Photo: Dana Merryday - Souvenir Centennial items

COTTAGE GROVE — Friday, Feb. 11, is Cottage Grove’s official incorporation date. This anniversary marks when locals decided it was time to evolve from a laissez faire settlement into having a by-the-books form of local government. 

There was no local newspaper in 1887 and some of the official city records were lost in the flood of 1926, so there is scant knowledge of how locals actually felt about this move toward modernization. No doubt some of the early settlers’ families probably viewed it as an unnecessary bother, but that’s just a guess.

If you go through the files looking for the “Centennial Celebration” you will find three separate ones occurred. In 1955, there was a raucous 10-day event that was held to celebrate 100 years of the “settlement” of Cottage Grove. Everything from a pet parade, motorcycle races, rodeo, archery contest, baseball games, along with many other activities were part of a 10-day celebration wrapped around the Fourth of July. 

Independence Day has long been marked in Cottage Grove with parades and other celebratory events. Locals pulled out all stops to celebrate this milestone of a century of some semblance of a town here on the Coast Fork.

Four years later, Cottage Grove fired up the party machine again, this time celebrating the Centennial of Oregon Statehood. Some of the introspection connected to this anniversary gave rise to an interest in recording of the early local history before it disappeared along with the folks and families who had lived it. Between these two celebrations Bohemia Mining Days was also born.

Research eventually turned up the official incorporation date of the City — Feb. 11, 1887 — and the subsequent recording of the City Charter with the Secretary of State of Oregon. This gave cause to have yet another go at celebrating 100 years. The Centennial Celebration of incorporation in 1987 was planned out over two years; instead of just a summer celebration, this blowout was designed to be spread over an eight-month period.

One special part of the celebration was the creation and building of Centennial Bridge, which was covered in my Jan. 12 and Jan. 19 columns in The Chronicle. This is the rest of the story of how the town chose to mark its Centennial for the second time.

City councilor Betty Horvath was tapped by mayor Bill Whiteman in 1983 to start researching and planning for a celebration of a century of city government. At the time, the exact incorporation date was unknown, though believed to be around 1891. On learning that 1887 was the year, Horvath knew she had to get in gear. Horvath noted that the celebration was designed, “To bring people together, and it’s the kind of event that builds pride.”

While Horvath was in charge overall, she recruited over 40 people who were divided into subcommittees, each with a chairman responsible for each month of the festivities. The committees reflected all aspects of the community: students, housewives, teachers, retailers and professionals. 

Some of the best-laid plans had to be pushed forward. For example, the planting of centennial trees along the median had to seek approval of city council, the hayride tours of the Northwest Neighborhood happened later, and the Centennial Bridge wasn’t ready for the kick-off event; all of those eventually happened during the celebration year.

So hold onto your hats, folks, and see how much celebration Cottage Grove managed to fit into its centennial year. 

On Feb. 11, 1987 at a gazebo no longer standing by City Hall, the Cottage Grove High School Band kicked off the official Centennial Celebration at noon. 

Some other highlights included color guards synchronizing their work of flags; Kevin Stephens singing “The National Anthem”; welcoming words from mayor Jim Gilroy; County Commissioner chairman Bill Rogers guest speaker; dedicating the site of the Centennial Bridge; and the now-discouraged releasing of helium balloons. Later that night at the high school auditorium, Grovers were treated to a performance by The United States Air Force Band of the Northwest.  

Three days later, on Valentine’s Day, part two of the opening celebrations continued. In the council chambers attendees listened to music by Glenn Wagner, Terry Gatchell, and the Western Oregon Opry, as well as hearing the official Centennial City Proclamation, some history lessons by Dr. Edwin Bigham of the University of Oregon, and Marguariete Overholser. The guests were then offered tours of City Hall by the Bohemia Princesses, where in addition to seeing displays of old photos and archives, they got to check out the inner workings of their government. Quilters, spinners, and weavers demonstrated their arts, and on display was a 38-star U.S. flag (the number of states in 1887) sewn by Pat Zeller. The CG Centennial Emblem designed by Calvin “Cal” Davis was unveiled and everyone was treated to cake and refreshments. Later that evening couples converged on the Elks Lodge for the “Centennial Ball.”

