|3rd. Street in Downtown Turner and its Mill Race, 1947|
About one mile further east, we arrived in the city that occupies a narrow valley, Turner Gap, that extends from the Stayton Basin to the Northern Willamette Basin. This valley separates the Salem Hills on the west from the Waldo Hills on the east. At the narrowest point in the valley, “Turner Gap” is only about 1,600 feet wide. This gap was a glacial age channel for the North Santiam River and now provides a channel for Mill Creek, the city’s primary waterway. The city was established in 1871 when the Oregon & California Railroad passed through property of Henry L. Turner. A rail station was constructed at the site and named for this well-known pioneer and flour mill owner in the area. Mr. Turner recorded a town plat at the site of the station on March 9 of that year. By 1878, Turner had a population of 70. The flour mill and two granaries were the dominant industrial features. Farm land was selling for $15 to $30 per acre. An open Mill Race was built to power the mills and was located along the railroad adjacent to 3rd. Street. (See photo) This downtown was one of the City's primary features until the historic buildings were demolished and the mill race was filled in by the Burkland Lumber Company. This primary Turner industry closed in 1974.
Between 1871 and 1910, Turner was incorporated (1905) and elected the first mayor, J. M. Watson. The city grew with the construction of the Turner Bank, two general merchandise stores, two blacksmith shops, a grocery, hotel, rooming house (of three stories), hardware implements store, two livery stables, drug store, restaurant, saloon and school house. One of the most important structures was the Christian Convention Tabernacle on land donated by the Turner family in 1878. The structure was erected in 1891 after George Turner signed an agreement between the State of Oregon and the State Convention of the Disciples of Christ with the stipulation that the Christian Church Convention would be held in Turner for 99 years. The building is still used by the convention.
Chief Fred Moore organized the first fire department in 1916, the same year the residents voted to allow Turner Telephone Company to erect poles and maintain lines within the city. A local feed mill furnished Turner's first electric power, except on Sunday when the mill not operate. Most of the Turner estate was inherited by Cornelia Turner Davis and was the origin of the of funds for the property and to establish the 1928 Turner Memorial Home, a home for boys (see Davis Hall below), and the Christian Church. In 1934, Reverend Elmore J. Gilstrap and Dr. H. C. Epley cofounded the Turner Memorial Home for Retired Christians.
(Historical information extracted from "Turner's 125th Birthday", Susanne Strauss, Historic Marion, Vol.34, No.2)
Mill Creek is normally a placid, scenic stream, but under the right set of circumstances it can become the source of flooding for the neighborhoods along its banks. The city had to deal with just such a situation in January of 2012 when flooding led to major damage.
On January 19, 2012, the city suffered the flooding of Mill Creek. The Oregonian reported
Brown silty waters rose over the banks of Mill Creek in the morning, flooding... as many as 300 homes in Turner, a bedroom community of 18,000 people just southeast of the state capital's city limits. In response, officials called for a voluntary evacuation of the southern half of Turner as the creek climbed to 2 1/2 feet above flood stage. About 200 people left their homes, authorities estimated. Within days of this event Turner was once again demonstrating what neighbors in small towns are all about, hundreds of volunteers turned out from the local churches and other groups such as Young Life to help their neighbors. Just a year later you have to look closely to see any evidence of the damage. Mill Creek is once again a scenic pastoral stream.
Coming home by way of Turner Road that day, we were hardly out of that city when we passed Salem City Limit sign. We spied the white state correctional institution building high on the hill and soon turned into the road leading to our McNary Airport. I had previously wondered why Good Neighbor was the heading for the Courthouse poster, but after several delightful visits, we can confirm the fact that the Turner residents take care of one another, especially though their large retirement community, and that this city is an attractive and welcoming neighbor for Salem visitors. (Remember to go to Turner on a Friday!)
The city maintains a colorful and informative website.
Each Tuesday, after a city was featured in that Sunday's Statesman Journal, KMUZ broadcasted "Marion County 20". To learn more about Turner, listen to the podcast listed on the KMUZ website archives.