Merryday

One of my great regrets is not spending more time asking my grandparents about our ancestors and also not writing down the names and family stories that I did hear before they were gone. 

Perhaps a similar longing motivated a group of grandchildren of original Cottage Grove settlers to work toward gathering and preserving our local history before it too was lost. In 1958, these scions met and organized the “Pioneer Historical Society,” donating memorabilia from their families that became the foundation of today’s Cottage Grove Museum.

The next year, 1959, was a big year for history, and besides these pioneer descendants, all of Oregon was caught up in celebrating the Centennial of its statehood. From the Oregon Centennial Exposition in Portland to nearly every corner of the state, communities looked for ways to mark this milestone.

Ray Nelson was the local chairman of the Centennial committee and organized the Prospectors and Golddiggers Club to help put on a proper town-wide birthday party for Oregon Statehood. The event helped sow the seeds that eventually grew into Bohemia Mining Days.

The grandchildren of the pioneers were part of the local Centennial Celebration and put their collected artifacts on display in a storefront across from the then-City Hall at 29 S. 6th Street, where “Imagine it Framed” is today. Rather than a “one off” showing, the group incorporated in 1959 with Dove McGee Trask serving as its first president. The group continued to meet, do research, and look for a permanent home for its collection.  

In 1961, the Catholic Parish, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, moved out of its 1897 octagonal building to its current church. The young historical society worked hard to purchase the old building for its permanent home. With only limited funds, raised through donations, the group managed to buy the old church at “H” and Birch and move their collection in. Finding a home in what is legally known as McFarland’s Addition and on land originally donated by David McFarland must have felt satisfying to the group, as many of its early members were descendants of that family.

While it would be interesting to follow the story of the development of the museum and what became of the Cottage Grove Historical Society, the main purpose of this column is to clarify and help explain the roles and areas of expertise of the separate nonprofits that are dedicated to preserving strands of Cottage Grove’s rich historical past. Who each is and what they do, can be a bit confusing.

Known collectively as “Cottage Grove Partners in History,” these six independent groups often share information and collaborate. As early as the 1980s there were attempts at getting all the interested parties in local history to the same table. This became a reality about eight years ago, largely through the efforts of Joe Brazie and Dian Missar. 

One of their joint projects is to get the old local newspapers online on the UO database (so far up to 1926). Another collaborative effort is preparing history exhibits displayed at the Cottage Grove Library. The library is also included as an ex-officio member of the Partners in History and has a number of records, collections, and microfilm available to the public.

Although the Partners meet together officially only once a year, most of the groups are cross-pollinated by sharing members serving on each other's board of directors or as volunteers in staffing their facilities. Freely sharing information and personnel helps keep the groups united in collecting and documenting the area’s history, but there are significant differences in the philosophies and focus areas which make each organization unique.

All of the Partners in History have been an invaluable asset to this reporter in preparing the local history-based columns that appear in The Chronicle.

Probably the two historical partners that suffer the most from mistaken identity are the Cottage Grove Historical Society and the Cottage Grove Museum (officially known as the Cottage Grove Museum Perpetuation Corporation). They do share a common beginning as the Pioneer Historical Society and both have the 501(c)3 nonprofit status. They also share a PO Box address, but are located across the river from each other physically and have separate governing boards and different foci.

Lloyd Williams from the CG Historical Society explains, “There was a division in thinking at the Museum that Marcia Allen (past CG Historical Society president and history powerhouse) explained was over-preserving ephemera vs. hard objects. The museum primarily collected artifacts and the Historical Society focused on collecting stories and records.” The fear of losing all of those paper records in case of a fire in the old wooden church probably weighed on the decision “not to put all of the eggs in one basket.”

While the CG Museum continues on in its old location, the CG Historical Society has relocated. For some time the Historical Society shared the Veley house across the street from the Museum with the Cottage Grove Genealogical Society. Now both of those organizations have moved. The Cottage Grove Museum cares for its historic building as well as its collection. Longtime historian Becky Venice states, “Even though the Museum’s main focus is artifacts, we also have a resource library and thousands of pictures and newspaper articles.” Besides the main building, there is the “Museum Annex,” a low building right next door that contains many of the larger items of the collection, such as a buggy, pioneer kitchen and blacksmith shop. The most popular and famous of the museum’s holdings is the Marion Wright Woolcott coat and other artifacts from the Titanic survivor who was on her way to Cottage Grove when her ship went down. The coat kept her warm in the lifeboat and has only recently returned from a national tour of several Titanic exhibits. The museum moved their photos, records, and office space into the Veley House, which serves as its administration center.

A visit to the museum during its Saturday or Sunday 1-4 p.m. hours could include a walk around the historic Northwest Neighborhood which contains many beautiful examples of vintage homes.

