Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Rise and Fall of an Oregon Fowl

Amateurs carving, ca. 1940
'Tis the season of the turkey. For several decades, Oregon was a noted producer of turkeys for the table, and a notable place for the developing of meatier birds. At one point 30% of the West Coast's turkeys were grown in Oregon, and they were prized for their high quality. Large turkey farms and specialty turkey breeders were found in Yamhill County near Dayton and McMinnville (McMinnville began its Turkey Rama in 1938), in the Hood River Valley, and in Douglas County, where the first Northwest Turkey Show opened in Oakland in 1929.

World War II, when beef was rationed, raised the consumption of turkey, and roast turkey was a popular restaurant menu item through the 1950s. This 1947 Turkey Handbook from the National Turkey Federation helped promote the institutional use of turkeys. It included recipes to make good use of all parts of the bird; a 24-pound turkey could yield 20 cooked portions of 6 ounces each.

Restaurant menus from the mid-20th century rarely indicated the sources of their ingredients. The few exceptions were foods such as oysters, which varied in taste and texture according to their growing locale and their type. While local pride only occasionally elicited a descriptive phrase, a roast Oregon tom turkey was often to be found on West Coast restaurant menus of the 1930s through the 1950s. For example, Schapp's Restaurant in Portland's theater district boasted "Roast Oregon turkey with cranberry sauce" on its carte of July 3, 1940; otherwise, only the Louisiana shrimp was called out for its geographic origin (well, and the Columbia River salmon and Olympia oysters). This Multnomah Falls Lodge menu from the early 1950s features "Oregon tom turkey with dressing and cranberry sauce" as well as an "Oregon turkey sandwich."

But turkeys have changed in the past few decades. Turkey raising in Oregon has nearly disappeared. Turkey meat has become something of a protein filler, appearing as turkey pastrami, in turkey chili, as sliced bits in salads and sausages, but the grand Oregon tom roast turkey has disappeared from the family dining table and the restaurant menu -- except at Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Postcard, ca. 1935
"RAISING TURKEYS IN SCENIC OREGON. Thanksgiving comes every day in the year in this land of big turkey flocks. These fan tailed birds spread out over a vast acreage, sometimes reaching out as far as the eye can see. This region, with its scenic splendors, is a land of superlatives."

Friday, November 19, 2010

Seaside: The Trails End City

Seaside brochure, ca. 1922
“Cool in Summer. Warm in Winter.” This brochure, issued about 1922, has a distinct California aura about it, with the faintly Cal-Mediterranean hostelry (the Moore Hotel looked somewhat similar to this) and the snow-capped mountain peaks. Orange, purple, green; parasols, bathing caps, blanket-covered knees. It’s a charming picture. It’s just not Seaside, Oregon.
Trails End City? Seaside was then in the throes of proclaiming itself the end of the trail of Lewis and Clark (because they boiled that seawater there to get salt, and they stayed a few nights), and also the end of the “famous Old Oregon Trail,” “reaching from Omaha to where is now Seaside. This migration continued for a period of eleven years, and won the Oregon Territory for the United States.” Boosting for business purposes has trumped history every time.
Seaside in 1922 had assets beyond faux history: it had “The cool, white inviting surf, the broad expanse of smooth clean beach, imposing Tillamook Head ..., the turbulent mountain streams and the broad expanse of a mighty river.” The Necanicum River might be viewed as a sort of mild-mannered mountain stream, but that broad and mighty river must be the Columbia, fifteen miles to the north. Seaside offered golf and tennis, surf bathing, aeroplaning, boating, swimming, hiking, fishing, dancing, “plain loafing,” clam digging, and crabbing.
Seaside, SP&S Ry. station, 1910
Today, Seaside is a jangling, jarring mishmash of highrise schlock motels, an outlet mall, a convention center, and a cold featureless beach littered with cigarette butts. You can still find some neat beach cottages in the pine trees on a few side streets and along The Prom, the beach walk built in the 1920s. Today there is still salt water taffy for sale, and bumper cars to ride, and a charming riverside golf course that floods every winter (but who’s golfing then, anyway?).
“In the evenings the beach is lighted by innumerable bonfires, built from the salty driftwood, about which are gathered jolly parties, toasting marshmallows and dancing to impromptu music.” 

