Last Post!

This blog is moving!  Please visit us at our new site:  www.willametteheritage.org/blog.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

White’s Restaurant – Maynard Meatloaf Special

reprinted from August 2015 Statesman Journal article

Maynard Drawson holding a White’s Restaurant menu featuring Maynard’s Meatloaf special. Photo Credit: Willamette Heritage Center 2007.050.0002

Maynard Drawson holding a White’s Restaurant menu featuring Maynard’s Meatloaf special.
Photo Credit: Willamette Heritage Center 2007.050.0002

White’s Restaurant at 1138 Commercial St. SE is a Salem landmark of restaurant history. Charles and Myrtle White had previously owned White’s Tip Top Lunch in the Hollywood District of Salem during the early 1930s. When they moved their family to South Commercial St. in 1935 they built a new restaurant, White’s Lunch, on the property adjacent to their home. Service and satisfaction were very important to the White’s as stated on the cover of their early menus. Original hours were seventeen a day from 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. seven days a week. A “plate lunch” special consisted of meat, two vegetables, trim, bread, beverage and dessert for 35 cents.

Ten years later in 1945 son Bob and wife Carole took over the daily management of the restaurant. Plate lunch was still the daily special, though the cost was now 60 cents. Same hours of operation but only six days a week. After World War II Bob’s brother Kenny built White’s Drive-In next door to the original restaurant. It operated from 1948 to 1955 and shared a common preparation area. French fried shrimp on a toasted bun with a side order of French fries was one of the more popular menu items for only 85 cents.

As the years marched on, Bob and Kenny brought their wives and children into the family business. In 1963, a major remodel took place. The original White home adjacent to the property was moved to make room for more parking. The inside of the restaurant was updated to increase seating and modernize the kitchen. The “plate lunch” was replaced on the menu by daily specials for breakfast and lunch. Homemade soups, sandwiches, dinners, salads, and desserts remained popular menu items.

In 1981 Bob decided to retire and put the business in his wife’s name. Carole continued to run the business with sister Judy Haskins and daughter Debbi White Strauch until 1989 when the business was sold. The White family retained ownership of the restaurant building itself. The new owner operated the business until filing for bankruptcy in 1995. At that point Bob and Carole White stepped back into the picture to reclaim the business name. One morning during breakfast in the Ritz Diner over at the corner of State St. and Lancaster Dr. they met Don Uselman. After watching Don cooking the food, talking to his customers and greeting every person that walked through the door Bob told Carol, “I could see that man running my grills.” A friendship was established and after much planning and preparation Don Uselman and his wife re-opened White’s Restaurant in 1996.

One of the more colorful stories behind one of White’s Restaurant specials involves Maynard’s Meatloaf which is served on Thursdays. Maynard Drawson former barber in Salem for 50 years, local radio show personality and founding member of the Oregon Heritage Tree Committee is the man behind the meatloaf, if you will. Here is the story behind the meatloaf special in Maynard’s own words, “I fell out of a tree and damn near died. In fact, I was sick for three to four months. And when I got big enough and good enough to come out, the lady that rescued me…came to lunch with me. And they had meatloaf that day. I said, “You know that meatloaf is pretty good, but it is pretty dry. You know, if you cut some carrots up and blah blah blah.” And the guy that owned the place (Chef Don Uselman) is a friend of mine, and he started writing all of this stuff down and the next thing I know, they put out a new menu, and there is Maynard’s Meatloaf.”

What makes Maynard’s Meatloaf so special? The secret ingredient, carrots. And just in case you were curious, here’s the recipe from the Maynard Drawson collection currently held at the Willamette Heritage Center.

Maynard’s Meat Loaf

  • 2 lbs. ground beef
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbs. basil
  • 1 can tomato paste (6 oz.)
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • ½ c. fine shredded carrots
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 Tbs. taco seasoning
  • 1 Tbs. oregano
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 2 Tbs. Worcester sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a KitchenAid mixer at #3 for 3 minutes using the flat mixer attachment. This will give you all the sinew and gristle mixed up on the mixer attachment. Throw away this part as it will make your meatloaf much more enjoyable to eat. Put remaining mixture into a loaf pan and push down by hand. After packing the loaf pan, bang the pan on a solid surface to pack. Bake in a preheated oven (325 degrees) for 90 minutes until meat thermometer reads 160 degrees.