March’s Centennial activities started off with “Families in Fashion for 100 years” put on by The Cottage Grove Historical Society at Bohemia Elementary School. Models wore real or recreated examples of clothing typical for each decade of the Centennial, and presented social commentary of what life was like at the times. The program for the show was filled with happenings in both Cottage Grove and the larger world around that, no doubt had a big impact on the small town, like WWI. The show ended with modern 1987 fashions from “Fletcher’s for Children.” A big Centennial Card party happened at the Elks and featured a single-deck pinochle and bridge.

School activities month for the Centennial took place in March and different grade levels appeared on KNND and displayed 3D visual arts in downtown shop windows. An open square dance took place for district students at Bohemia School.

Moving on to April to find children’s fun games in the local paper, an antique auction, and six-day run of a community theater musical “Rags to Riches.” This play was chosen by director Sandi Pattison, who felt it really went along with the Centennial theme. Set at the turn of the century it is the story of “Ragged Dick,” a poor street boy who makes good. 

May brought back an old-style fundraiser throwback from pioneer days in the Box Social held at the Methodist Church. Picnic suppers in brightly decorated boxes were auctioned off by Jack Kupsick to help defray expenses of the Centennial celebrations. Quilters were plying their needles and the Western Oregon Opry Cloggers provided entertainment. Some laughs were probably had during the Adult Spelling Bee also held at the event.

June rolled in with warmer, dryer weather which was made for outdoor activities and the theme for June was families. The Old Timer’s Picnic was held in Coiner Park on June 6 and besides everyone bringing their baskets (no food was sold), organizer Kamy Walter said “It’s a family reunion for everyone in Cottage Grove.” The McKenzie “As” antique automobile club brought their old cars to remind folks of days gone by.

Also in June was the dedication of the Centennial Bridge and burying of the time capsule. On the 26th, a joyous opening of an intensive labor of love was presented to citizens by Ross Kinkade and crew. 

The time capsule in Cottage Grove is set to be opened in 2087. Any guesses what may be inside?

Around two dozen items were included in the time capsule, which was built out of steel water pipes courtesy of the public works employees. A sampling of items: a current newspaper, a Cottage Grove High School and Lincoln Middle School yearbook, a letter with stamp and postmark of the anniversary date Centennial Souvenir items, and a cassette tape of popular music.

July’s main event was Bohemia Mining Days, which went out of its way to celebrate the Centennial in as many ways as it could. The annual cookie contest theme was “Spice up your life with turn-of-the-century cookies.” Entrants had to contain at least one of these old-fashioned ingredients: oatmeal, raisins, molasses, or spices (nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, or cloves). There were artifact displays in downtown business windows and a watermelon feed, a special three-part Bohemia Nugget published by The Sentinel – Heritage, People, and Glimpses of the Past. The nuggets were loaded with stories of the past, photos, and a Centennial quiz. This was in addition to the usual BMD hijinx. It is interesting to note that the festival was held at the old Chambers Mill site at the time. 

In late July, Gov. Jim Goldschmidt visited Cottage Grove and took a stroll with mayor Gilroy over the Centennial Bridge and checked out the North Regional Park along with various road repairs on Highway 99.

August was enlivened by a number of events held downtown and sponsored by the Downtown Restoration Association. There was a showing of Morelock films and displays at the Odd Fellows Hall and other storytellers were spread out through downtown, telling tales of the past.

Finally the Centennial celebration wound down in September with a music festival held in Coiner park. Local bands and talent – which is never in short supply in the Grove – were featured in this capping off of eight months of looking back while looking forwards.  

It was interesting to read what was editorialized about and imagined the next 100 years would bring to our fair city. One author postulated the Grove to be over 50,000 inhabitants and had been visited by a massive flood; another wondered if timber would still be king. Others, such as Mayor Gilroy, wondered how Cottage Grovers 100 years hence would think of the then-present citizens (1987) and of their efforts to live a good life.  

While many of us won’t be here to see the Bicentennial of Cottage Grove or see how the time capsule fared, there is a shorter-term milestone in 2037. 

The Sesquicentennial is wrapped around the Vision 2037 Plan for Cottage Grove that was prepared by an extensive public-input process in 2008. This is a community-generated road map of how the citizens want the city to travel as it approaches its 150th birthday and ensure it will still be a place they want to live and have opportunity for their children and grandchildren. It is reviewed annually by the Vision Keepers, a volunteer board appointed by the city council. I plan on sticking around for that date and hope that the visions sought by past generations will still ring true. 

Email: [email protected]