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WPA Historical Records

Benton Co., Oregon

Mark Phinney



NOTES by Mark Phinney

September 22, 1937

The Provincial legislature of Oregon created the seventh county on December 23, 1847 (General and Special Laws, 1843-49). The new county was taken from the southern portion of Polk county. The Willamette river became its eastern boundary, the northern California line its southern boundary, and the Pacific Ocean its western boundary. The efforts expended by Senator Thomas H. BENTON of Missouri in behalf of Oregon were acknowledged by naming the new county "Benton". In1851, Lane county became its southern boundary and Lincoln county was created in 1893 partially from its western portion, leaving Benton county its present area of 688 square miles (Oregon Blue Book).

Although French trappers had visited the region and had established semi-permanent camps within sight of Mary's Peak which they had named St. Mary's Peak, no white man claimed any land within the present area of Benton county until 1845. In that year several claims were located near the present site of Corvallis and in Kings Valley. During the next two years settlement was rapid. Then California gold lured many immigrants during 1849-51 but the returning gold seekers and new immigrations made a tremendous increase in the number of settlers from 1852 to 1858. The population was listed by the county clerk on September 20, 1858 as 2,479. Of these, 960 were under ten years of age. The most prominent towns at this time were Corvallis, Monroe, Philomath, Blodgett, Boonville, Fort Hoskins, Summitville, Kings Valley and Alsea. The settlement of the coast region was delayed partly because of the establishment of Siletz Indian reservation in 1856 but more probably because the pioneers considered the mountainous country ill suited for agricultural purposes. Yaquina and Newport were started in the early 1860's

Transportation was always an important problem of pioneer life. Most of the early claims in Benton county had been located by horse-back riders and the settlers' household equipment was later moved to the claim by ox-team and wagon. In the summer time, when steams were low and the over-flow lands dry, teams and wagons could travel at will in any direction. In other seasons, however, transportation and communication were practically at a standstill. Consequently the first activities of the new county government were to secure better facilities for the movement of farm crops. Bridges were built across the Mary's river in 1856 (county court records, Vol. 1, p.144). Ferries crossing it and the Willamette were licensed. Roads were established and districts created for their maintenance and repair. Each district was responsible for the roads within its boundaries. Water transportation was limited because boats had not been built. However, the "Canemah", the fourth steamer to operate in Oregon waters, operated by Captain BENNETT, made the first trip to Corvallis in 1852. This established the city as practical headwaters of the Willamette and, besides making Corvallis the principal shipping point, enabled it to be the headquarters for a thriving pack train business to interior points, especially to the southern Oregon mines. September 3, 1849 was the date set for the first session of the circuit court. It met at the home of Joseph C. AVERY in Marysville (now Corvallis) and adjourned because no matters were brought before the court (Circuit court Journal Vol. 1, p. 1). The next recorded meeting was in September 1851.

The Probate Court of Benton County, sitting as a board of county commissioners, held its first session September 2-5, 1850 (Probate Records Book A. p.1).It met in FULLER's schoolhouse but adjourned for lack of a quorum, to meet the next day in Marysville. County property was assessed and a tax of two mills levied for county purposes. J. C. AVERY was appointed to survey the north boundary line of the county. The next session held in July, 1851 divided the county into three voting precincts. The September session issued a license to William DIXON to operate a ferry across the Willamette and a tax of two and one-half mills was levied. A poll tax was also levied on all males between the ages of 21 and 50 years.

Joseph C. AVERY and William F. DIXON had each donated 40 adjoining acres to the county. This tract, located in Corvallis, was platted, lots sold, and the proceeds used to erect the first court house, completed in 1856 (Probate journal Vol. 1, p. 75). The jail was completed in December, 1856 (Probate journal Vol., 1 p. 154). A fire proof vault was added to the court house in 1878 (County Court Records, Series A, Vol. a. p. 259). In 1875 a fund was started for a new court house and jail. This building was completed in 1888 and is still in use (1937).