Posted in History Experiences, People, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly Farm Restaurant – Jim & Marguerite Sumpter

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published July 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.

The Daily Capital Journal newspaper dated November 5, 1938 stated it perfectly. “Some people have a way of always making you feel welcome. That’s the spirit that’s in the air at Friendly Farm. A place for the traveler to stop and get real home-cooked food, and a mecca for the townspeople to supply their tables with fresh fruits, flowers, and vegetables in season. Listen closely now – we have a surprise for you. Marguerite Sumpter has finally decided to serve her public that scrumptious fried chicken – cooked and seasoned exactly like mother made.”

Friendly Farm Restaurant during the off-season December-January.  WHC X2012.018.0001.001

Friendly Farm Restaurant during the off-season December-January. WHC X2012.018.0001.001

Friendly Farm restaurant at 4645 Portland Rd. attracted families in the Salem area for over 30 years. Marguerite and Jim Sumpter started off with a fruit stand, selling produce from the family farm where Marguerite had lived since she was ten years old. Customers soon demanded light lunches, so the couple began serving sandwiches in a small building Jim built on the property which seated seven customers. Several years and additions to the building later, Friendly Farm became a full-fledged restaurant known for Marguerite’s special recipe fried chicken, potato salad, hot biscuits, and fresh, home-made pies.

Jim and Marguerite Sumpter, owners of Friendly Farm Restaurant. WHC X2012.018.0076

Jim and Marguerite Sumpter, owners of Friendly Farm Restaurant.
WHC X2012.018.0076

The Sumpters made a great team. Jim was headwaiter, bottle washer, and soda jerk when needed while Marguerite ran the kitchen and mothered the local girls they employed as waitresses. Jane Kerber, one of their girls, wrote many years later that Marguerite was the real boss at Friendly Farm, but both she and Jim were more like parents to all the girls that worked for them. Jane also recalled. “We would get so busy – especially on Sundays. Marguerite would be frying the chicken and French fries or mixing up another batch of her special potato salad all while talking to the customers, laughing and joking. When it got too hectic Jim would say ‘And this too shall pass away!’ And Marguerite would say, ‘Now Jim, its O.K.’” The restaurant’s busiest day on record was Mother’s Day, 1957 when the restaurant served 450 dinners.

Friendly Farm Restaurant off Portland circa 1930s. WHC X2012.018.0077

Friendly Farm Restaurant off Portland Rd. in 1937. WHC X2012.018.0077

Friendly Farm kept seasonal hours, open from February to December. The Sumpters enjoyed their winter break, often traveling to sunny, warmer climates around the world. During their travels Marguerite would write cheery newsletters to longtime restaurant customers, employees and neighbors with the details of their trips. She was also a faithful correspondent to many former employees and customers serving in the military during World War II and the Korean War. One particular correspondent was Harold L. Hill, a graduate of Salem High School who served 3 ½ years in the Navy during World War II. Her letters pulled him through a few rough patches in the South Pacific, including homesickness and a hospital stay. His letters, which Marguerite saved give us a glimpse of the food, atmosphere and warmth found at Friendly Farm restaurant. In one letter dated April 11, 1944, he asked Marguerite to play “I Ain’t Got Nobody “ on the juke box to remember him by, promising after the war to “park myself in my favorite booth and eat chicken till I haven’t got any room left except for two or three helpings of potato salad.” Harold kept that promise in 1946, the year he returned safely from war and married his sweetheart, LaVile Czarnetzki.

Jim and Marguerite Sumpter standing in front of Friendly Farm Restaurant with some of their wait staff circa 1940s.X2012.018.0112.002

Jim and Marguerite Sumpter standing in front of Friendly Farm Restaurant with some of their waitresses circa 1940s. WHC X2012.018.0112.002

Little did Jim and Marguerite Sumpter know when they first opened up a fruit stand in the 1930s the impact they would have. One of their former neighbor girls Myrna Landon McHugo wrote in 1967, “As I grow older with my husband at war and life sometimes very sad…I often think of the summer spent with you at Friendly Farm laughing, smelling the heavenly smells and am comforted by the love of two wonderful people who gave me so much happiness.”

