Both of E. E. Wilson's parents were Oregon pioneers. Rozella Jane Russell was born in Missouri on January 19, 1850. The Russell family left Missouri and arrived in Oregon in 1851 and took a donation land claim in Benton County located four miles northeast of the future site of Corvallis. Lewis Fenton Wilson was born in Illinois in 1836 and moved to Missouri when three years old. In his teens his family traveled by wagon with Captain Meeker on the Oregon Trail where Lewis' father died after crossing the Rocky Mountains in Idaho. The Wilson family arrived in Oregon in 1852 and Lewis' mother took a donation land claim near Bellfountain (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Feb. 14, 1927, E. E. Wilson Papers, OSU Archives).
Rose Russell attended Corvallis College (later Oregon State University) and Lewis went to college in McMinnville for a year. They married in December 1868, and their only child, Eddy Elbridge Wilson, was born in October 1869. The family moved to Prineville in 1877 where Lewis worked in the mercantile business, returning to Benton County in 1879 (Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 23, 1938, E. E. Wilson Papers, OSU Archives). Both parents then remained in Corvallis for the rest of their lives.
Lewis Wilson was the first brick maker in Benton County and supplied materials for local buildings, such as Philomath College, the original Oregon Agricultural College administration building (now Benton Hall), and for the Benton County Courthouse. For 26 years the family lived in a home which was located immediately north of the present site of OSU's Waldo Hall, moving to a Monroe Street location around 1910. Lewis was a member of the Masonic Lodge for 48 years, and had been active in the Corvallis Fire Department (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Feb. 14, 1927, E. E. Wilson Papers, OSU Archives). Rose was credited with being a leader in the preservation of pioneer history through her affiliation with Masonic organizations. She was founder of the local St. Mary's chapter of the Eastern Star and served in various official capacities throughout her life, including service as Grand Matron. She began a women's literary group when in Prineville, and was active in the establishment of a city library in Corvallis. In 1883 she organized and served as the first president of the Corvallis Firemen's Coffee Club, forerunner to the Corvallis Women's Club. She was also a charter member and second president of the College Folk Club (Corvallis Gazette-Times, April 23, 1938, E. E. Wilson Papers, OSU Archives).
Eddy Elbridge Wilson was born October 23, 1869, when Corvallis had only been incorporated for 12 years. Unlike his pioneer parents, E. E. Wilson never strayed far from Corvallis, where he lived most of his life and where he died in 1961 at the age of 92. Wilson began his college career at Corvallis College when it was located in downtown Corvallis. Before he graduated, the college had been renamed State Agricultural College of the State of Oregon and moved out of downtown to the present location of Benton Hall on the OSU campus. At this land grant institution, he was one of the first students to receive an education that combined science with classical subject matter. In 1889 at age 20, he completed a bachelor of science from the college, one of 14 people in the graduating class (1889 Commencement Program, OSU Archives).
After graduation, Wilson "fiddled around" for two years. He hoped to become a doctor, but could not finance the education. A job working for a year at the Benton County Courthouse led him to a career in law. He continued his education in 1891 at University of Oregon Law School, then located in Portland, receiving his degree in 1893. That same year Wilson set up a law practice in Corvallis. From the beginning of Wilson's career he was involved in local government. He twice served as Corvallis City Attorney, from 1910-1915, and 1917-1919, and a short term in 1913 as Benton County District Attorney. In his first term as city attorney, he drew up the city's first assessment procedures as Corvallis began approving paved streets and sewer installation.
In 1925 Wilson became president and then board member of the First National Bank of Corvallis. He worked with the bank until 1940 when it was sold to U. S. National Bank of Portland. Starting in 1940 he worked as the manager of Benton County Abstract Company, a firm he set up in 1918 with two other partners, until it was sold to Title and Trust & Company in 1946 (Corvallis Gazette-Times, October 23, 1959, E. E. Wilson Papers, OSU Archives). As an attorney who specialized in land acquisition and disposition, Wilson participated in many investment opportunities which led to the development of the local community. He was also involved with local, state and regional politics. Many letters addressed to Wilson indicate that he recommended people for elected and appointed positions within the Democratic Party and participating in poll watching activities. Included in his memorabilia is an invitation to lunch with the President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson in Portland in 1919, as well as an invitation to the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C. in 1961 (Personal/Family Records, E. E. Wilson Papers, OSU Archives).
Throughout his life he maintained close connections to the community, especially with his alma mater. Wilson twice served on the college's Board of Regents from 1906-1915 and 1924-1929; he served as the Board's Secretary from 1907-1915 and 1924-1929. He served on the college Memorial Union Board of Governors from 1925-1961. He was a charter member of the Corvallis Country Club, as well as a member of five Masonic organizations, including a short affiliation with the Native Sons of Oregon as a local organizer in 1900. He also served on the Corvallis Planning Commission from 1931-1941, the Corvallis Water Commission from 1932-1940, and was a member of the Corvallis Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he was active in the Izaak Walton League, the Corvallis Men's Garden Club, and the University Club in Portland.
Wilson is best known for his work on the State Game Commission from 1935-1949. He served when the Commission's activities expanded in response to growing numbers of hunters and fishers coupled with decreasing numbers of game. He worked to promote science in policy formation, and the inclusion of professional scientists on the staff during this expansion. He acted as a liaison between Oregon State College and the Commission, encouraging collaboration between Commission staff and OSC faculty on individual research projects, as well as encouraging joint support for the Oregon Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit.
Expansion of services rendered by the Game Commission was affected by worldwide events: the Great Depression at the beginning of Wilson's service, and World War II at the end of his membership. These events led to restrictions on funds for building materials, gasoline, tires and personnel for fieldwork. At the same time, growing numbers of hunters and fishers called for increased availability of game. Wilson attempted to reconcile the Game Commission's mandate with scientific evidence, public demands, and political initiatives.
Wilson never married and had no children, but his work has been memorialized in three different manners. Before he died, Wilson set up an undergraduate scholarship at Oregon State University for Benton County residents; in 1954 the State Game Commission dedicated the E. E. Wilson Game Management Farm north of Corvallis to commemorate Wilson's work with wildlife issues; and Wilson Hall on the OSU campus was named after him in 1961. Excerpts from the plaque on Wilson Hall read, "Pioneer in Scientific Wildlife Management," "Respected and Noble," and "Gentleman of the Old School," (E. E. Wilson Memorabilia Collection, OSU Archives). E. E. Wilson and his parents are buried at Crystal Lake Cemetery, Corvallis, Oregon.
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