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Virgil Avery Oral History Interview, August 12, 1975

Oregon State University
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JUDY CARLSON: What is your relationship to J.C. Avery?

VIRGIL AVERY: I'm his grandson.

JC: Do you remember Mr. Avery?

VA: No, I never saw him. He died at an early age (1876) he was 69 I think. My father, Punderson, was his son.

JC: How many are in your family now?

VA: They're all gone 'cept me. It's now down to the great-grandchildren. I was 00:01:00born here in Corvallis in 1890.

JC: By the way, I was visiting with Bessie Gragg Murphy and she said to say hello.

VA: Is she still alive? Almost everybody I knew is dead.


JC: Why don't you tell me the family history that you remember?

VA: My grandfather came here in 1850 [incorrect I believe - J.C.] and he homesteaded here at Corvallis. He established the town, and laid out the town - 00:03:00six blocks long and four blocks deep along the river. He took up 320 acres, along the Willamette River going north and my grandmother took up 320 acres going south across the Mary's River. Avery Park was on my grandmother's claim. My grandfather wasn't actually a farmer; he was more interested in establishing 00:04:00a country. The reason he settled here was he come from Missouri, and that time, river traffic was a main traffic. So when he saw the Willamette here, he figured the boats could come up to Corvallis. The steamboats came here for quite a few years.


JC: Did he own a ferry?

VA: No, he reserved the ferry rights across the river, but he never owned one. He owned the first store here...a general store. He first had it on his homesite...then he built it downtown, where the hardware store is now (Robnetts). Part of that store is part of the store that he built. Him and my 00:06:00father Punderson run it. He of course was interested in getting the town established, and the Methodists established a college downtown, and my grandfather saw this agricultural act put out by the President...where they would allot so much land for building schools. My grandfather got quite busy on that, and I had a lot of correspondence on that, but I lost it to the 00:07:00Gazette-Times. It disappeared.

Sure enough, they got that grant. It took in land..my grandfather was a surveyor also, and somehow he knew about this land in Paisley, Ore (in Lake County); it 00:08:00was thrown open. Awfully fine cattle country. As soon as he got that grant through, he was going to send people out there to file on that land. My folks went out, his brother George and his sister, Florence...well, they all went out 00:09:00there. Florence Avery Johnson was widowed. They all stayed for awhile, and then my father and George came back. They got land for 2.50 an acre ( I think in the 00:10:001860's);it was pretty rough country. My folks at that time, accumulated a lot of land by buying it and filing on homesteads. My father Punderson traded back his land for a fine farm here and also got another farm south where the waterworks are.


He (my father) wasn't a farmer; he was like my grandfather... more like a developer. He owned a main interest in Corvallis flouring mills down on 2nd Street. The sons, two of my brothers, helped with one farm and I was on another 00:12:00farm. We were going to be farmers. Grover Avery was the only farmer in the bunch.

JC: What house were you born in?

VA: I was born at the end of Sixth Street, right by that little Pioneer Park. We had a home there. Of course, I've lived here practically all my life. I was in 00:13:00the meat business with the Nebergalls, and wound up in the dormitories at the College. Now I'm 85 and there's not much left. I've got a good memory.


JC: Did your father talk about your grandfather?

VA: No, not much. My father wasn't a story teller. My mother - she told me about the Indians raids, and being penned up in a fort. She must have come in the 00:15:0060's. They went to California first, and then came up by boat. Her name was Elizabeth Mobley.

JC: Did you know your grandmother?


VA: I knew her well. She had a home on the Mary's River where the Pioneer Park is. After my grandmother died, somebody took the home for the first hospital here. (Dr. Johnson) It burned down. Her name was Martha. She was a small, little 00:17:00dark woman and very tough. She had to be...she brought two children from Mo...it took them six months. She had an uncle that drove them out here.


JC: So Avery came here by himself, on another wagon train?

VA: Well, I don't know; it might have been a survey train. She followed two years later, she had my father and Florence. She was dark, and grandmother had to watch her (Florence) because the Indians wanted to trade something for her. 00:19:00Florence married a doctor here and then took up the claim in Eastern Oregon (widowed); she then married a man by the name of Jones. That claim was just sold 00:20:00for over a million and a half dollars... biggest cattle ranch in the whole 00:21:00country. So that's the end of Avery land holdings. I'm the only one that; helds on to a home even. Of all the land they had, practically none of us has any left. I own this 1/2 acre and a house on Grant Street (not part of original claim). I got into the meat business when I was young and I had no intention of 00:22:00following that up- but I couldn't get away from it. I live here alone, and my wife's in a nursing home. I get three meals a week - come to find out, the 00:23:00college makes those meals.

JC: When did your grandmother die?

VA: Don't know.

[At this point, Avery brought out some old papers, which are recorded below.]


"Joseph Conant Avery was born June 9, 1817 and died June 16, 1876. He married Martha Marsh. The children were Punderson, 1843; Florence, 1845; Frances, 1849 00:25:00in Corvallis; George W., 1850; Napolean, 1859; and Gertrude, 1867 (all 00:26:00Corvallis). Punderson and Florence were born in Stark County, Ill."