After Jim Sumpter passed away in December of 1969, Marguerite decided to retire and closed the restaurant the following year.

Posted in History Experiences, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published May 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.

Memorial Day observance at Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery circa 1885.  WHC 1995.022.0003

Memorial Day observance at Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery circa 1885. WHC 1995.022.0003

“Cover them over with beautiful flowers,

Deck them with garlands, those brothers of ours,

Lying so silent by night and by day

Sleeping the years of their manhood away.”

-Will Carleton

In 1854, Chemeketa Lodge No. 1 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, in partnership with the Masonic Lodge, purchased a five acre tract of land in rural Salem for a cemetery. Acquired from Reverend David Leslie and his wife Adelia Judson Leslie, the land encompassed the original family burial ground and was laid out on a gently ascending slope set back from the west side of the Territorial Road, a mile and a half from the Salem town center. The earliest grave memorialized is that of Mary Kinney Leslie, the first wife of Reverend Leslie, who died in 1841.

In keeping with the basic tenets of their brotherhood, the I.O.O.F. “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.” In Salem, that mission to bury the dead was realized in the purchase and development of the Odd Fellows Cemetery. Historic records show that all lots in the original 5 acre plat of the cemetery, comprising sixteen grave spaces, were sold by the Lodge at an average price of $20.00 per lot, or $1.25 per grave. The founders excluded no one from their sale of lots. Burial records and newspaper notices document 43 African-American men, women, and children buried in the cemetery. In the northern margin of the cemetery, in a sparsely marked field, Marion County held “paupers plots” for the burial of orphans, indigents, vagrants, and inmates of public institutions. Also within the northern margin was a little square or plat reserved for the Chinese of Salem for temporary burials in accordance with their custom of recovering the bones of the dead to be returned to their homeland after a number of years. Several Japanese-American families occupy burial spaces in five adjoining plots located in the northeast corner of the cemetery.

The cemetery is also the final resting place of 286 veterans of United States military service, the greatest number of them Civil War veterans. Odd Fellows Rural Cemetery became the city’s first focal point for observances of the national day of remembrance that had been proclaimed by General John A. Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in 1868 for fallen Union soldiers of the Civil War. In time, Decoration, or Memorial Day, May 30, came to honor all the nation’s war dead. The Daily Statesman, June 1, 1884, described the procession which formed at the town center before making its way south on Commercial Street.   A detailed account was given of the proceedings, including prayers and addresses by Grand Army of the Republic Post officers and chaplain, musical selections from band and chorus, and scattering of flowers upon a symbolic grave.

“Memorial Day was observed in Salem Friday with the usual parade and splendor. Promptly at the hour of one o’clock, the various societies assembled in their respective halls, and, after due preparation, began to assemble upon the streets. By the hour of two the column was formed on Commercial Street, in front of Marion Square, in the following order:

  • Band,
  • Capital Guards,
  • Fire Department,
  • I.O.O.F. Lodges,
  • A.O.U.W. Lodge (Ancient Order of United Workmen),
  • Knights of Pythias,
  • Sedgwick Post No. 10, G.A.R.,
  • Thirteen girls in Liberty car,
  • Ladies Relief Corps in carriages,
  • State, County, and City officers,
  • Citizens in carriages,

The procession then moved promptly up Commercial Street to the I.O.O.F. Cemetery, where the exercises were held.”

The photograph accompanying this article is dated 1885 and is believed to be one of the earliest dated photos of a Memorial Day observance in Salem. The crowd is facing away from the photographer, with the exception of seven men at the back dressed in Civil War uniforms. The photograph is labeled with the name Ethel Veatch Timmerman. Ethel is the daughter of James Pinckney Veatch and Alcinda E. Lawrence, pioneers of 1863. The Veatch family purchased plot no. 722 of Odd Fellows Cemetery in the year 1880 following the tragic deaths of two daughters; baby Minnie Myrtle on February 23, 1880 and their eldest daughter, sixteen year old Jeannette May on April 11, 1880 following an eight week illness. It would not be far-fetched to assume that the photograph represents the family attendance at the Memorial Day observance in 1885.

