Union, Union County, Oregon History

The first permanent settlement in the area of the city of Union was made in 1862. Conrad Miller had been in the vicinity and had built a small cabin in what is now West Union He left early in 1622 to go to Vancouver to secure a sock of fruit trees, stock and im­plements, and returned early in the fall of that year to find that his claim had been taken by Fred Nadine and others. After hearing his story, those who had taken his land relinquished it, and Miller hauled in his trees and began one of the first nurseries in Grande Ronde Valley, His trees were for the most part apple, a few being pear. These he sold for one dollar a tree and many of the line orchards in that section of the valley owe their beginnings to these trees brought to the valley by Miller.

     Other settlers contemporary with Miller in establishing claims in the vicinity of Union in the fall of 1862 were Fred Nodine, J. A J. Chapman, E. L. Lewis, D S Henry, P. M. Coffin, Cutting Clark, J. Hinkley and A. H. Busick. They were one and all impressed with the beauty of the valley and with the potential value of its natural resources. Each of these mentioned above set about immediately cutting timber in the Catherine Creek area and dragging trees to their respective locations by ox team for the building of homes. The timber most generally used was cottonwood, and the logs being wet and green and very heavy made the men groan as they lugged them into position.

     The raising of the first homes was done as a community project, all of the men combining their efforts to build first one house and then another all through the fall of 1882 and into the early winter. It cannot be staled definitely which was the first house but of this group the last remaining is known to have been that owned by U.S. Henry. In later years it was covered with shingles and was kept as a relic until it burned in one of the many fires that plagued Union in the early days.

J. A. J. Chapman later the first assessor of Union County had had some experience in surveying and he assisted the settlers in laying out their claims. No thought at that time was given to the idea of establishing a town, but it is a credit to Chapman’s ability that when the first government surveys of the Grande Ronde Valley were made in 1864 his lines were found to be almost perfectly located. Chapman located his own claim on the south side of Catherine creek building his cabin on the north-west corner of the claim on what is now the site of the Union Drug Store. Fred Nodine located his claim on the north side of Catherine Creek and built his home on the southwest corner of his claim just across from the Chapman cabin. E.  H. Lewis likewise located on the north side of the scream next to Conrad Miller. The Busick claim was established just to the east of the Nadine claim on Catherine Creek. From this description it can he seen that the area which now comprises the main business section of Union was claimed by the earliest settlers and the location of their cabins in rather close proximity to one another presaged the growth of an active community.

     Union was early important as a freight transfer Station for goads freighted in by wagon from the Columbia River landings hound for the mining districts, of eastern Oregon. Many of the early settlers around Union engaged in the freighting business yoking their oxen into teams of six and carrying merchandise from The Dalles or Umatilla to the mines around Auburn in Baker County. There being no passable road into the Cornucopia region from Union it became the custom for the wagons to be unloaded at the Chapman cabin and the goods then transported to the mines by horse and mule pack up Catherine Creek or by way of Pyle Canyon. Chapman's cabin being the center of this activity, it was natural that he laid in a stock of goads to supply the immediate needs of the freighters, settlers and packers, and this came to be the first store in what is now the city of Union.

     David Thompson a professional surveyor laid out the town of Union on Chapman's land in 1864, the plat for the city being registered on 11 November of that year. The events of the Civil war then in progress, were of course everywhere discussed and it was quite appropriate that the name Union was given to the new settlement being established.

     Although the first homes were built of logs, the Catherine Creek sawmills were set up in 1864 and most of the early business houses were built of lumber. Some of the lumber was hauled over from the Fox mill at Oro Dell, and gradually all of the log buildings were replaced by those built of lumber.

     The milling of wheat into flour was an important industry in early Union and the first flour mill in that community was built by D.S. K. Baker of Walla Walla in 1865. Baker was a prominent merchant of the Walla Walla area and well known throughout eastern Oregon. The actual construction of the mill was under the supervision of a millwright named Reynolds. On the Fourth of July 1865, the partially completed mill was the scene of a celebration and community dinner, its warehouse structure being the only building available at that time for a com­munity gathering. By some who have left their reminiscences, it has been said that this was the first Fourth of July celebration in Union, but others state that there was a celebration in 1863, at which time the first American flag in the county was flown. This flag was made by a Mrs. Hendershott and a Mrs. Lewis, a white linen sheet furnishing the material for the white stripes and stars the necessary blue cloth being taken from a blue riding habit owned by a minister's daughter in Union, and the red from a dress owned by Mrs. Hendershott.

     The first post office in Union was established in 1864 in the store operated by J. A. J Chapman. He was the first, postmaster and his store was the agency for the stage line operating through Union. Samuel Hannah later to he elected state senator front Union County and prominent in securing the county seat for Union was agent for the Wells Fargo Stage Lines in 1865 and operated his agency in connection with his general merchandise store.

      Others of the early merchants and businessmen in Union in the decade of the '60’s were Abrahams and Sonnenberg, general merchandise: J. M. Boyd, tinware: James McLaferty and P. Argersinger, livery stable and feed store: Oat Blackburn, shoemaker: Caleb Howell, horseshoeing; Nicholas Tarter, wagon shop: A. F. Benson, livery and feed stable; E. C. Brainard, druggist and D. W. Johnson, black­smithing. W. T. Wright was the first banker in Union.

     The first hotel in Union was operated by E. J. McKinney. Noting the ever increasing number of travelers passing through Union he remodeled his residence and turned it into a form of inn. That same year a company was organized which built the first building specifically constructed in Union for hotel purposes. This was the Pacific Hotel and was located on the land now occupied by Shanks' Cafe. It was a two-story structure the upper floor being divided off into several hotel rooms, and one large room which was used for a public meeting place. It was finally rebuilt into an apartment house.

     The Union Republic founded under the name Union Republican has the distinction of being the oldest continually published newspaper in Union County having been founded in 1888.

     The people of Union from the inception of the town have had a deep and abiding interest in the education of their children and even in the years before a regular school was established the women in their homes did their utmost to offer some teaching to their children. The first school in Union so far as can he determined was one set up by a Mr. Cummings in 1664 in the log house which had been the D. S. Henry home. It was undoubtedly of the subscription type. There being insufficient funds for the employment of a teacher to be paid by taxation, those who wished might use the tuition or subscription system to insure the education of their children.

     One of the foremost educators in Union in fact in the whole Grande Ronde Valley in the early days was C. L. Blakeslee. Mr. Blakeslee was a native of New York, where he had received a very broad education and came into the Grande Ronde area in 1864 for reasons of health. He taught first at Summerville in that year for a term of three months and then at Cove for another term. He came to Union in the fall of 1865, where he conducted subscription schools for about four years, and taught in the public schools for some years after their establishment.

     The first public school in Union opened its doors in the fall of 1867 with Mr. Blakeslee as principal and Miss Belle Mallory his assistant. This school was constructed in a frame building which had been erected in 1845 and which served until 1878 when a two-story brick structure was built. This building was from time to time remodeled and enlarged and served until the present school structures were erected at a later day.

     Union has been represented by at least seven church denominations in its lifetime these being the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Adventist. Christian, Mormon and Catholic.

Contributed by: Jim Reavis

Union County

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