Saturday, June 9, 2007 12:08 AM PDT
Avery marked city’s borders in early days
By Ken Munford, Local columnist
(Editor’s note: Over a period of 12 years beginning in 1983, local historian Ken Munford wrote 561 columns for the Gazette-Times. As part of the city’s 150th anniversary, the newspaper will publish a selection of these columns each Saturday. This one was originally printed on Nov. 18, 1985.)

More than 150 years ago, Joseph Conant Avery laid claim to 640 acres at the mouth of Marys River.
What is now Benton County was still part of the Yamhill District, one of the four divisions into which the Provisional Government had divided the Oregon Country.

At Oregon City, Avery’s claim was recorded in the “Provisional Land Claims” book on page 44 of Volume I, dated Nov. 5, 1845.

He had placed markers at each corner of his mile-square claim. At the southeast corner, in the language used in the claim, he marked a tree “on the bank of the Willamette.” Floods since then have changed the contour of south Corvallis; no one today can say exactly where his marked tree stood.

His stake on the bank about one mile north was at the foot of present-day Jackson Avenue.

“Thence west about a mile,” again in the language used in the claim, is a straight line that crosses the Courthouse block and Central Park and joins Jefferson Avenue at 11th Street. The city blocks for Marysville (Corvallis) were laid out parallel and at right angles to the river. West of 11th Street and Kings Boulevard, streets run on north-south and east-west alignment.

Avery’s stake at the northwest corner of his claim was on Jefferson Way beside the Memorial Union on the Oregon State University campus. The late Preston Onstad, president of the Benton County Historical Society, said that once there was a marker in the street defining Avery’s corner. It has disappeared.

Avery’s west line (“thence south about one mile crossing Marys River to a tree marked”) is along Southwest 26th Street passing Gill Coliseum, over Philomath Boulevard and paralleling Brooklane Drive.

His south boundary (“thence east about one mile to the place of beginning, being as near a square mile form as the material situation of the premises will permit”) includes all of Avery Park and Avery Avenue.

At Oregon City on Nov. 23, 1847, Avery recorded a new description of his claim, giving more precise measurements in chains and links. He attested then that the claim was “taken & marked October 1845, improved by the building of a cabin in Jan. 1846, and personally occupied by the making of further improvements and residing upon same since 20th June 1846.”

Most of the immigrants of 1845 — like Avery — had come into the Willamette Valley from the north, via the Oregon Trail to The Dalles and then through the Columbia Gorge. Many of them wintered in the northern part of the valley and in the next year, some of them pushed on southward beyond the Marys River.

Also in 1846, settlers came from the south over the Applegate Trail. Tolbert Carter, arriving on the South Road, wrote in his diary that the pole cabin at present Eugene was “the first sign of civilization we had seen in traveling 2,000 miles.” Several days later he tells, “Crossed Mary’s River ... about 50 feet across ... Here we found another pole cabin, more attractive to us than a gorgeous palace ... inhabited by a lonely civilized ‘white’ man, whose name was J.C. Avery.”

The Rev. A.E. Garrison reached the Marys River at about the same time: “We took our wagons to pieces and ferried over on the smallest canoe I ever saw.” One woman wrote, “They had to raft the wagons across. We crossed in canoes.”

Avery had left his wife, Martha Marsh, and their three small children, Charles, Punderson and Florence, in Illinois. He arranged to have them join a wagon train and come west in 1847. Mrs. Avery’s outfit consisted of a five-yoke ox team and a wagon filled with provisions. She also brought two milk cows.

Her husband met them in eastern Oregon and guided the party from The Dalles over the Cascade Range on the Barlow Trail south of Mount Hood. They left Illinois on April 2 and arrived in Benton County of Oct. 2.

The Averys’ homes — the cabin J.C. built in 1846 and the two houses that were later destroyed by fire — were at the south end of Fourth Street.