In future years Odd Fellows Cemetery would expand to a total of 17.05 acres, city growth boundaries would grow to encompass it, the name would change to Salem Pioneer and ownership would be deeded over to the City of Salem.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published June 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.

Delivery of a “Portland Zoo” sundae at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor formerly located in Candelaria Shopping Center. Photo Credit: Oregon Statesman, November 10, 1965

Delivery of a “Portland Zoo” sundae at Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor formerly located in Candelaria Shopping Center.
Photo Credit: Oregon Statesman, November 10, 1965

“Ladies and gentlemen may I have your attention please. Right here from the frosty fingertips of Farrell’s fantastic fountain is the largest sundae in all the world. Now this sundae has 8 ½ pounds of ice cream, gobs and gobs of whip cream, bananas, nuts, and cherries. Why you name it, it’s got it in it. It’s called our Farrell’s Zoo and it takes two strong men to carry it. “ And off it raced, a giant stainless steel bowl of ice cream cradled in a wooden board balanced on the shoulders of two strong young men. Sirens blaring, bells clanging around and around the restaurant they went until finally it made it to the customer’s table.

Just in case you’re curious, the Farrell’s Zoo, or Portland Zoo as it was originally called, contained a giant scoop each of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, chocolate chip mint, peppermint, and spumone ice cream to make the first layer. Orange, raspberry and lemon sherbet alternated with scoops of vanilla to create the second layer. Poured over the entire bowl were the following toppings: strawberry, chocolate, pineapple, butterscotch and blackberry. Three bananas were cut crosswise and spaced evenly around the bowl. A stripe of whipped cream decorated the edge of the bowl between each banana slice. Then rosettes of whipped cream were sprayed on top of each banana and topped with a plastic toy animal. The crowning touch were the chopped toasted almonds and cherries sprinkled generously over the whole bowl.

Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour was founded in the Portland metro-area in 1963 by Bob Farrell and Ken McCarthy and it didn’t take long for Farrell’s to become a household word synonymous with entertainment, family fun, and birthday parties.  At the height of its popularity, Farrell’s had 130 locations nationwide. Why, Farrell’s had it all, fantastic desserts, oversize portions, and a rowdy but fun party atmosphere that families absolutely loved.

Once the first parlour was established, interest began to be generated within the franchising community. On November 9, 1965, a second parlour and the first franchised location was opened in Salem in the Candelaria Shopping Center at 2605 Commercial St. SE, now occupied by a Party Mart store. The Salem shop was owned and operated by Harold M. “Dutch” Holland and his wife Shirley, residents of Lake Oswego.

The Salem restaurant was smaller than its Portland counterpart and did not have a separate party room, though the upper dining room could be cordoned off for private parties. The restaurant was a split level built into the hillside. The main restaurant dining area was 6-7 steps lower than the upper dining area which had a half wall so that the lower portion of the restaurant was still visible. It boasted red and white canopies over the food preparation and display areas, a coin operated player piano, black and white tiled floor, and the antique back bar where ice cream dishes were prepared dated back to 1865. It had originally been made in Chicago, shipped by wagon to Seattle, and then to the Klondike. The Hollands purchased it from the Pioneer Museum in Demming, Washington.

Plagued by what some would call misfortune or bad luck, the restaurant had a rough opening, enduring picketing by union members upset by the non-union subcontractors employed to build Candelaria Shopping Center and remodel the restaurant space. The picketing continued off and on for approximately a month and was followed by a boycott by AFL-CIO and fellow supportive unions.

According to the city directories, the restaurant was open for approximately 5 years. Then, according to one eye-witness account, it literally disappeared overnight. In an oral history interview with David Birch, millwright at the Willamette Heritage Center, we learned that the night it closed Farrell’s hosted the end-of-year staff party for the teachers from nearby Candelaria School. Around 8 p.m. that night, the owner stepped out from behind the back bar and announced, “Eat the house dry – free ice cream until it’s gone.” David’s mother, a teacher at Candelaria made a quick phonecall that brought neighbor friends and her family down to the restaurant to enjoy the free ice cream treats.

