“How Do You Like Those Apples?”

Settlement of the French Prairie

To Dr. William Keil, the settlement of a Christian Communal Society in the newly settled Far West of America was an opportunity to establish a “Second Eden” in which the necessary steps to the achievement of the highest ideals of his Christian vision could be practiced.
To approach such an ideal required not only complete cooperation and commitment from his members but also the establishment of business, social and political relationships with his surrounding neighbors.

Challenges in the West

First, however, the courageous and firm leader had to accept the reality of the true wilderness that he had sent his scouts into to find a suitable location.  His immediate rejection of Willapa, however prescient it might have been concerning the future viability of the site for his Eden, did create a schism with some of his most devoted followers, while also delaying the arrival of the rest of his members from Bethel, Missouri for another 7 to ten years.

Forging New Relationships

Our current exhibit “How Do You Like Those Apples” explores how Dr. Keil came to terms with his challenging situation after what he would surely have considered a god-sent meeting between a German immigrant desperate to find a place to settle his colony of followers and John Walker Grim, an early Oregon judge and pioneer apple grower. 
When Dr. Keil saw Grim at the Portland harbor with his load of apples ready for shipment to San Francisco he must have felt that the apples were much like manna from heaven.  “Where did you get those apples?” was Dr. Keil’s first question, followed closely with “is there any of that land available?”

Establishing Aurora Mills

Grim became Keil’s guide to the French Prairie region of Oregon’s Willamette Valley and introduced him to his friends and fellow settlers.  Yes, some had orchards that they were willing to sell to Keil, and a sawmill and a gristmill also. Dr. Keil named his new village Aurora Mills after his daughter, and within a few years Aurora was transformed into a vibrant community.

Through photographs, letters, and artifacts we will learn about the lives of many of the colonists who came with Dr. Keil across the Oregon Trail in 1855 and how they lived out their lives in the Christian Communal Society at Aurora. We will see how the colonists built a new community out of the wilderness and how their leader Dr. William Keil skillfully established business, political and social relationships with his surrounding neighbors through music, food and shared economic interests.

But we will also see how the West with all of its opportunities encouraged personal ambition and a realization finally amongst many of the young members that one could still be a Christian and be in control of his own decisions and money.