FRI, APRIL 18, 2014
City Hall
City Hall
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Historic Landmarks Board: History

Birth of a City: 1850-1900

1850s mapThe Native tribes of the Atfalati (Tualatin) band of the Kalapuya lived in the Forest Grove area prior to it being settled by European immigrants in the 1840s.

The first Euro Americans to settle on native lands were Alvin and Abigail Smith, the Clarks, and the Littlejohns. They built a log cabin in September 1841. They had come from Illinois with the desire to establish a mission among the Native Americans. In 1844, Harvey Clark arrived in the area and joined with Alvin Smith in starting the Congregational Church. In 1845, Thomas Naylor claimed 562 acres near present-day downtown Forest Grove. In 1846, Harvey Clark claimed his property, which was directly east of Naylor’s.

In 1848, the Tualatin Academy obtained a charter from the territorial legislature. This later evolved into Pacific University. Harvey Clark and Orus Brown acquired a portion of Solomon Emerick’s Land claim and Clark donated a portion of it to the new school. In 1849, the Academy was established with land donated by Harvey Clark (20 acres) and Elkanah Walker (12-1/2 acres). The town site was laid out around the school. Clark deeded 200 acres to Tualatin Academy, which was later sold to raise money for the school. Pacific University was added to the charter in 1853; both schools operated until 1915 when Tualatin Academy stopped offering preparatory classes due to competition with public high schools. Most early Oregon towns grew up around water transportation, and later, the railroad. Forest Grove grew because of a strong church and the existence of the Tualatin Academy, which later evolved into Pacific University.

In 1848, Tabitha Brown began a school in the log cabin belonging to Harvey Clark.Old College Hall Her dream was to educate Native American children and orphans from the Oregon Trail. In 1850, a two-story building now known as Old College Hall was constructed for the Academy. It still stands today on the Pacific University campus and is the oldest structure on the Pacific Coast used continuously for educational purposes.

In 1850 the Donation Land Act was passed. On January 10, 1851 the trustees of Tualatin Academy adopted the name Forest Grove for the community and the General Land Office map of Forest Grove was drawn in 1852. Soon after, many immigrants made their land claims within the Forest Grove and Washington County area. Settlers who lived in or near Forest Grove in the mid-19th Century were typically white farmers from the Midwest. The US Census from 1850 states that 77% of the 56 people in Forest Grove were farmers.

By 1860, 430 people lived in Forest Grove. Farming was still the most predominant occupation, with an increasing number of merchants and teachers to serve those attending the school. During the 1860s some donation land claim owners built or bought small houses in town so that their children could attend the school. For example, Norman Martin built the house at 106 22nd Avenue. He owned a Donation Land Claim to the south of Forest Grove and the Martin children were enrolled in the Tualatin Academy. Sam Hughes built his home at 2111 Hawthorne Street in 1867 and was the city’s first blacksmith. He later established a hardware and farm implement store on Pacific Avenue near Ash Street. He went on to become Justice of the Peace, Mayor and Senator from Washington County. His wife helped organize the first public school.

Old Stage Coach Stop c1895One of the biggest difficulties for farmers in early Forest Grove was the lack of an inexpensive efficient transportation network to transport their goods to Portland for sale. “Grain would often remain in barns for several years after harvest as there was no way to market it.” In 1869 Joseph Kellogg began running a steamship, The Onward, on the Tualatin River from Emerick’s Landing east of Forest Grove to Colfax near Oswego, sixty miles away. The 100-ton ship carried both passengers and freight. The Oregon Central Railroad established a stop one mile south of Forest Grove in Carnation in 1869. Industrial development sprang up around this stop. Daily stagecoach service also started in 1870.

By 1870, 396 people lived in Forest Grove and the community population was starting to diversify with only 33% of those employed working as farmers. The rest were merchants and craftsmen or professionals working at the school. Forest Grove was incorporated in 1872. The land south of the central town was platted into blocks 400-feet by 400-feet containing four lots each. The 200-foot by 200-foot lots were sold by the Congregational Church and Pacific University. Walker’s Addition, which was just north of the original town plat, was added in 1872.

The first Fire Department was organized in 1872, and Frank Myers and W.A. Wheeler established the first newspaper, The Independent in 1874. The Masons organized in 1878.

Indian School, shoesIn 1880 the US Army located a regional Indian School at Forest Grove. Known as the “Indian Manual Labor Training School,” it was a military-style boarding school. Students learned shoemaking, carpentry, blacksmithing and the English language for the purpose of being mainstreamed into “white” society. The school was located in Naylor’s Grove, northwest of the town center. Forest Grove residents complained until the school was relocated to Salem in 1884, where it was renamed the Chemawa Training School.

In 1891 a new city charter was established. This charter changed the form of government from the village elder system originally established by the University and Congregational Church to an elected Mayor and Council form of government. In 1892 electric power was established in Forest Grove. According to a local, Lawrence Pratt: “Street lights at the middle of intersections were carbon arc lights. They were lowered from an overhead frame by a man turning the crank at the side of the road. He would change the carbons and throw away the old ones. Children would gather to pick up the old ones, and use them to draw with.” In 1895 a city election was held to raise $30,000 in order to build locally-owned city water and power systems.