It was very memorable for David because it was the first and only time he would have a Portland Zoo Sundae because the price was right (free) and because the neighbor friend sitting with him bet $100 that he could not finish it all by himself. But he did, nearly 4 gallons worth of ice cream, all in 2 hours, earning himself Farrell’s button that said, “I made a pig of myself at Farrell’s”. By 10:00 p.m. that night the restaurant was out of ice cream and the owner closed up the doors, never to open again. According to David by the next day the restaurant had been stripped of all furnishings, equipment, supplies. The owner had even paid extra to have the Farrell’s sign mounted on the outside removed. Everything loaded up in a truck and hauled back up to Portland, the home and parent company of the famous ice cream parlour.

What precipitated this quick, yet final closing night? Inquiring minds at the Willamette Heritage Center would definitely like to know. Do you have a Farrell’s memory you’d like to share?

Posted in History Experiences, News from the Past | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Sense of Place: Halls Ferry

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published April 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.

Rail station at Hall's Ferry in 1915. It provided a connection between the Oregon Electric Railway and the ferry.  A small incline vehicle on rails took passengers from track level to river level.   WHC 2007.001.0398

Rail station at Hall’s Ferry in 1915. It provided a connection between the Oregon Electric Railway and the ferry. A small incline vehicle on rails took passengers from track level to river level. WHC 2007.001.0398

“We recently bought a piece of property out River Rd. past the island, but before the first railroad overpass,” so their story began. The couple that walked through the Research Library doors began their archival quest like so many others had before them with a piece of property or a family story that they wanted to know more about.   In this case, the couple sought a “sense of place”, a connection to their newly adopted city and state, the land on which they walked and the home in which they lived. They had recently moved from out-of-state, bought an older home with property, and from the number of neighbors and passers-by with stories to share, suspected there might be something more.

One passerby shared a story about a dance hall that had been built on the property and the people that would ride the Oregon Electric Railway out for the dances held on Saturday nights. A neighbor confided that the home the couple had bought used to be a schoolhouse. And yet another had stopped by with the story of yearly rodeos held on the property. Exciting to be sure, but true? “Where do we begin?” they wanted to know.

We started by pinpointing their property on a current map, looking particularly for the township, range, and section coordinates. Using this standardized grid system developed by the U.S. Government’s General Land Office (now Bureau of Land Management) back in the early 1800s would allow us to easily trace the property’s location through time and across a variety of maps including the Marion County Geographic Information System (GIS) database available online through the Marion County Assessor’s Office.

Then we moved to a series of Metsker maps from the 1920s, 1940s, and 1970s available in our library. This allowed us to step our way back through time, physically tracking how the property ownership changed. We also consulted the free online Metsker maps at HistoricMapWorks.com to help fill in the gaps. Unlike many of the map publishers of the time who limited themselves to publishing maps of more developed areas, the Metsker family excelled at recording the history of the then rural and wilderness geographies. This makes them invaluable for tracing land ownership of undeveloped areas and how it changed over time, particularly for our researchers.

We discovered that the property the couple had purchased was in Halls Ferry, approximately 9 miles south of Salem, on the eastern shore of the Willamette River. The area was named for a ferry operated by Benjamin Franklin Hall from 1884-1902 and in its heyday boasted a store, post office, school, cemetery and railway station. The area was primarily agricultural and boasted bumper crops of hops, loganberries, apples and onions. A school location was identified on two of the Metsker maps, without further identifying details such as proper name or specific location on the property which was originally owned by the Riverview Land Company. No clues of a dance hall or rodeo grounds appeared on the maps.

We definitely needed to fill in some informational gaps, starting with the school. A quick glance at the book Early Schools of Marion County provided a few more clues and a rudimentary, unscaled map with school locations in that area. Halls Ferry School seemed the most likely, but the book included no address or identifying years of operation. Next step, a visit to the Oregon State Archives web page to check their historical records inventory for available Marion County school records pertaining to Halls Ferry School. Still not the level of detail that we were looking for in order to tie the home-owner’s property to the school location.

