selected articles from the Summer 2014 Newsletter
ACHS Receives $5000 Grant
by Patrick Harris
The Helen E. Austin Pioneer Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation Awarded a $5000 grant to ACHS.
The Austin Pioneer Fund administrators have a strong interest in the history of the French Prairie.
Recently, the GeerCrest Farm and historical society loaned fifty boxes of letters, archives and photographs related to the history of the Geer Family in Oregon to the Aurora Colony Historical Society. These materials will be transferred to acid-free storage boxes, file folders and photo sleeves. They will also be professionally accessioned.
The funds made available through this grant will be specifically utilized to fund collaboration between ACHS and the GeerCrest farm and historical society.
Some of the first fruits of this collaboration can be seen during our summer 2014 exhibit, “A Face in the Crowd”.
The Stauffer-Will Farm and Aurora Village
by Cheryl Burks
From the beginning of April through the first weeks of June approximately four thousand two hundred individuals including students, teachers, and adult chaperones time traveled to the early days of the Aurora Colony. Guided by ACHS staff and dedicated volunteers these individuals stepped off their yellow school bus, turned off their cell phones and enjoyed a day in the mid 1800’s in the Old Aurora Colony.
A June 11 celebratory picnic at the Farm recognized the efforts of volunteers and staff and marked the end of another successful season of ACHS’s Stauffer-Will Farmstead and Aurora Colony Village programs for fourth grade students of Oregon’s pioneer history.
Students came to either the Farmstead or the Village to experience life in a time and place without electricity, running water, central heating, or gas operated vehicles. Students are asked to imagine a life without cell phones, video games, T.V., and microwave ovens and participate in a variety of activities typical of life in the Colony. Participants cut fire wood using a cross cut saw, use a hand drill to make a candle stick holder, employ a mallet to split a cedar shake while a brave volunteer holds the froe. They haul water buckets with a yolk, dip a wick in wax to make a candle, bake bread “from scratch,” and design a quilt block. They hear about life in the Colony and the cooperation and sharing that made communal life possible and prosperous.
Many students as well as adults return to their yellow school busses and the 21st century with happy smiles along with the comment, “Best field trip ever!” This puts smiles on the faces of volunteers and staff as they turn to clean up activities and preparing for the next day’s time travelers. By mid-June students from fifty-six different schools and locations from St. Helens to Eugene have benefited from the “Best field trip ever!”
The Willamette Valley Historical Society recently honored ACHS with the presentation of the George Strozut Award. This award was bestowed in part in recognition of the exemplary Farm and Village program’s practice of engaging students in learning about history through “hands-on” activities. In addition to providing a unique learning experience, the Farm and Village programs provide a revenue stream for ACHS. Join the fun next spring and join us as a Farm or Village volunteer!
News From Your Board of Directors
by Reg Keddie
Your Aurora Colony Historical Society Board of Directors met earlier this year to review our priorities for our 2014 - 2019 Strategic Plan.
The top priority, as it was in our previous Strategic Plan 2008 - 2013, was the construction of a safe preservation and research facility for the storage of our museum archives, photographs and artifacts.
A major first step was taken towards that goal in June when the Board purchased a house with property on Main Street next door to the original Giesy store. The house was once owned by the Arthur Mills family and dates from the 1940’s but has been completely renovated and is zoned for commercial use. A rear lot behind the house will be developed for a storage and research building.
We will keep all of you informed as we progress with our plans.
Additional strategic initiatives identified during the planning session are:
Develop and implement a financial plan for increasing ongoing support for operations and expansions.
Employ appropriate technology to support the administration, preservation and educational goals of the society.
Increase awareness of, and emphasize the unique historical heritage of the Aurora Colony – Tell the story!
Have a comprehensive plan in place to adequately staff and operate the organization.
Willie’s Wagon is Being Restored
by Patrick Harris
Some twenty years after it completed its 1993 trek across the Oregon Trail the Willie Keil wagon is being restored. The work is being sponsored and undertaken by the Papé company our local John Deere distributer. This is quite fitting as the wagon was constructed sometime in the 1880’s by the Moline Plow Company a forerunner to John Deere.
How many of you remember that in 1993 the community of Aurora in conjunction with the Aurora Colony Historical Society and the Aurora Chamber of Commerce sent this same wagon back to Independence, Missouri where it joined with a wagon train led by Morris Carter of Wyoming?
Area business leaders and citizens Earl Leggett, Laurel Cookman and Ray Tinkey were joined by Laurel’s father and Uncle as support crew for the 2000 mile journey. Earl served as the primary driver negotiating the trail with Ann and Sue, the two mules specifically purchased for the purpose of pulling the wagon.
Local woodworker Doug Houk built Willie’s coffin and tinsmith Jim Richmond supplied the tin interior. Willie came in the form of a mannequin from the Settlemeier House.
Dr. Wilhelm Keil had promised his nineteen-year-old son Willie that he could lead the 1855 caravan from Bethel, Missouri to Willapa, Washington but young Willie succumbed to malaria and died just before the start of the journey. Keeping his promise the grieving father packed Willie in a lead-lined casket filled with the colony’s own Golden Rule Whiskey thus preserving Willie during the long trek.
Finally, on December 26, 1855 Willie was buried at Willapa and is still there on a knoll just above the village of Menlo.
The Aurora wagon arrived home on October 12, 1993 with Earl leading the rest of the wagons into our village.
2015 marks the 160th anniversary of Willie’s journey and we will stage a series of exhibits about the colony and its various trips across the Oregon Trail! And the restored wagon will be our featured star.
Robert Lincoln Hurst 1920 - 2014
Robert (Bob) Lincoln Hurst, our friend and wonderful volunteer, died at the age of 93 on January 7, 2014. He would have turned 94 on February 12, President Abe Lincoln’s birthday. Bob’s family roots run deep into Oregon pioneer history beginning when his grandmother came by covered wagon to Oregon in 1861. Bob’s own life was entwined with Aurora’s from the moment he was born. Bob was born in the original Aurora Ox Barn as was his mother Amy Will Hurst. The barn had been converted by earlier family members into a home and business site and is now the home of the Old Aurora Colony Museum.
We are very proud to claim Bob as one of our leaders, volunteers, and benefactors. Bob served as ACHS Board President from 1971 to 1972. He founded one of the Museum’s signature fundraising events: the Strawberry Social. After 43 years, the Strawberry Social endures as a regional favorite for families and tourists.
Thank you Bob Hurst for everything that you have done for the Aurora Colony Historical Society. We will never forget you!