Delivery wagons

Between 1880 and 1900 census records show a wide range of occupations among those employed and living in Forest Grove. These included physicians, attorneys, bookkeepers, bankers, merchants as well as contractors and laborers.

In 1893 a City Ordinance was passed requiring all buildings in the downtown business core to be constructed of brick, to reduce the risk of fire. In 1894 the first phones were installed. Marsh Hall was constructed in 1895 at the original site of Old College Hall. Marsh Hall currently is situated on the campus at the meeting point of the three original Donation Land Claims, which were granted, by the Clark, Walker and Stokes families. By 1900 Forest Grove had a population of 1300, plus forty businesses, four churches and four fraternal organizations.

Civic Growth: 1900-1950

The Carnation Milk Factory was established in 1902 south of Forest Grove in the small community of Carnation, and in 1903 the newspaper, the Forest Grove Weekly Times was established. In 1905 Branford’s Addition was added to the original city plat north of the center of town.

Streetcar pre-1911In 1906 E.W. Haines started a streetcar line to carry passengers down South Elm Street to the rail stop in Carnation. This streetcar line used to run through the Southside survey area, until 1911. Beginning in 1908 Oregon Electric ran from Portland to the Forest Grove Depot at 19th and Ash Street. In 1912 the Southern Pacific Railway Co. also ran a line out of Forest Grove from a station at Main and 19th. This line ran south to McMinnville and east to Portland. Businessmen like Carmel Morris Good continued to settle in the Southside Survey area. Both Carmel M. Good and his father W. J. Good were prominent landowners in Washington County. Good lived at 2303 15th Avenue in the South Park Addition, and was the deacon of the First Christian Church and treasurer of the Chamber of Commerce.

In 1909 the Rogers Library opened and in 1910 the first road paving was completed. In 1912 Andrew Carnegie granted funds for a new library to be constructed in Forest Grove. This library was designed by Whidden and Lewis. In 1914 the name of Tualatin Academy was officially changed to Pacific University.

In the period between 1905 and 1913 there were fourteen additions to the original city plat and a concomitant amount of residential development. Bailey’s Addition and Smith Addition (1906), as well as Knob Hill Addition (1909) were the additions added to the original city plat during this time period in the Southside survey area

Post fire across Church SquareIn 1910 the Congregational Church building burned. To fund the new building the church sold the land that had been used as the town common, bordered by Main Street, College Way and Pacific Avenue. This common public area originally reflected the design of a traditional New England town. The east side of Main was filled in with commercial structures and a unique public space was forever lost to the community.

By 1915 fifty blocks with sidewalks had been paved, to accommodate the increased use of the automobile. By 1930 paved roads connected Forest Grove with McMinnville, Portland and the coast. The S&P rail stopped service in 1929 and Oregon Electric discontinued its service in 1933.

Between 1915 and 1940 the population in Forest Grove remained steady at around 2000. After the boom following the Lewis and Clark Exposition and the resulting good economic climate there was a depression, which began with the stock market crash of 1929. The Stimson Lumber Co. operated eighteen miles of logging railroad into the Coast Range out of Forest Grove from 1932 until 1952. The damage resulting from the Tillamook Burn (1933) and subsequent fires, along with the impacts of the Great Depression hurt the local economy and slowed development.

The Depression lasted through the thirties, but due to efforts by Franklin D. Roosevelt many federal programs were put in place during this period to offset the economic hardships felt by many. In the thirties Washington County benefited from federal relief from State Emergency Relief Administration (SERA) programs. Farmers cooperating with the agricultural administrations production control programs didn’t suffer due to failure of their crops. Housing constructed in the thirties through the fifties was modest and unadorned, reflecting the public’s reduced disposable income. People were also able to purchase homes on credit with only very little down. Bungalow style could still be ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog, beginning as early as 1909, for the reasonable price of $999. During the 1940s and 50s this trend of modest homes continued, however with smaller, simpler minimal tract homes available for purchase.

By the late 1940s the population in Forest Grove had increased to 4,500. The population growth was primarily a result of an increased migrant population, which moved to the area to work in the fields, since many agricultural workers had left to fight in World War II or work in the shipyards in Portland. A government trailer park was created in Rogers Grove (now Rogers Park) in 1943. It had 25 small house trailers that housed 50 people. Bailey’s Addition (1946) was added to the original city plat during this time period. Fred Watrous, who lived in the South Park Addition at 2238 16th Avenue, was a typical Forest Grove businessman who built the Forest Building on the 1900 block of Pacific Avenue in 1940 and the Forest Theater in 1946. This theater is still operating in downtown Forest Grove. By 1947 the number of building permits issued was three times the number in 1938 to accommodate the greater demand for housing in the area. A majority of residences constructed in Forest Grove in the fifties were of small modest frame construction.

To see the historic buildings of Forest Grove, please click here.

To learn more about Forest Grove's history, please visit the Forest Grove Library.

Several of the neighborhood contexts on this website provide a thorough history of Forest Grove, the most complete being the Naylor-Walker context. Click here to download (6mb Adobe Acrobat file).