The ‘Bohrnstedt Boom’

One of the train excursions groups that A.C. Bornherdst brought to Creswell poses in front of the railroad station in the early 1900.

“… Some of the big things that gave our decision to Creswell were the social, religious and educational advantages. It lays (sp) within 12 miles of Eugene, the seat of the State University, and its people were progressive, were cordial and had erected good neat houses for worship. 

It has been said many times that there are probably more educated and refined people in Creswell – just the kind you want for neighbors – than there are in the ordinary towns of 2,500 people. We believe this to be true.”

– Capital Journal, Nov. 8, 1911

The community of Creswell, Ore., was first settled in 1872, and named after the U.S. Postmaster General at that time, John Creswell. At the turn of the century, it was a sleepy little farming community with rolling hills and soil that welcomed the planting of fruit trees and it was located right on the main line of the Oregon and California Railroad (later to become Southern Pacific).

In the early 1900s, it drew the attention of investors who began purchasing individual farms that they combined into huge blocks of land that were planted to orchards – mainly, apple, pear and prune trees, but walnuts were also popular. 

These orchards were then divided into 5-, 10-, and 20-acre plots and resold to speculators in other parts of the country who wanted to profit from the love-affair that had grown all over the country for the award-winning fruit from the Pacific Northwest.

The largest investor in the Creswell area was a “progressive, young,” energetic businessman from Galesville, Wis., and Minneapolis, Minn., named Albert Charles T. Friedrich Bohrnstedt. “A.C.,” as he preferred to be called, was born on July 19, 1877, in Trempealeau, Wis., to Johan (John), a prominent banker, and Mary J. Forhmader Bohrnstedt. He was only 31 years of age, married to Elizabeth Trestrial Bohrnstedt and the father of young Mary Alberta, when he first stepped off the train in Creswell with a group of other investors from the Midwest.

A.C. had been trained in banking from a young age before joining the O.W. Kerr Company Investment Bankers of Minneapolis, Minn., in 1907, as secretary/treasurer. It appears that as a member of the O.W. Kerr Company, he had been instrumental in personally selecting wheat farms for investment purposes in Southern Alberta, Canada, after three years of studying the scientific work principles that he later applied to the orchard industry in the Pacific Northwest.

According to the 1909 Minneapolis City Directory, he had, by then, officially formed the A.C. Bohrnstedt Co., of which he served as president, with several other investors. They had obviously already developed an investment plan and when, in 1908, he had made his first trip to the Pacific Northwest to find the perfect properties to buy and operate and/or convert to commercial orchards, they were ready to “hit the ground running.”

Upon arriving in the small community of Creswell in February 1908, it didn’t take his company long to buy enough farms in the area to amass over 1,000 acres of farmland, many of which already had mature orchards growing on them.

In a daily series of journal-like advertisements put out by The A.C. Bohrnstedt Company through the months of November and December 1911 called “What We Do” and “Why We Did It,” the history of the company up to that time was recorded on the pages of both the Salem Statesman Journal, and the Capital Journal newspapers. A.C. proved, over time, to be a prolific writer and my research leads me to believe that he wrote each of these chapters himself, many times in the “third person.” Several of the chapters are about Creswell – why he chose to establish his first orchards there, his business plans using scientific methods that he calls “Scientific Orchard Work” and how he instituted them, and compared Creswell successes at the time to the plans that he had in 1911 for the newer and bigger Waldo Hills Orchard project near Salem, Ore.

A.C. describes the reasons his investment company selected Oregon – and specifically, Creswell.

“What We Do, Chapter 5 – Scientific Orchard Work – Why We Came to Oregon; Capital Journal, Nov. 7, 1911

“The President of our company had been studying the Fruit industry for several years and had been studying conditions in the different fruit sections of the United States. The more he investigated, the more he became convinced that it was not only a profitable business, but that it was also a business which would give the individual purchaser more pleasure, more of the best society, and more of worthwhile advantages than any other form of real estate he could handle. … Oregon first appealed to us from the fact that it was a big state … we decided on the Willamette valley because of the beauty of it, because of the fertility of the soil, because of the fine climate, because an abundance of fruit could be raised without irrigation, because of its nearness to sea coast, its people, its churches, its schools. There are many other reasons and we are not disappointed in any of them. As to Creswell, one of the most favored spots in the Willamette valley, and why we first located there, will be left for our next chapter.”

What We Do. Chapter 6 – Scientific Orchard Work – Creswell; Capital Journal, Nov. 8, 1911

“We could easily use a couple of Chapters in telling you how we happened to know about Creswell, and they would be somewhat amusing, too, but probably about as interesting to a businessman as to sit and listen to a three-quarter hour sermon which easily could have and ought to have been boiled down and delivered in fifteen minutes.

“Suffice it to say, our president usually tells our agents to ‘get there and get there first.’ He got to Creswell and ‘got there first.’

“Mr. Bohrnstedt landed in Creswell on St. Valentine’s Day 1908. The next morning, he was out in the country before 7 o’clock investigating the farms and orchards which were available. The only up-to-date and large orchards were the apple and prune orchards of Dr. L.D. Scarbrough and the cherry, peach, apple and prune orchards of Mr. T.A. Schaefer.

These orchards were in perfect condition and Creswell and Lane County owed a good deal to these men and especially Dr. L.D. Scarbrough for the pioneer orchard work which he did.