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Plush Davenport

Restaurant and hotel, ca. 1925
When you were young, did you sit on a sofa in your family's living room, or did you call it a davenport, or a couch? Maybe the sofa was in a den, or a family room, or a conversation pit, where people sort of sprawled and talked? Surely you didn't have a davenport in the parlor; not even my grandmother had a parlor! But she had a room to sprawl and talk, and it had a (horrible! stiff! scratchy! bumpy!) leather-covered, horse-hair stuffed sofa. It was not a davenport. Davenports were comfortable.
My own childhood house had what we called a davenport, or more often "the daveno." The daveno could be unfolded into a double bed when the cousins visited. It was upholstered, and soft, and comfortable. (The Urban Dictionary, www.urbandictionary.com, notes that the term daveno was "widely used in the 50's and 60's, particularly in the Pacific Northwest." This matches my own experience.) 
The Davenport lobby, ca. 1915
In the Pacific Northwest, the most elegant and comfortable Davenport was the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington. I recently returned from the Pacific Northwest History Conference in Spokane, which was held at the Davenport, a hostelry that opened in 1914, closed in 1985, and was re-opened in 2002. It is a magnificent example of how renovating and revivifying a historic building can make a major contribution to the revival of an entire community, for the Davenport is once again a focal point of downtown Spokane's social and commercial life. And it came mighty, mighty close to utter demolition.

The Davenport restaurant, ca. 1910
Louis Davenport (ca. 1869-1951) began operating a restaurant in Spokane in 1889, and it soon grew into a place of exotic decor and cosmopolitan dining pleasures. Davenport's restaurant  building in the early 1900s was an eclectic structure, sort of California Moorish Venetian, if you can envision such an amalgam. In 1914, Davenport added the management of a large hotel to his enterprises, which then comprised a city block; the architect of the hotel was Spokane's noted Kirtland Cutter (he had also designed the restaurant; he was an exceedingly versatile designer).

Menu, Christmas 1909
I recently acquired a menu from Davenport's Restaurant, a special menu for Christmas of 1909: 101 years ago. The cover is a hand water color wash of poinsettia flowers, while the printed interior details the musical selections by Mr. Al. Thurston's orchestra, as well as the menu. Dinner begins, of course, with oysters: Toke Points raw on the half shell, in an oyster cocktail, or roasted (from Willapa Bay's north shore, probably raised from East Coast transplant seed), and the small, native Olympias, to be had raw, stewed, pan roasted, or fried (wild, from Puget Sound).

Aside from oysters, whose relatively local origin is duly noted, many of the delicacies on this menu are pointedly brought in from points far, far away. Game is prominent, but it is all noted as imported: from whence, we know not. However, under "Roast," we can see that the opossum is from Florida! Aren't railroads wonderful! Winter  holidays are perhaps not the best time to evaluate the extent and nature of local foodstuffs on a Spokane menu; those tomatoes, sweet sugar corn, and French peas were probably not available in any form other than canned, even to the redoubtable Louis Davenport. Christmas is a special time.

The 63rd annual Pacific Northwest History Conference was titled "Game Changers & History Makers: Women in Pacific Northwest History," inspired by the 2010 centennial of woman suffrage in Washington state. It was a celebratory event, and the Davenport was a distinctive place to hold it.

Menu, Christmas 1909

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Creek Did Rise

It doesn’t look terribly dramatic. But it was a traumatic event. On May 12, 1917, a mixed* train of the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company tumbled from a bridge over flooded Willow Creek near Ione in Morrow County. Engineer Ulysses Hanson (or Hansen) and J. Wyman (or Haybelt -- accounts differ) , a maintenance foreman, were trapped in the wreckage and drowned. The Portland Oregonian reported on May 14 that “Hundreds of people from all over the county came to view the wreck yesterday.” A storm had raised water levels in creeks throughout the area, and the nearby Anderson farm was hit by a 30-foot wall of water that carried away an automobile, wrecked a windmill, and swept off construction materials for the building of a new bungalow. No doubt this raised recollections of the great Willow Creek flood of June 24, 1903, which demolished Heppner and took at least 247 human lives.