JC: They had two land claims, did they have two homes?

VA: No, just one. About a block south of us on 6th...where the big walnut trees 00:27:00are. She either brought them with her or bought them from a peddler. Two big chestnut trees were there when I was a small tree; they died.


JC: When they died, was the land sold?

VA: It was partly sold. We aimed to keep that in the family, but this Pioneer Park come up and they talked my mother into selling it. At that time, I was 00:29:00starting a farm and if I knew that that was going to be terminated, I would have tried to hold on to it myself. It disappeared this way.


JC: What about Avery Park?

VA: That was my grandmother's claim. This was divided up through my grandmother's estate. And Aunt Florence Jones took that part of it, and she sold it to the Lion's Club...and they helped start the park. My grandfather had this mill race south of Avery Park and had a dam all put in by hand. Men worked there for a dollar a day and dug that mill race, I'm not sure if it was a saw mill or a flouring mill first. He was a surveyor and he could see that he could take 00:31:00that water up at the Mary's River and run it over to the Willamette, and get power. And that's what he done. I started farming over by what is now Willamette Park. The Butterfields homesteaded that. That came clear down to Gallagher's Gravel is now.


JC: What do you remember about your grandmother?

VA: Well, she was a fine old lady. One of the finest. She had the flat where the sawmill used to be. She kept that open (25 acres) just for the Indians and 00:33:00gypsies to camp on (after grandfather's death). Down where the softball park is, she let that open to the white people...they drove their wagons in. She was always open to help people, any way she could. Everybody liked her. The Indians came in the winter and the summer, to camp there. These were the Siletz mostly. 00:34:00Through my grandmother, because she was so friendly...I was the last child and 00:35:00being a baby, I wasn't getting along very good on cow's milk. My mother went down on the flat and she asked an Indian squaw who had a new baby to come up and nurse me once a day. That's why I always say, I'm part Indian. That's true.

We were always friendly with the Indians. Sometimes Indians come through from different tribes. One Indian taught me a little ditty, that was different from 00:36:00the coastal tribes. If I'd get a new pair of shoes, and go down there, they always wanted to trade me for them. It was a different story in Eastern Oregon. Those Indians weren't so friendly when my folks were homesteading. They were 00:37:00afraid of the white people but if there was any chance to do them one, they'd do it. They finally had to clear out the Indians, and corralled them down by Klamath Falls.


JC: Now what do you remember of early Corvallis?

[Mr. Avery gave me a list of shops that he had compiled some years back.]

Downtown Corvallis before 1900

Banks: Job's bank, taken over by M.S. Woodcock. First National; Pres. M.S. Woodcock. Groceries: Zeeroffs, Holds and Horning. Dry Goods: Davis, Nolan, Miller, Harris and Kline. Hardware: J.R. Smith; Huston & Bogue; R.N. Wade (now 00:39:00Robnetts) Harness shops: Temple and Cameron Saloons: Westfeld, Wolt, Wiley, Whitehorn Meat Markets: Pygal and Taylori Hout Bros. Blacksmiths: Philips, Horning Bros. Flour Mills: Benton Mills (P. Avery & Gibson); and Fisher Mills Saw Mills: Strongs; Geiton Planing Mill. Hotels: Occidental, and Farmers' 00:40:00Jewelry: Greffetz Brewery: Zeitz and family Livery: Jim Elgin,______ Restaurants: Farmer's Hotel, Shipmans; Andrews & Kerr Laundrys: Blakely; and China. Doctors: Johnson; Pernot and ______ Lawyers: McFadden; Bryson; Ed Wilson; and Holgate Barbers: Taylor; Case Drugs: Allen; Graham and Wortham; Graham & Wells.

[Mr. Avery at this point showed me a photo of basketball team at the Corvallis 00:41:00Skating Rink; 1907-08. The six players including Virgil are all on roller skates, and they played teams from other cities.]

VA: My father and Frank Groves engineered the start of the city water off of Mary's Peak. My father, after a day at the flouring mills would hitch up the horse and buggy and take off for Philomath, towards the Peak, to talk the people 00:42:00into selling rightaways. We had pump water then, but it wasn't good water. Between him and Frank Groves, they got this thing organized and through the council to put up the money. Most of it was dug in the summer by students by hand. He brought the first city water here. He was always on the Council here 00:43:00and he served in the Legislature (State). State Senator twice. He was anxious to develop the town and smart enough to know too, about things. My father never got the credit here that he should've had, because he wasn't a man to go about bragging. He was quiet minded about things, and always working for the best.


JC: Do you think he lived in the limelight of his father?

VA: No. His father had a goiter and in those days, they didn't know anything about goiters and it choked him. He was in his 60's and still a young man. During this time, when my father left the store and went out to Eastern Oregon...I think they were out there 17 years -by the time they got back, I 00:45:00don't know if my grandfather had passed away or not. He was close to my grandfather until he went out there.

JC: Thank you Mr. Avery.