The early settlers of Benton county confined their attention to agriculture, principally in raising stock and grain. An active demand for horses and mules was created by the freighters and the records show that many horses were driven to California for sale. The lumber industry was developed only to fill the immediate and local requirements and not until the twentieth century did the export of timber products add materially to the income of the county. With the advent of steam railroads, the stock raisers were replaced by grain growers and wheat became the principle crop. At the present time (1937), the term "general farming" applies perfectly to the agricultural activities of the county. Dairying, poultry raising, fruit growing and grain production are all actively conducted. Industrial concerns have generally been on a small scale. Wagon and carriage factories, tanneries, flour and saw mills have furnished pay rolls at various time. Canneries and creameries with one or two large saw mills furnish sources of wage income at present (1937). The population in 1900 was 6,706 and in 1930 was 16,555 (Oregon Blue Book).

Corvallis, the county seat, and the first town platted and incorporated, was the territorial capital for a brief period in 1855. It is the home of the Oregon State Agricultural College. The present campus site was donated to the college by the citizens of Benton county and, with the completing of the first Administration Building, was ready for occupancy in 1887.

Prior to the organization of the county government, schools had been established in practically every community. These were invariably log structures, erected by community cooperation and supported either by subscription or by fixed charges upon the parents. This principle of fixed charges per pupil maintained a firm hold on the citizens of Benton county and many years passed before it was replaced by taxation adequate to support free education at public expense (Clerks Records No. 17).

The new county government, however, in 1852 divided the county into twelve school districts and levied a tax of two mills for school purposes (county court journal Vol. A. p. 43). This yielded $612.32 and was apportioned among 244 children of school age. County support of schools was continued in this manner and for twenty years the average was $1.50 per pupil. This is evidence that the cost of education was largely borne by the parents within each district. Because of the lack of support from the county, the churches became foremost in the educational field. The school houses were used for church meetings in many instances especially by the Methodists, Baptists, Evangelicals and the United Brethren. It was at a meeting of the United Brethren at the White school house in the late '50's that Philomath College was founded. Corvallis College, later to become the State Agricultural College, was founded by the Methodists in 1864.

A county superintendents report for 1870 shows that thirty schools made their yearly report to him. Nineteen had held only a three months term. The report shows that it was possible for the average pupil to receive twenty-seven months schooling before he became over school age. Most districts showed no incidental expense, indicating that school equipment was yet to come (File Box Old School Papers, Supt's office County court house). The superintendent's report for 1880 shows fifty five districts from which 44 schools reported 2,387 pupils of school age, 1,520 enrolled, average attendance 1,120, average school term four months and 48 teachers employed. The value of the school building was $23,600 with equipment valued at $875.00 (Weekly Gazette, July 16, 1880). Even though the enrollment steadily increased every move toward raising additional school money by taxation was defeated (Corvallis Gazette; March 5, 1880, Nov. 7, 1890, April 23, 1891: School Board Minutes Vol. 1907-09 Sept. 2, 1909).

After 1910 public opinion changed and today Benton county has provided adequately for the education of its children. Union high school districts have been organized throughout the county and high school training is now available even in the sparsely settled portions of the county.



Benton County Almanac for 1874. - Excerpts

General Information


Benton County contains 1,100 square miles, a population exceeding five thousand, a property valuation of $1,479,772.00, is located in the heart of the Willamette Valley; is bounded on the east by the Willamette River and Linn County; on the west by the Pacific Ocean; on the south by Lane County and on the north by Polk County. This county is celebrated for its richness of soil, minerals, timber, and healthful, temperate climate.

Benton County was organized, under the Provisional Government, on the 23rd of December, 1847 and extended from Polk County to the California State line. The present south line of the county was established January 15, 1851 The county seat was established at Marysville, January 23, 1851, and the name was changed to Corvallis, (Heart of the Valley), December 20, 1853.

