorporated in 1916.
         Like several other towns in Marion County, the 1920s began a prosperous era. The mills, an active prune packing industry and mining speculation kept the town growing. Typically, families had their gardens and life stock, but they had urban conveniences: a hotel, bank (prosperous enough to survive a daylight robbery), a lively post office, a photography shop, garages and gas stations and fine local schools. They worshiped at several historic churches, and shopped at a general merchandise/hardware store that resembled in spirit, if not in size, our current shopping establishments. Up through the "boomer" generation the community continued serving the families with local occupations and the children attended classes through high school with active sports departments. However, and this is also a common thread of history in the last 50 years, the traditional local businesses were unable to meet the needs of a changing economy and they closed one by one. Alas, even the early post office was demolished. A portion of the facility was given to the Marion County Historical Society and now resides in storage at Willamette Heritage Center. Today, 85% the 357 residents in about 80 households travel to nearby cities for jobs. The same large percentage own their own homes, enjoying the beautiful small town so rich in history, and the locality where their families have lived for generations. They are proud of the Scotts Mills Elementary School, serving grades K-8 (about 110 students).
       On the afternoon of our first visit, Tom plotted a GPS route north from Silverton (this accomplished as we parked at Roths store). We set out, turning on to what became a gravel road, and ranged over Hazelnut Hill until a final twist revealed Grandview Avenue. There we saw the first buildings of the town with a church to the left and a small City Hall to the right. The City Hall was closed, but an electronics repair truck was in the driveway. "Where's the town?" I asked the driver. He mentioned on down the hill toward a few more houses and a grocery store/market. We had arrived.


  
     At the market, we were directed on to the next intersection where the manager pointed out a sign indicating a museum. "And there's Mrs. Gersch. She lives next door and can open it for you," he assured us. And so we were introduced to our guide and the Scotts Mills Historical Society and Museum at 210 Grandview Avenue. (Museum open second Sunday, March through October, 1 to 5 pm., or by appointment, 503 873 6596.) Margaret told us the society began in 1974 with the purchase of the former Christian Church there on Grandview Avenue. We saw exhibits now filling the building with artifacts that reflect both the occupations of the past residents and the daily family life. Then Margaret and I glanced through copies of a published history of the area, biographical and local genealogical information, legal and cemetery records. We enjoyed having her introduce us to families of the past through a few of the hundreds of photographs taken since 1893.  One source of information is Scotts Mills: A Pictorial History by Lois Ray and Judy Chapman. An advertisement for the book tells us that it "covers such topics as the coal mine along Butte Creek, the flour mill run by the Scott family, the prune and hops growers and the Quaker Colony and its link to former US President Herbert Hoover."  After our museum tour, Margaret took us into the original, one room jail and City Hall recently been relocated to the museum site.
      She explained that the church we had passed entering the city is the 1893 Friends Church. Still active, it has a tradition of sending members out in the world to advocate for peace. Today the building also serves as a beautiful setting for weddings. We learned that another spiritual center for the community is five miles southeast of Scotts Mills at Crooked Finger, the 1892 Holy Rosary Church. A handsome folder outlines the history of this parish and a historical museum is maintained in the basement. A Marian Pilgrimage, begun in August of 1954, is observed every year.
         Interesting features of the not-so-distant past include these two events:
         On March 25, 1993 Scotts Mills felt a 5.6 earthquake whose epicenter was 3 miles east of the city. The main damage consisted of a few fallen chimneys and some broken glass. There were no injuries.
        In 2005, the city was selected by the movie industry as the site of a film, "Valley of Light", that temporarily refurbished some properties, employed residents as actors and brought much excitement for the three months the film company was in Scotts Mills.
        On our next trip to Scotts Mills, the warm and sunny Saturday before Easter, we visited the Marion County Park (mentioned above) on Crooked Finger Road, and enjoyed watching children scampering about in the grass for an Easter Egg hunt. It was a perfect day to discover the impressive waterfall feature of the wide, tree-lined Butte Creek. Margaret told us that the warm water of the swimming hole below the waterfall and the woodsy appearance of the 13-acre park bring many visitors here for picnics and summer fun. On anther day, we will visit Camp Dakota, 9 miles from the city on Crooked Finger Road. It offers family camping (including yurts) and outdoor recreational activities.
        Among the periodic community activities we would also enjoy are the following:
A monthly Pancake/Ham Breakfast at the Community Center (across the road from the City Hall) is held on the last Sunday of each month. That is a busy place: it offers a meeting place for the 4-H clubs, Alcohols Anonymous, Neighborhood Watch, is a Sub-station for Marion County Sheriff and hosts Thursday morning coffee time 7-10 am. Marion-Polk County Food Share distributes weekly food baskets and Christmas boxes from this site. The Fireman's Chicken Dinner (with bingo) is enjoyed during October at the Scotts Mills Fire Station. Proceeds are used to support local community needs.
          Other social and dining opportunities are held at the Scotts Mills Grange (monthly meetings the second Friday of each month). These include a ham dinner in March, the Harvest Festival in September and a bazaar in November. Also, Hand Painted Barn Quilts are available at the Grange with patterns and designs of your own choice (Ross Taylor 503 873 2360). The Grange, in partnership with the city, provides event rentals for weddings, reunions or other gatherings (Memories in the Park, 503 874 9575).
           There is quite a bit going on in and around Scotts Mills!
         As we were preparing to leave after the first visit, we told Margaret that we were surprised to enter Scotts Mills by such a deserted gravel road.  "Why, the road to Silverton is here," she exclaimed, pointing down the Mt. Angel Scotts Mill Road that ran west in front of her house.  We were soon on Highway 213 and on the familiar road home to Salem.  That day we learned that Tom's GPS is not always the best route to take while driving through unfamiliar territory. But now, after two visits, we can testify that Scotts Mills, by either road, is well worth this journey into Marion County history.
      Each Tuesday, after a city was featured in that Sunday's Statesman Journal, KMUZ broadcasted "Marion County 20". To learn more about Scotts Mills, listen to the podcast listed on the KMUZ archives.

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