He was the laughing stock of the town – just a little visionary – ‘A few trees stuck in the ground don’t make it worth more.’ (I’ve heard that same statement in Salem), but some of those who laughed are now borrowing money from the doctor. He estimated that his 120-acre prune orchard would net him not less than $25,000 this year; $600 an acre would not buy it. This may seem out of place in our story, but it was one of the big reasons why we located in Creswell. … The land appeared to be of most excellent quality, and all laying (sp) close to the village, so hauling and transportation charges would be light. The scenery was magnificent. Creswell is in one of the prettiest little valleys in the State. … Some of the big things that gave our decision to Creswell were the social, religious and educational advantages. It lays (sp) within 12 miles of Eugene, the seat of the State University, and its people were progressive, were cordial and had erected good neat houses for worship. It has been said many times that there are probably more educated and refined people in Creswell – just the kind you want for neighbors – than there are in the ordinary towns of 2,500 people. We believe this to be true. There are no saloons in Creswell nor Lane County.”

When A.C. visited Creswell that first time in February 1908, the little community was home to about 500 residents. In June 1909, a community election was held and it became incorporated as the town of Creswell, Ore., and George L. Gilfrey was elected its first mayor.

In the book, “The Blue Valley: A History of Creswell,” published by the Creswell Area Historical Society in 1993: “He then ordered 40,000 fruit trees to be planted that winter and made room for 77,000 more trees in his nursery.”

The A.C. Bohrnstedt Company immediately began advertising shares in the existing orchards his company had contracted for, while, at the same time, hiring crews to do the cultivating, planting, spraying and harvesting of the crops under his “scientific work” program so that the fruit could be safely shipped out to the markets in the Midwest and the Eastern United States.

In an advertisement, he stated: “We have some of the finest fruit land in the Willamette Valley and the planting and care of the orchards is under the personal supervision of Hon. W.K. Newell, president of the (Oregon) State Board of Horticulture. This fact guarantees to you not only an orchard, but a paying orchard.”

It is believed that Newell was probably one of the investors of the company or at least on its payroll to oversee the care and maintenance of the Creswell orchards as his name was mentioned often in the advertising.

History books refer to these first years for Creswell as the “Bohrnstedt Boom.” A.C. Bohrnstedt quickly proved to all that he was a dynamo when it came to promotion. In reading over his life story through newspaper articles and his own promotional materials, it is obvious that his goal was to promote and diversify as much as possible in unique and successful ways.

In order to attract interested shareholders and to entice them to purchase 5-, 10- or 20-acre plots in the orchards, he began running advertisements in newspapers across the country, scheduling train excursions to bring potential buyers and investors to Creswell to see the beautiful orchards and the surrounding area in person. These excursions not only sold shares in his newly formed subsidiary, the A.C. Bohrnstedt Orchard Company, but also resulted in many homesites being bought in the beautiful valley. Many of these homesites were built among the orchards on the small acreage parcels that were purchased as investments, and the population of Creswell grew even more. By the end of 1909, it was estimated that it had grown by 35%, or a total of about 675 residents – and A.C. Bohrnstedt predicted that the population would reach 1,200 by 1915.

Before the end of 1909, Bohrnstedt had also established the Creswell Fruit Growers’ Bank. Its officers included A.C. Bohrnstedt, president; L.D. Scarbrough, vice-president; and L.E. Ziniker, cashier. In an article printed in Eugene’s Morning Register on July 15, 1910, the success of the bank was described:

“The bank has been more than a success from its first day of existence. As it grew, requests from local people for stock became numerous and Mr. Bohrnstedt, on his visit here last week, consented to sell $2,000 of the stock held by him to Creswell people. In doing this, the control passed to local people, but no change of officers or directors is contemplated or expected.

“Mr. Bohrnstedt says that the people of Creswell have so generously assisted his company at all times that they are entitled to what they want. At the same time, he realizes that he is disposing of a fine investment when he parts with his holdings in the bank. The following are the officers and directors of the bank: C.H. Sedgwick, president; D. Scarbrogh (sp), vice president; A.C. Bohrnstedt, George L. Gilfry, and George Pirie, directors.”

The article went on to tell about the success of the excursion parties that his company brought to Creswell:

“… The A.C. Bohrnstedt company have had an exceedingly gratifying year thus far. Two excursion parties have been brought here by the company and the sales made have been very substantial. Parties coming from the East are highly pleased with this part of the valley; and especially with the company’s holdings, which are receiving excellent care and are in fine condition. Another excursion is due here July 20.”

A.C. seemed to have an unending number of ideas to grow his assets that would also benefit the community and the result was that both prospered. In 1910, A.C. offered to donate land for a new school for Creswell. The bond was voted down to finance the building, but the school board approved the construction of a new school and the issuing of warrants needed to pay for it. Apparently, Bohrnstedt had put in a proviso on the donation that the street on which it would be built would be open by May 1. According to a newspaper article first published in the Creswell Chronicle, and again, on April 15, 1910, in the Eugene Guard, “Failure to open the street by that date does not return the site to Mr. Bohrnstedt, as it is optional with him whether the time of opening the street is extended 30 or 60 days.

“The board was authorized by a majority vote to accept the site and erect a suitable building thereon.” The schoolchildren of Creswell moved into their new building by the end of 1910.

Sitting next to the April 15, 1910, Eugene Guard story about the proposed new school, was another article telling about the fruit cannery being proposed by the Creswell Development League. It stated that the manager of the A.C. Bohrnstedt Orchard Company had assured them that he felt sure that his company would devote from 2-5 acres of its land to berry culture if the cannery was started.

Next week: Creswell orchards flourish.



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