The State Capital was located at Corvallis, January 16, 1855, and relocated at Salem, December 12, 1855. During that time the OREGON STATESMAN was published at Corvallis by Asahel BUSH, State Printer. There were four or five claims in the county in the fall of 1845, but not moved upon until 1846. During that year (1846) the following named persons made bona fide settlements: J. C. AVERY, Wm. WHIPPLE, Arnold FULLER, H. C. LEWIS, Thomas M. READ, James L MULKEY, Alfred RHINEHART, John STEWART, William F. DIXON, J. C. ALEXANDER, -HOVIUS, -STEMERRNAN, Joseph HUGHART, Wayman ST. CLAIR, John LLOYD, William MILLER, Nicholas OWNBY, H. C. BUCKINGHAM, Nimrod O'KELLY, Thomas REEVES, D. D. STROUD, Neeham KING, Roland CHAMBERS, Aaron RICHARDSON, Green Berry SMITH, Alexander SMITH, Lazarus VANBEBBER.

The Oregon State Agricultural College was temporarily located at Corvallis, October 27, 1868, and permanently located, October 21, 1870.

County Officers: John BURNETT, Judge; B. W. WILSON, Clerk; Judson S. PALMER, Sheriff; William GROVES, Treasurer; A. R. BROWN, School Superintendent; W. H. JOHNSON, Assessor; George MERCER, Surveyor; James EDWARDS and James CHAMBERS, Commissioners.




Corvallis is an incorporated city and county seat of Benton County, located on the west bank of the Willamette River, on a beautiful plateau one and a half miles wide, entirely above high water. For beautiful location, healthfulness, temperature of climate and pure water, it is not equaled in the State. The County Seat was established at Corvallis (then Marysville) in 1851, and now has a population of 800 to 1,000. For many years it was considered the head of navigation and became the entry port of all goods and merchandise intended for the mines in Southern Oregon and Northern California, and (which) was conveyed thither on pack animals. It was the liveliest place in the State. Since the failure of the mines it has not grown so rapidly but has maintained a steady, healthy, and permanent growth.

SCHOOLS: State Agricultural College, with a most efficient faculty, B. L. ARNOLD, A.M., President and Professor of Physics; Joseph EMERY, A.M., Professor of Mathematics; B. J. HAWTHORNE, A.M., Professor of Languages; Miss Irene SMITH, Primary Department; Miss Viola BRIGGS, Music Teacher; Capt. B. D. BOSWELL, Military Instructor; . . . North Public School, J. M. GARRISON, Principal, and Miss Hattie A. CLARK, Assistant.

. . . South District, E. A. MILNER, Principal, and Miss Martha M. MULKEY, Assistant.... Select School, Miss Lou A. SIMPSON, Principal,and Miss M. Grace HANNA, Music Teacher.

