Current Issue: 50th Anniversary Newsletter
Celebrating 50 Years 1963 - 2013
The Aurora Colony Historical Society in Review
by Patrick Harris
Seventeen individuals have served as President of the Aurora Colony Historical Society since 1963 when Wayne Yoder was unanimously elected to that position at the first meeting of the Society on June 27th. Five of the seventeen have been women.
Remarkably, most of the Presidents are still living. Reg Keddie is the current President.
Surviving Presidents include Wayne Yoder (1963-64 and 1970), Robert Hurst (1971-1972), Gary Ihle (1973 and 1982-1984), Byron Schriever (1974-1977), Gladys Epp Pauls (1982-83), Luana Hill (1987-1988), Larry Townsend (1989-1994), Laurel Cookman (1995-1997), Diane Kocher Downs (1998-2000), Mike Byrnes (2001-2003), and Brian Asher (2007-2007).
Presidents who have passed on are Mel Ferguson (1965), Percy Will (1966-1967), Allen Yost (1968-1969), and the last of these being Gail Robinson (2008-2009) who recently died of cancer.
Mrs. Ruth Powers, one of Oregon’s leading advocates for historic preservation in the twentieth century, initiated the drive that raised $3500 to purchase the old Aurora Colony Ox Barn. In tribute to Dr. Burt Brown Barker, a leading Oregon historian, the barn was presented in his name to the Aurora Colony Historical Society in November of 1963. Dr. Barker said that when the museum would be completed it would be different from any other in the country.
The community got behind the project with the cooperative spirit that once manifested in the colony itself:
Colony descendant Clark Moor Will described this: “Many contacts with colony ex-members during my childhood left memories –tales of their fete days, festivities, butchering frolics, ring hunts, singing school, with a general atmosphere of contentment, even joy—Many a story ended with warmth of expression and “Ah it was so beautiful, so nice.”
The 1956 celebration of the town’s centennial focused outside attention on Aurora:
The Canby Herald marveled: “Show us another small town anywhere which could stage a celebration approaching the excellence of Aurora’s Centennial and we will show you a community in the best tradition of everything American. It was magnificent.”
In 1958 well-known Oregon writer Stewart Holbrook wrote:“No region of the West has a more appealing story to remember.”
The stage was being set for something big.
When Robert Bogue and his wife Lucille drove on to an unfamiliar road in August 1960 he noticed a big old house on the hill which appeared deserted. He stopped to investigate and he forced his way through the blackberry bushes and peeked into the windows. He became excited when he saw the magnificence of its structure—He felt he must have it and he bought the house with one acre of ground. Years later Lucille described her husband’s vision: “A beautiful old house, everyone agreed, but a fool’s dream to think of undertaking its restoration. The challenge for Bob became more than restoring a house—it must also preserve the artifacts of the people determined to live according to their own ideals.”
Once the Ox Barn Museum was formally dedicated by Oregon Governor Mark Hatfield on September 25th, 1966, the descendants began to fill the building with their unique Aurora Colony artifacts. The first Society newsletter encouraged this:
“You too may have a part in preserving this historical legacy—-the Aurora Colony. If you own any pieces, large or small, which were identified with the colony, you may donate them or loan them to the society for display in the museum. They are needed and there is no better place for them. Here they will be preserved and used for education and enjoyment of thousands in years to come. Think about this.”
The public was taking notice, and with the addition of the Tie Shed, the George Steinbach Log Cabin and the George Kraus village home, the Ox Barn was becoming part of a real museum complex. This fact was not lost on discerning observers:
Feature writer Carl Gohs:
“The Ox Barn museum serves as something of a community catalyst; the preservation there of the colony memorabilia outlining the fascinating story of Dr. Wilhelm Keil (as in mile) and his adherents are the town focus. It is that which is the special identity of Aurora. The museum is very nicely arranged and is to my thinking among the three or four most interesting in the state. Others must think so, too for there is a constant stream of visitors there throughout the year.”
Throughout the year we will summarize aspects of the ACHS history.
Aurora Descendants: Discover Your Roots and Your Wings!
by Joyce Holmes
It has been said that roots and wings are among the greatest gifts we can give our children. Are you an Aurora Colony descendant? What do you or your children know of your Aurora heritage? What could you learn from it? The Aurora Colony Historical Society (ACHS) is celebrating its 50th year. As part of that celebration, ACHS is ramping up its annual events and extending a special invitation to Colony descendants to come explore their heritage.
We, the descendants of the Aurora Colony, have a special privilege in the extraordinary extent to which our heritage has been preserved. Aurora is a nationally recognized historic site with a high-quality, well-staffed museum and living-history farm, nestled in a quaint little community that still show-cases Colony architecture, antiques, and good food. Additionally, well-known Oregon author Jane Kirkpatrick has piqued wide-spread interest in the Aurora story through her historical fiction novels featuring Emma Wagner Giesy, and through a non-fiction work documenting the uniqueness of the Colony, entitled Aurora: An American Experience in Quilt, Community, and Craft.
The Aurora Colony, in addition to its distinctive as a Christian communal society, excelled in agricultural production, fine German food, music, textiles, basketry, and woodcraft. The sheer number of artifacts that survive is tribute to the quality and scope of the Colony’s craftsmanship and productivity.
Undoubtedly, our Aurora forebears would not have thought themselves extraordinary. They were common folk, emigrants, trying to better their lives in a new culture during difficult political and economic times. They were, however, willing to think “outside the box.” They took some big risks. They combined their diverse skills and personalities together with their common cultural heritage to build a community of Christian faith. Like all human dramas, not all was successful. They did some odd, if not foolish things. Though the Colony prospered, they had conflicts, suffered tragedy, and even wove some perplexing mysteries.
Sometimes exploring the past helps us navigate the present and inspires us for the future. Sometimes exploring the past provides a quiet reprieve from our hectic lives. Sometimes exploring the past is just plain fun!
So consider this: Peruse the ACHS 2013 events schedule, and put Aurora at the top of your “to do” list this year. Tour the museum—in all its seasons. Come share your stories, document your artifacts, or help us solve the mysteries. Learn more of the story, try some Colony recipes, or learn a Colony craft. Stroll through the town, tour the homes, or shop for antiques. Meet some long-lost relatives or create a new network. The Colony folks were interesting and industrious people; Colony descendants interesting, talented, and innovative people, too!
In anchoring your roots, you may discover wings! Aurora. 2013. Come!