The Cottage Grove Historical Society has relocated its offices, archives and library to the big red “Boots and Sandals Squaredance Barn'' (across from Bohemia Park). The Marcia E. Allen Historical Research Library is a trove of directories, photos, clippings, scrapbooks, and files containing records of local events, buildings, organizations, and businesses. Historical Society volunteers will gladly assist members of the public doing research using their archives. Currently the CG Historical Society is only open by appointment and the best way to schedule one is to email: [email protected]

Its website also has a number of online links and publications available that provide another way to access the Society’s resources during the Covid restrictions. Monthly public presentations from the Historical Society have been curtailed by the pandemic but are planned to return. Joining as an individual, family or business member subscribes members to the newsletter in addition to supporting local history preservation. 

Sharing space in the Red Barn is the Bohemia Gold Mining Museum. It moved from its tight quarters on Main Street, where Christy’s Barber Shop is now, to the more expansive former dance floor. The museum space is filled with old mining tools, maps, photos, ore samples, and many artifacts from the Bohemia Mines. Colorful murals, sculptures and recreated mining life scenes make fascinating backgrounds for visitors to put themselves into the picture. Books on local mining history, minerals, and other souvenir items are available for purchase at the museum.  

The Museum, which was established in 2003, is dedicated to Guy Leabo, a longtime area miner who along with Ray Nelson had a passion to preserve the colorful history of the Bohemia Mining District. If you haven’t had the chance, drop in during the public hours (Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays, 1-4 p.m.) and hear some real miners spin out their yarns. Private tours are also available outside of these regular hours.

The Cottage Grove Genealogical Society (open Wednesday-Friday, 1-4 p.m.) is another of the history partners who is settling into new digs. Founded in 1975, the soon-to-be 47-year-old organization moved into a new location within the Community Center on Gibbs following its renovation. Current president Debra Monsive had this to say on what the society has to offer, “We are a repository for local family histories and genealogies. Since 1975 we have collected tens of thousands of obituaries of those who have lived in South Lane County. Our library’s 7,000-plus holdings aren’t just local, we have collections that include all 50 states and every world region. Our volunteers can help you research your family history and if you have done a DNA test for genealogy, we can help you get the most out of your cousin matching.”

Besides those resources, local newspapers, census records, donation land claim information, old city directories, marriage and cemetery records, manuscript files by some early families such as Currin and Hazeltons, and rows of books are available to the public. Probably the most valuable assistance the Genealogical Society offers is its dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers who can guide seekers in tracing their family lines using the Society’s resources.

For some fun bragging rights the CG Genealogy Society is offering an Early Settler Certificate. All it takes to qualify is an ancestor who arrived in the Grove before Dec. 31, 1900. If you aren’t sure, CG Genealogy can help you run down the records to prove it either way. A beautiful frameable sheepskin comes with a seal and your relative’s name.

Besides the public hours the Genealogy Library is open, arrangements can be made to meet outside those times if need be (contact info: cggenealogy.org). There are monthly public meetings at the Community Center in the Shepherd Room on the second Wednesdays of the month (business 10-11 a.m., public meeting starts at 11 a.m., all are welcome at both). The next one is Feb. 9, and will feature cake, to honor the founding members as the group celebrates its anniversary. 

For informative fun, there will also be sharing of interesting and even racy items gleaned from local census records from back in the day. Find out where the branches your family tree point to. Individual and family memberships are available, which entitles members to free queries and the biannual newsletter, “Trees of the Grove.”

Out at the Cottage Grove Airport, appropriately enough, is the Oregon Aviation Historical Society. This history partner doesn’t limit itself just to Cottage Grove but rather the rich history of home-built aircraft and Oregon pioneer fliers such as Tex Rankin and Dorothy Hester. Their hangar is filled to overflowing with historic aircraft so the Society has embarked on a fundraising campaign to build a new 10,000-square-foot facility to have room to display their many aircraft and restoration projects.  

The Hedberg Aviation Library and archives are a rich resource for flight enthusiasts as are the volunteers who have many hours of flying and restoration experience. Currently, the Museum is operating on limited hours as it seeks a new general manager. Tuesday and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. or by appointment. Fly back in time at OAHS!

The newest kid on the block, as far as Partners in History goes, is Singing Creek Educational Center. Joining the more staid history groups, Singing Creek specifically targets young folks. Focusing primarily on small groups, school presentations, summer camps, and living history-style events, Singing Creek has taken up residence in the historic 1886 Dr. Snapp House.

Founder Karen Rainsong started developing her hands-on history programs at the Alvord Farm and museum in 2007. Besides the many small events they offer, Singing Creek offers an online “History Homeschool” program for families teaching their own children. Singing Creek is scheduled to be at the “Green Living Fair” April 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at the Cottage Grove Armory. Check out its website to see all the opportunities Singing Creek offers.

Cottage Grove has a lot of fascinating history and dedicated groups working to uncover and preserve the story of our town and the people who made it the special place that it is. Hopefully this history lesson can help you understand the Partners in History and how they are different from each other while working toward the same goal. Pop quiz tomorrow!

Editor’s note: Dana Merryday is a board member of the Cottage Grove Museum.