Friday, May 21, 2021

Corvallis Museum: Grain Auger


This is the first of a series of posts providing additional information about some of the items on display in the Benton County Historical Society's Corvallis Museum. The item featured here-- a grain auger-- is from the Benton County exhibit.

Chambers Mill Grain Auger
from Kings Valley, Benton County, Oregon

19th Century Grain Auger
on Display at the Corvallis Museum

The story begins in 1844 when a flood in Carroll county, Missouri destroyed the farm of Nahum and Serepta King. They decided to emigrate to Oregon along with 11 of their children.  The group included daughter Sarah, her husband, Rowland Chambers, and their two children (ages 1 and 3).  When the wagon train reached Fort Boise, the group decided to follow Stephen Meek on his promised short-cut across central Oregon.  Sara Chambers died on September 3, 1845 in the Malheur Mountains. Her sisters helped care for the young children with one, Lovisa, marrying Rowland Chambers after the party reached Oregon.

After spending the winter along Gales Creek (west of Forest Grove), they located what they viewed as prime unclaimed land in a valley along the Luckiamute River.  The area was well-drained but near water, with nearby forest that could provide wood, and open grasslands they could clear for farms.  The different families drew lots for which areas they would claim.  Rowland Chambers promised to build a gristmill for the community if he could be the first to pick a site.  He chose land along the river where a four-foot rock outcrop created a waterfall.   

In 1852, using money he had made growing and selling onions to miners on their way to California, Rowland Chambers and millwright A. H. Reynolds, began construction of the water-powered gristmill.  They used principles of a fully automated grist mill design introduced by Oliver Evans in the 1790s.  The grain auger, one of Evans' innovations, moved the grain through a wooden trough using paddles arranged in a spiral around an octagonal shaft and working like a screw.  Unfortunately, we don't know exactly who hand carved all the parts of this grain auger.

Chambers Gristmill and Mill Dam
on the Luckiamute River, Benton County, OR

The mill used stone burrs imported from France by way of ship around Cape Horn to Portland and then by ox cart to Kings Valley. The stones, which were used to grind the wheat, had hand-carved grooves which had to be re-chiseled and sharpened on a regular basis.  Today, those grind stones are on display in Avery Park, in Corvallis, Oregon.

Martha Henderson Gross at the Old Mill Stone Monument,
Avery Park, Corvallis, OR, circa 1939

According to Reynold's account books, the mill cost Chambers at least $7500 to build. It began operating in early 1854 and continued to be used throughout the 1910s and possibly into the 1920s. Over the years, modern machinery was installed and the mill shifted from grinding wheat into flour for human use to grinding grain for animal feed. The building burned in 1936.

Rowland and Lovisa Chambers raised the two children he had with Sarah and 14 of their own. Rowland died in Kings Valley in 1870; Lovisa died in 1889.  A. H. Reynolds moved around Oregon and Washington building mills until the 1860s when he embarked on a career in banking. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon



Thursday, May 13, 2021

Corvallis Street Railway

 Did you know that at one time Corvallis had a streetcar?  In 1890, local investors formed the Corvallis Street Railway, with financing provided by the Job Bank.  The company hired J. E. McCoy of Salem to install iron rails along the route which originally ran along Second Street from the post office north to Monroe Avenue, west on Monroe to Seventh Street, north on Seventh to Harrison, west to Ninth Street and north to Polk (the entry into the new Job's Addition). The photograph below shows the rails running down the middle of Second Street.

Second Street South from Monroe Ave.,
Corvallis, Oregon, circa 1895

May 1890 marked the arrival of the J. H. Hammond street cars.  The cars were 10 feet long, could seat 16, and had “Corvallis Street Railway” painted on gold on the side. They were originally pulled by horses.  They ran hourly from 7 am. to 8 pm.  The fare was five cents.  

Horse-drawn Streetcar

At first, the company was a success, having carried 1260 passengers by mid-July, taking in about $125 per month and reportedly earning 16% over expenses. They extended the tracks south and west to reach the train depots.

Unfortunately for the company, the United States entered an economic depression in 1893.  Revenues declined to $10 per month in 1895 and the company was unable to pay what was due on the construction loan.  Eventually it was acquired by Mr. Schmidt, the operator of the Occidental hotel on Second Street. He received permission to tear up the old street car tracks except the part of the line between the hotel and the train depots.  He repaired and painted the cars and ran them as a free service to transport his customers from the depot to the hotel. 

Occidental Hotel and Hotel Bus, Corvallis, Oregon

The equipment gradually deteriorated and by 1900, the rest of the rails were torn up and sold to a company building a logging road. As the newspaper noted, “Thus ends the dilapidated reminder of boom times, the Corvallis, Street Railway.”

Although street car service was available for only a short time, local residents found other ways of getting around. You can see photos and read stories about how they did at the Benton County Historical Society's Philomath Museum's new exhibition, “Walk, Ride and Roll.” 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon 


Thursday, May 6, 2021

Featured Objects: Oil Lamps

As I sat down to write this, darkness was falling so I switched on an electric light--an act so common, most of us don't even give it much thought. For centuries, however, people could have light at night by burning something.

One of the hallway display cases at the Benton County Historical Society's Corvallis Museum contains a variety of early lamps that burned oils.  The first, a small ceramic object with a turquoise glaze, dates from the second or third century B. C.  and was featured in the post of June6, 2019. 

Ancient oil lamp acquired near Nippur Iraq

The bronze triangular object dates from 1000 to 500 B. C.  Donor Louis Raymond (subject of two May 2017 posts) found both of these oil lamps in Iraq.  Oil from nuts, seeds, or animal fat was placed in the body, a wick inserted and lit. A small circular handle on the end allowed people to carry the lamps. Some oil lamps, such as the turquoise one and the round tan pottery one, have a spout which held the oil-saturated wick in place with just enough protruding for a flame.

Whale oil became a popular source of fuel by the 16th century as it burned well with less odor than other animal fats. The tall pewter whale oil lamp has a stand and a tray underneath.  Whale oil was expensive so it was important to catch any drippings.

Kerosene replace whale oil as fuel in the second half of the 19th century.  It was cheaper, burned brighter, and lasted longer. Not only were a wide variety of kerosene lamps designed for home use but a specialty lamps were made for the work place. The lamp shaped like a watering can was used by miners who hooked the lamp in a convenient place to illuminate their work in the dark mine.

The kerosene police lantern made by the Dietz Company in the late 1800s could be hooked onto a belt and had shutters which could be closed to hide the flame.  It was functioned like an early flashlight.

By the late 1930s, about two-thirds of American households had electricity and electric lamps had replaced kerosene lamps in all but poor and rural areas. 

By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon