[Back to Formatted Version]

Oregon Prune Association Letterbook, 1890-1894

By Rachel Lilley

Collection Overview

Title: Oregon Prune Association Letterbook, 1890-1894

ID: MSS Prune

Primary Creator: Oregon Prune Association

Extent: 0.1 cubic feet. More info below.

Arrangement: This collection is comprised of a single, bound item.

Date Acquired: 00/00/2014

Languages of Materials: English [eng]


The Oregon Prune Association Letterbook consists of a book of bound, copied letters sent by Willis Brown and George Brown relating to the financial management and promotion of the association, financial records which document the prices of canned good and the number of units ordered, and meeting minutes which document the organization of the association.

Scope and Content Notes

The majority of the materials in the book are correspondence, the preponderance of which were sent under the signature of Willis Brown, elected General Manager of the Oregon Prune Association (OPA). An alphabetical index listing letter recipients can be found at the beginning of the volume.

Much of the correspondence was sent to banks to secure funds for future prune orchard planting; to local and “eastern interests” regarding investing in the Association through the purchase of stocks; to stockholders regarding the appointment of agents to help boost membership; and to canning companies regarding the canning and/or drying and evaporating of prunes (e.g. the Salem Canning Company, and the Dallas Canning Company). Brown frequently corresponded with prospective investors as far afield as Cleveland, Ohio and Sioux City, Iowa, and makes frequent references to the “hearty endorsement” of prunes by Dr. J.R. Cardwell, former President of the Oregon State Horticultural Society. A handful of letters in the book were sent by George Brown, who worked in Portland as an attorney and was an elected member of the OPA Examining Board.

Also included are four pages of minutes that discuss the election of the Board of Directors and Examining Board, and several pages of financial records, which include canned goods price lists, freight costs, and the types of fruits shipped and to whom.

Of special note is an exchange between Willis and C. H. Holden of Eugene, who Willis accuses of multiple, unpaid Association-related debts and threatens with arrest (page 245, 254). Additionally, Willis several times references a publication entitled “A Revelation,” which he wrote and published about the growing of prunes in Oregon, and which laid out estimates of income per acre in a prune orchard, and the expected crop increase per year. Unfortunately, no evidence of this publication remains extant.

Biographical / Historical Notes

In his book The First Fruits of the Land: A Brief History of Early Horticulture in Oregon, Dr. J.R. Cardwell, former President of the Oregon State Horticultural Society, states that a German varietal of prune native to the Rhine region was first brought west by Mr. Henderson Luelling. The Italian prune, however was ultimately chosen as the best fit for Oregon, as it was a “good shipper” and, when dried, yielded a large fruit that was as tasty eaten “out of hand” as cooked. Additionally, Italian prunes trees are hardy, require little pruning, and bear fruit regularly. Seth Lewelling, Henderson’s borther, was one of the first farmers in Oregon to plant Italian prunes; in 1858, he planted five acres near Milwaukee.

The first recorded meetings of the Oregon Prune Association (OPA) were held in offices in the McKay Brother’s block in Portland, Oregon, on March 8, 1893. In their first meeting, a Board of Directors members was elected, comprised of F.W. Miller (President), S.C. Beach (First Vice President), P. Chappell-Browne (Second Vice President), William Irle (Secretary), J. P. Marshall (Treasurer), A. L. Frazier (Attorney), and Willis Brown (General Manager).  A three-member Examining Board, consisting of Milton Butterfield, E. T. Smith, George H. Brown, was also elected. None of the Board members drew a salary, and the majority of invested funds were used to purchase land for the cultivation of prune trees; the only money to pay expenses (e.g. publications and advertising) was ten cents on each share of stocks. In a letter to J.C. Whipple of Cheyenne, Wyoming, Willis Brown described the OPA as a “mutual organization for the purpose of investing these accumulating monthly savings in prune orchards,” and returning money to investors through the sale of the finished product. In this way, the OPA functioned similarly to fruit growers’ associations, in that it allowed individuals to pool resources and afford larger-scale ventures and land purchases than they otherwise could.

By mid-March 1893, the OPA had accepted a proposition to purchase one thousand acres from the Oregon Land Company, land that the Oregon Land Company agreed to plant with prune trees and manage. The total acreage would be paid for at $150/acre, in hundred-acre parcels, over the course of five years. Ultimately, purchase of the first parcel, near Scotts Mills, fell through due to a prior claim made on the land by a Society of Friends colony. Instead the first one hundred acre parcel would be near Battle Creek, five miles south of Salem, near Silverton. The collection documents the Association’s continued acquisition of land through 1894; much of the land purchased and planted was near Salem.

Author: Rachel Lilley

Administrative Information

More Extent Information: 1 oversize box

Statement on Access: Collection is open for research.

Acquisition Note: This collection was purchased in 2014.

Related Materials: SCARC holdings contain many collections related to the cultivation of prune trees in Oregon, including the Melvin Westwood Papers (MSS Westwood), which document Dr. Westwood's research on tree fruits, primarily pears, apples, prunes, and peaches; the Agriculture and Resource Economics Department Photographs (P 245) which include images of prune crops, mostly taken by extension agents; the Botany and Plant Pathology Department (RG 054) records which document research done on pests and diseases affecting prunes; and the President’s Office Records of William Jasper Kerr, which include subject files from the 1930s that discuss the prune industry and how to market prunes, and the Oregon Prune Control Board.

Preferred Citation: Oregon Prune Association Letterbook (MSS Prune), Oregon State University Special Collections and Archives Research Center, Corvallis, Oregon.


Oregon Prune Association

People, Places, and Topics

Cooperative marketing of farm produce--Oregon.
Eugene (Or.)
Land use--Planning.
Natural Resources
Oregon Prune Association
Portland (Or.)
Prune industry--Oregon
Salem (Or.)

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.