In 1917, the O-WR&N, part of the Union Pacific railroad system, ran a mixed train daily from Heppner through Lexington, Ione, and Cecil to Heppner Junction, a distance of 45 miles. The 9:00AM train from Heppner reached the junction at 11:10AM, just in time to meet a local train from Pendleton for Portland. Going back, it left the junction at 1:55PM, after meeting the Portland local, and reached Heppner, God willing and the creek don’t rise, at 4:45PM.

This post celebrates the Multnomah County Library's online, OCR-enabled access to the back files of the Portland Oregonian: hallelujah! The postcard noted on the back that the wreck had occurred near Horse Shoe Bend on May 19; the newspaper files corrected the date and added the story line. The postcard and the timetable are from my own collection.

* A “mixed” train, in railroad parlance, is one that includes both freight cars and passenger cars. These trains ran at freight-train speed (rather slowly), and were once common on minor branch lines where the traffic did not warrant separate trains for passenger travel.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Oregon Historical Society Rediviva?

The Oregon Historical Society has a substantial, but temporary, new revenue source, thanks to the recent vote of Multnomah County voters. I voted for the levy, but I did so with many misgivings.
First: for the past decade, the Society has strenuously avoided telling its membership, and the state legislature, and the general public, just what it proposes to do with itself. Now, in extremis, it still has no vision, no plan, no articulated ambitions, no stated sense of its duties or obligations. If the Society doesn’t soon form some plans, and articulate some goals, it stands little chance of getting an extension on this extraordinary levy. This is a one-time opportunity.
Second: the Society has spent the past decade squandering its resources. It has made a number of dubious financial decisions. It has carelessly dismissed its intellectual capital, the expert staff that was its claim to respect. It has kept both its membership and the public at large in the dark as to its precarious position. It has overtly thwarted efforts to bring light to that situation, or to engage its membership in any discussion of its future. This closed and aloof behavior does not bode well for the Society’s continuance.
Third: despite the provisions of an oversight committee for the county levy, the management of the Society remains in the hands of a large, self-selected, often uninterested, and exceedingly unwieldy board, and of a caretaker director. While the board and the director deserve credit for devising and promoting this innovative levy, they must now prove that it was worth their efforts. Will the Society that evolves in the next five years be an organization that deserves continued support? Will the Society use this short-term levy as a platform from which to rebuild a tattered reputation?
When I consider how many times I have been disappointed by the Society’s actions, I wonder that I voted for this levy. So many good people have been thrown out the door, so many valuable programs -- folklife, oral history, the press, the public historian office, the Century Farm & Ranch program, outreach to local historical agencies, collection digitization, library partnerships with PSU -- have vanished in the past decade. Do you suppose that the Society will now ask the voters of Multnomah County to work with them to rebuild a useful and scintillating Oregon Historical Society? They should. They should ask their membership as well. They should also ask the state’s historians and archivists and librarians and genealogists and history buffs and historic preservationists and museum goers and educators and tribal leaders and urban planners and cultural tourism directors, and the professors of history and literature and art and museum studies and architecture and anthropology and sociology, and ...  
Will they do that?

Cornelius C. Beekman (1828-1915) was a small-town banker, express agent, stationer, and philanthropist. He lived in Jacksonville from about 1855 until his death. He was a reluctant Republican candidate for governor of Oregon in 1878; though he refused to campaign, he lost the election by a mere 47 votes. Beekman served for several years on the board of the Oregon Historical Society, and willed his private bank building and its contents to the Society. For many years, the Society awarded a Beekman Prize for the best article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly.  Benjamin B. Beekman, son of Cornelius, endowed a chair in history at the University of Oregon in his father's memory. Papers relating to Cornelius C. Beekman and his family, his business, and his charitable activities are in the collections of both the Oregon Historical Society research library, and the University of Oregon Libraries.