A Story from Oregon City

Hello from the History Department –

Recently, one of our Oregon City Pub regulars had a wonderful story to tell – a tale of two 15-year-olds, an inspiring governor and 10,000 trees.

Thanks to one of our pub managers Robert Turner for reporting this story that adds to his pub’s rich history. If you have stories, anecdotes or remembrances about one of our properties, feel free to send them our way: past@mcmenamins.com.

As Robert says, “I love stories like this it not only shows you the history of our locations but we get to know our customers and community around us!”

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With many thanks to longtime Oregon City Pub regular John Borden, in his own words below:

You have asked about the Black Locust trees that shade your pub’s outdoor patio in Oregon City. Jerry Herrmann and I planted them in the early 1960s.

The following background is probably more than you were asking for, but it is the story behind those trees.

Tom McCall was Governor of Oregon from 1967 to 1975. For four decades, Oregonians had listened to him, first as a broadcast journalist, then as governor. His voice was remarkable and his words inspiring. He produced a moving editorial film called Pollution in Paradise which kick-started Oregon’s efforts to clean up the Willamette River which was then a polluted mess beyond description especially from wastes from the many pulp and paper mills that discharged to the Willamette. Beginning with Tom, Oregon was now on the map as an environmental leader in the nation.

Jerry Herrmann and I were inspired to do something helpful. He and I had grown up together on the banks of the river, and shared environmental interests. So, in the mid-1960s, we pooled our allowances and sent Tom McCall a letter with $10.00 enclosed stating that we “…wanted to help…”  At that time, we were at most 15 years old. McCall responded and encouraged us to “act.”

We did.

We decided to plant trees along the banks of the Willamette River. But where to obtain the trees? Eventually, we found the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) (now called the Natural Resources Conservation Service [NRCS]), located almost invisibly in the basement of the federal post office in Oregon City. We found that we could purchase starter trees at the exorbitant price of ½ cent per tree. As such, we purchased burlap-wrapped little trees of 50 each for 25 cents per bundle. Later, we purchased from the Elkton State Nursery in southern Oregon.

In those days, we were uninformed about native vs. non-native species. In any case, over a period of two years, we purchased 10,000 trees. As such, the purchases included Douglas Fir, Grand Fir, Knob Cone Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Shasta Red Fir, Chinese Elm and, of course, Black Locust.

We planted those trees everywhere along the banks of the Willamette River. Not understanding or appreciating the distinction between public domain vs. private property, many of our plantings turned out to be on private property. Some folks allowed the trees to grow, but most did not.

Growing older, we appreciated the growth of the conifers – they were beautiful along the banks of the river. But for whatever reasons, only a few remain, those being: adjacent to the Clackamas Cove, at Mary S. Young State Park and on a few private lots in West Linn.

Amazingly, the Black Locust trees were mostly unmolested and survive, along with their numerous progeny, today. The original plantings include your Oregon City pub. The major area of Locust survival and reproduction is the area commonly known as “Sports Craft Landing,” where a kayak and canoe rental business resides today along with a boat ramp and rental shelters for motor boats. McLean House in West Linn also has several of our locust trees about the same size as yours in Oregon City.

As final commentary, Jerry and I were most proud of having extensively planted Cedar Oak Island, near Robinwood. It was very large in those days. A dance hall once existed there, accessible from the West Linn river bank. Cedar Oak Island was excavated for gravel and very little remains, including no trees from of our planting days. Another area near there was McGones Park, today a housing development with no surviving trees.

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