So where to fill in the information gaps? How to better gain a sense of place beyond land descriptions and names on paper? Newspapers, of course. We started with the Historic Oregon Newspaper Project online, searching with the name “Halls Ferry School” and noticed that many of the search results were found in a section of the Capitol Journal newspaper titled “Willamette Happenings.” Within this section of the paper were posted folksy letters written by community correspondents throughout the Willamette Valley. Published once a week in the Saturday edition of the paper, you might find news about your city or community in Marion County. This proved to be a goldmine, especially once we switched to the Library of Congress website, Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers and found successive issues of the Capitol Journal (1888-1980) available to give us weekly news updates of the Halls Ferry community we were interested in.

Here we found the minutiae, what might seem to be trivial details of the people coming and going, roads being built, births and deaths, bumper crops, crime reports, etc. Trivial unless it’s your ancestor, or in this case, property owner. In the February 23, 1917 issue of the Capitol Journal newspaper we found “the people of Halls Ferry…enthusiastically congratulating themselves in having attained a school. It was sorely needed as many children in the immediate vicinity have long been deprived of the necessary schooling which each and every child is rightly entitled to.” Further articles listed special school meetings electing directors, issuing thank-you votes to Mr. Croisan and the Riverview Land Company who donated the land for the school, surveyors, bond measures, and so forth. One of the more interesting details picked up in the March 26, 1917 edition was a description of the land as being “just east of Halls Ferry station, about thirty rods… (with) a fine grove of oak maple and fir timber on the tract.” This perfectly matched both the property owner’s description and our map research.

The rail station at Hall’s Ferry as seen in the picture circa 1915, was a unique design that had not previously been used in Oregon. Halls Ferry station was the connection between the Oregon Electric Railway and the small motor launch that took passengers via the river to Independence, Oregon. A small incline vehicle on rails took passengers from track level to river level.

What about the dance hall? In the March 2, 1917 issue of the Capitol Journal we read that “E.B. Smith and co-proprietors of “Veita Springs” have arranged to make extensive improvements within the next few months, one of which will be a large dancing pavilion, concrete floor 50 x 80 feet, and the building of a number of cottages for those wishing to camp and for week end visitors; also making a fine parking place for automobiles.” Another clue to follow-up on. And the rodeo grounds? That is still a mystery in progress.

It is often a combination of characteristics that make a place special and unique. With a sense of place we feel welcome and connected to our property, our neighbors, the community, particularly as we become familiar with not only its physical features, but the knowledge and folklore related to it. As Kent Rydon so eloquently wrote, “a sense of place results gradually and unconsciously from inhabiting a landscape over time, becoming familiar with its physical properties, accruing history within its confines.”

Posted in Community Memories, History Tidbits, Research Tips | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Carolyn B. Shelton, Oregon’s First Woman Governor (for a weekend)

This article was written for the Statesman Journal and published February 2015. It is reproduced here for reference purposes.

Carolyn B. Shelton

Carolyn B. Shelton – image enlarged from WHC 1998.009.0017

“Oregon Has Today a Woman Governor” the headlines of the Daily Capital Journal (Salem, OR) trumpeted on February 27, 1909 with the subheading of “Mrs. C. B. Shelton First Woman to Govern Any State”. This amazing twist of historical fate was set in motion with the election of then-governor George E. Chamberlain to the U.S. Senate. Freshman senators were slated to be sworn in March 4th in Washington D.C. If Chamberlain stayed through the end of his term on March 1st and then traveled, he’d be sworn in late, meaning that every other member of the freshman senate class would have seniority over him. This would not do. Now ordinarily, this could have been neatly arranged by having his successor Frank W. Benson come in early as “acting governor” but Benson was too sick to do this. So on February 27th when Governor Chamberlain officially resigned and climbed aboard the train headed for the East Coast, he handed over the power of the governor’s office to his private secretary Carolyn B. Shelton. At least for the weekend, she became the first woman governor of the state of Oregon, ironically three years before women officially won the right to vote in the state.

Something important to note. At the time Mrs. Shelton became “acting governor” the state law read that in the event of the chief executive’s death the Secretary of State should become governor. It was the custom that in the absence of the governor, whether illness, travel out of state, and so forth, his private secretary should become acting head of state.

The twist of fate in this story hinged upon the fact that prior to Governor Chamberlain’s administration, private secretaries had been male.