PUBLIC BUILDINGS: Two churches, (Methodist and Presbyterian), four schoolhouses, court house and jail. Ministers: Revs. J. W. YORK and John BOSWELL, M.E. Church; Revs. D. K. NESBIT and J. A. HANNA, Presbyterian; Revs. B. R. BAXTER, Thomas B. WHITE, and Joseph EMERY, M. E. Church, South; Rev. Father GIBNEY, Catholic. . . . Merchants, S. H. THOMPSON, J. KLINE, L. G. KLINE, Max FRIENDLEY, A. WESTHEIMER, L. N. PRICE, G. B. STILES, JACOBS and NEWGASS, H. E. HARRIS, . . . Carpenters, N. R. BARBER, G. P. WRENN, A. WALLACE, A. PIXLEY, W. J. HUFFMAN, Levi RUSSELL, Wm. MCLAGAN, J. MORGAN, B. HYLAND, John ROBERTS. . . . Wagon Makers, A. M. CHISHAM, Henry EMRICK, A. PURDY, L. L. HORNING….Blacksmiths, J. T. PHILLIPS, J. M. FRIEND, M. KNIGHT, P. HUNTER, Jos. GEARHARDT, Peter COUGHLAR, Henry EMRICK, Painters, Jack SHEPPARD, Henry FISHER, W. W. KIGER, Henry REED. . . . Saddle and harness makers, H. FLICKINGER, John DUNCAN, Charles WAGONER, A. C. BRIGGS, . . . Baker, Henry WARRIOR, . . . TADOR, A. CAUTHORN… Hacks and drays, Sol KING.... Sash and door factory, J. MASON. . . . Saw mills, McCUNE and HANNA, F. E. ROBINSON and Bro.... Gunsmith, G. HODES.... Cabinet makers, GRAVES and KNIGHT. . . COOPER, E. NORTON... Milliners and dressmakers, Mrs. E. A. KNIGHT, Mrs. M. B. STILES. . . Dressmakers, Mrs. Leone MCNULTY, Misses Fannie GREER and Mary SHREVE... Jeweler, P. P. GREFOZ. .. Dentist, Dr. E. W. BIDDLE, . . . Lawyers, F. A. CHENOWETH, John KELSAY, J. R. BAYLEY, W. S. McFADDEN, R. S. STRAHAN, Jas. A. YANTIS, John BURNETT, Capt. B. D.BOSWELL. . . Physicians and surgeons, Drs. J. B. LEE, William GRAHAM, John BOSWELL, T. J. WRIGHT... Livery stables, George W. HOUCH, Sol KING. . . Boot and shoe makers, S. H. LOOK, H. MANNS, D. B. IRVIN, James IRVIN, Frank HENDRICKSON, Joseph SMITH. . . . Barbers, Hale BACKENSTO, G. M. SNIDER. . . Drug Stores, GRAHAM and BAILEY, ALLEN and WOODWARD. . . Books and stationery, ALLEN and WOODWARD, J. A. HANNA. . . Hardware, J. R. BAYLEY and Co., . . . Meat markets, J. C. TAYLOR & Son, Nick BEASON. . . Warehouses, HAMILTON Bros., J. C. AVERY, Farmers',. . . Photographer, Mrs. H. A. ATWOOD.. Hotels, D. CARLILE, John HASKINS. . . Restaurant, J. D. PAGE, . Saloons, W. CUSHMAN, H. C. BIRD, L. GEARHARDT. . Brewery, B. HUNT.





Monroe is a pleasant village seventeen miles south of Corvallis on the west bank of the Long Tom, surrounded by wealthy settlements and in the heart of a rich agricultural district. We find here three stores kept by W. C. WOODCOCK and Co., M. SHANNON, and THOMPSON (or Thomas) HINTON; one blacksmith shop, Harrison BOWEN; one flouring mill, Thomas READER, proprietor; one harness and saddle shop, Charles HIDES (HODES?); one hotel, Mrs. Sarah HOWARD; One boot and shoe shop, John WEBBER; three physicians, Cal. M. BOSWELL, L. F. SHIPLEY, and Wm. MAHON; One saloon, George LANDERKIN; one public school, M. Clay STARR, Teacher; two carpenters, Wm. J. KELLY and J. M. LAFFERTY; one lodge each of Masons, Odd-Fellows, and Champions of the Red Cross; and post office.




Philomath is a thriving village seven miles west of Corvallis on the Yaquina road. It is a beautiful and healthy location, and surrounded by intelligent, wealthy farmers, who feel proud of the institution of learning in their midst. . . Philomath College, which is under the auspices of the United Brethren in Christ. The faculty consists of R. E. WILLIAMS, President and Professor of Languages; Henry SHEAK, Professor of Mathematics, and Miss - LAWRENCE, Primary Department. Philomath is situated on the side of a hill, facing south, and contains many neat residences, a beautiful and substantial brick college building; one store, SHIPLEY and HENKLE; two blacksmith shops, W. S. HITE and H. C. ROWE; several private boarding houses but no hotel.




Alsea Valley is twenty five miles southwest of Corvallis. The upper valley is ten miles long, and lies in a somewhat triangular form . . . being about three miles broad in the widest part. . . consisting of grass-covered hills interspersed with beautiful valleys. The Alsea River affording splendid water power, traverses the whole length of the valley; the soil is very rich and can be plowed at all seasons of the year. The streams are cold, clear as crystal, and abound with trout at all times, and salmon in their season. About sixty families now reside in the upper valley. They now have a post office, with Thomas RUSSELL, Esq., as P.M., a good flouring and saw mill, David RUBLE, proprietor, and a blacksmith shop by Eli MASON. Also a good school house and a large school. This valley was first settled in the fall of 1852. Among the oldest settlers yet living are S. L. RYCRAFT, Jacob HOLGATE, Thomas HAYDEN, Jeremiah MASON, J. G. CLARK, and James K. McCORMICK. To the southwest, in the Coast Range, lie Lobster and Five Rivers valleys, which are now being rapidly settled up and will furnish homes for about 150 families. The land is rich and adapted to farming or grazing.

The lower Alsea Valley contains nearly as many families as the upper. They are endeavoring to organize school districts and desire a post office. It is twenty-five miles from the upper valley to tidewater, where there are two first class saw mills, one owned by Messrs. PEEK, and the other by Mr. STROPE. Dense forests of the finest fir timber are in close proximity, and game and fish of all kinds abundant.




Kings Valley is about thirteen miles northwest from Corvallis; is about six miles in length and from one to three miles in width. It is a fine farming and grazing section, and is one of the oldest settlements in the county ... has a grist mill, post office, store, blacksmith shop, etc.




Summary of population made by County Clerk, 1858.

Showing 1,377 males and 1,102 females, by age groups. September 20, 1858.

Petition for and remonstrance against first saloon.

(Vol. 1, p. 29, County Court Journal)

Interesting because remonstrance shows 120 names and petition shows 111 names. The court struck off 12 "doubtful" names from remonstrance and grated license.


Early Care of Insane (Case of Henry SHEPHERD) 1851-4.

(Pages 24, 37, 48 114 of Probate Record (Journal).

p. 24. Ordered that "sheriff procure at public sale on Saturday the 17 instant, services for taking care of said SHEPHERD." Agent appointed to care for Shepherd's property. Agent bonded.

p. 37. Shepherd cared for in private home for $4.00 per day.

p. 48. Sheriff to procure 3 months' care at public sale. On many occasions payment was ordered for care of S. at $4.00 per day. p. 114. "Keeping and taking care of Henry Shepherd, insane, to be let out at public sale to the lowest bidder . . . " Here for the first time conditions are prescribed and bond required. Jacob HAMMER awarded the contract at $2.00 per day.

Early Care of Paupers 1860-1892

(Vol. 2, pp. 89, 131, 386; Series 2, Vol. 2. p. 293; Series 2, Vol. 5, p. 161. County Court Records.)

Sept. 1860. Ordered that "Detricke DUKE, a pauper of Benton County, be sold to the lowest responsible bidder for term of three months subject to what labor he may be capable of perforrning. Said Duke to be sold October 28, 1860 or as near that time as may be the Clerk be deemed judicious."

July 1861. Dukes was set adrift to earn his own living with $10 in clothes and $5 in money.

Dec. 1866. To avoid called sessions of court, County Judge empowered to act in care of the poor during vacations of the Court. Feb. 1879. Contract let for the care of three paupers for one year for a total of $320. Care to include boarding, lodging, clothing, and necessary nursing, but not medical care or medicine.

May 1892. Contract awarded for the care of paupers at the rate of $3 per month each. Care to include board, lodging, and nursing care when needed.


Traffic Violations

(VoL 1, Apr. 11, 1859, Police Docket.)

.FRIENDLY.... STEWAR, and John MAURER, convicted and fined for "furiously riding a horse on Second Street at a rate exceeding six miles per hour." (Such items common about this time)

John R. DYER fined $3.00 for riding across sidewalk. (From the frequency of this offense, riding upon the sidewalk seems to have been the badge of tipsy daring.)

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