Guiss Family with Carolyn Shelton WHC 1998-009-0017

Guiss Family with Carolyn Shelton WHC 1998.009.0017

I stumbled across this fascinating story while looking through a set of Guiss family photographs in the collection of the Willamette Heritage Center. The photographs were labeled with Guiss family names except for one, the name Carolyn Shelton. Who, I wondered, was Carolyn Shelton? I traced the Guiss family from a drug store in Woodburn to Patton Brothers Store in Salem. Leah Guiss, daughter of the drug store Guiss’ married Edwin Cooke Patton and it is because of this union that we find a connection to Carolyn. According to the 1905 Marion County census, Mrs. Shelton boarded with the Patton family. The timing of this is concurrent with her service to Governor Chamberlain in Salem.

Further digging into the U.S. Federal Census records and city directories provided a neat framework for Carolyn Shelton’s life but it was not until I accessed the Historic Oregon Newspapers Project and Historical Oregonian databases that the full story came to light. The newspapers allowed a peek into her childhood in Union County, Oregon, her work history, and eventually her unique role in the history of Oregon. Sadly with the exception of a rather grainy picture in the Oregonian dated February 13, 1909, the two photographs from the Willamette Heritage Center are the only ones I’ve been able to discover. So who was Carolyn B. Shelton, Oregon’s first woman governor?

Carolyn B. Skiff was born in the month of October, 1876 to Willis S. & Mary C. Skiff of Union County, Oregon. Her father made history himself in Union County when he mysteriously disappeared on the night of July 24, 1886 while waiting for a midnight train to take him home. Because of Skiff’s prominence in the community, the Pinkerton detective agency was called in and huge sums were spent in tracing down every clue, but to no avail. Carolyn’s mother died two years later leaving her orphaned children, Nolan, Carolyn, and Mabel, in the care of their older brother Orrin and his wife Elizabeth. This was not a happy situation and a year later local attorney J. W. Shelton was appointed guardian for the trio.

On October 27, 1892 at the age of 16, Carolyn married John W. Shelton across the border in Weiser, Idaho. Both the bride and groom were from Union, Oregon. The couple moved to Portland shortly after. Tragically, two years later and just a month before her 18th birthday Carolyn would find herself a widow. After John’s death she obtained a job as a stenographer at the law firm of Starr, Thomas and Chamberlain. This was her first introduction to George E. Chamberlain, an up and coming attorney, politician and future governor of Oregon.

She began her business career working in his law office as a stenographer where it quickly became apparent that she had a natural aptitude for the more technical terms of the law. This ability led to the opportunity to draw up many of the legal papers prepared in the office, work usually entrusted to a young lawyer. When Mr. Chamberlain was elected District of Attorney for Multnomah County and later Governor of Oregon she went with him as his private secretary and assisted at innumerable state and social affairs in Salem including the 1903 visit of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

A newspaper article from the time period described her as a “tall, slender woman, with dark eyes and hair, a woman with a charming manner, and behind it all a subtle personality.” She faithfully served under oath of office as Governor Chamberlain’s private secretary until that fateful day in Oregon history that she found herself “acting governor” for the weekend. Then Mrs. Carolyn B. Shelton packed her own bags for Washington D.C. to continue her work as Chamberlain’s private secretary in addition to clerking for the senate committees that he served on. This working partnership continued for 30 years until the death Chamberlain’s wife in 1925.

In February of 1926, George Chamberlain suffered a paralytic stroke which left him an invalid and on July 12th of the same year he married his longtime secretary Carolyn B. Shelton in Norfolk, Virginia. It came as no surprise to his friends or family. Sadly, their marriage only lasted for 2 years before he passed away from causes incident to the stroke he had suffered. After his death, Carolyn returned to her childhood home in Union, Oregon to live. She made frequent visits to friends in Portland and Salem, including the Guiss and Patton families. On February 3, 1936, Mrs. Carolyn Shelton Chamberlain passed away after a sudden illness, while in Salem. After a memorial service at Rigdon’s Chapel, her body was sent back east to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with her husband George Chamberlain and his first wife. A fitting end for a woman who dedicated her life to public service both in her home state of Oregon and later to her country.

Posted in Heritage News, History Tidbits, People | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment