History of CCHS


The Clatsop County Historical Society

By Vera Gault

CUMTUX 1991, volume 11

This organization is a direct descendant of the Oregon Pioneer Historical Society established in Astoria, Oregon in 1871, when the settlers became aware of the historical significance of the region they were developing. Through the pioneer Society, they set about recording and preserving the history of the region; but as their numbers dwindled, so did the organization.

First County Museum

However, urgency for historical preservation continued. Circa 1921, a group was organized as the Clatsop County Historical Society by Judges John W. A. Bowlby and John A. Buchanan (Judge Buchanan was a founder of the Astoria Kiwanis in 1919, and in 1920 authored the words to our state song, Oregon My Oregon.) They installed glass cases in the corridors of the Clatsop County Court House and hung framed photographs of early scenes on the walls. Among the old documents and letters displayed in the cases was the first recorded donation, a plat of the original American Fur Company trading post at Astoria, given by the Kiwanis Club on December 23, 1927. This project in the Court House marked the beginning of a county museum.

Reorganized After WWII

With the assistance of the Oregon Historical Society, the Clatsop County Historical Society reorganized in 1945 at the close of World War II with C. L. Rogers, president. One of its first assignments was to supervise and maintain the salt cairn at Seaside.

Flavel House Museum, 1951

During the post-war years, the Flavel House (given to Clatsop County in 1936 by Miss Patricia Flavel) stood vacant, plaster falling, windows broken, roof leaking. Talk of tearing "the old eyesore" down spurred the formation of a Flavel Memorial Committee. Under the direction of Judge Guy Boyington, the committee merged with the Historical Society, which in turn conferred with the Clatsop County Court. The solution: in 1951, the Clatsop County Historical Society became the manager of the Flavel House, responsible for its care and maintenance, while the county continued to hold ownership.

With this legal responsibility and a $2,000 gift from Louis "Fritz" Sovey, former Astorian living in California, the Historical Society came of age, and the work began. Members and all the recruits they could muster held weekly work parties. They swept up piles of plaster, pushed wheelbarrows of trash, cleaned the grounds, and planted flowers. By April 1952, they were finally able to move the glass cases and artifacts from the courthouse to the Flavel House, the county's new museum and headquarters for the Society.

The efforts of hard-working members and many community organizations have accomplished steady progress in the rehabilitation of this unique Victorian edifice, with the result that the Flavel House in Astoria is one of the showplaces of Oregon.

Through the years, the Society has suffered growing pains - so much work to be done, and so few workers. Yet progress has been steady, from a list of 60 members in 1951 to nearly 1,200 in 1991; from 136 visitors during the first tourist weekend to more than 40,000 for the year 1990.

The minutes of business meetings reported over and over the names of some of the dedicated workers who brought about the progress: Walter Johnson, Dr. R. W. Kullberg, Leola Ball, Charles Dodge, Phillippa Seabrook, Alta Schalk, Burnby Bell, Gene Ettro and Al Mittet. Special tributes were recorded upon occasion to some who had given extended service: Otto Owen served eight years as president and Captain Ray Collins held the office for six years plus served interim Director terms. Michael Foster served five years as president. John Wicks and William Goster served long terms as treasurer, and May Miller gave 30 years of dedicated service in numerous capacities. [The author's son and past president, Bruce Berney, has contributed much to the society, and Friends of MacDonald over the years. We thank and appreciate all of our past officers, board members, staff, volunteers and members who have contributed so much to the success of the organization and museums.]

Heritage Museum, 1985

Other accomplishments through the years have extended the responsibilities of the Society. In 1980 members voted to undertake the purchase and rehabilitation of the former 1904-05 Astoria City Hall at 16th and Exchange Streets, a stately neoclassical building which had served as USO headquarters, then housed the Columbia River Maritime Museum until it moved to its new building in 1982. This acquisition provided room for much needed administrative offices, for the Society now had need for a fulltime director. There was also a need for a general museum, allowing the Flavel House to be displayed as an authentic Victorian home. Under the guidance of Director Gloria Richards and her successor, Dr. Stephen Recken, some corporate grants were received. Other funds for the purchase came from donated materials and labor, special events and generous contributors. It was a great day for the Clatsop County Historical Society when in 1985, business manager Darlene Felkins wrote a check for $140,000 for the complete purchase of the building.

Heritage Museum exhibits included native American, explorers, pioneer life, ethnic history, logging, fishing, plus art and photographic collections.

Firefighters Museum, 1989

In 1989, the Society acquired a third property, the Uppertown Fire Station (1928-1920 at 30th and Marine Drive, now open as a museum of historic firefighting equipment including a wooden 1877 LaFrance Hook and Ladder wagon and a 1912 LaFrance fire engine, with a fascinating array of associated tools and gear.

Society Accomplishments

One of the early projects of the Society was the restoration of Fort Clatsop for the Lewis and Clark Sesquicentennial in 1955. The replica was acquired by the National Park Service in 1958 as a National Memorial.

Other accomplishments of the Society include such projects as the location and development of the site of the original fur trading post named by the Astor Party as Astoria, aka. Fort Astoria. The Society traced the story of Ranald MacDonald, native Astorian who became the first teacher of English in Japan. His granite monument with legend engraved in both English and Japanese stands in Fort Astoria Park.

The Society initiated the placement of the Clatsop Indian burial canoe at the Astoria Column on Coxcomb Hill. In the 1950's the Society formed a committee to explore ways to enhance the region's maritime history. The unique Columbia River maritime Museum grew from the initial efforts of this committee.

The organization publishes regular newsletters for its members and a historical quarterly, CUMTUX, a Chinook jargon word meaning "to know, to inform." Through the efforts of its successive editors, Roger Tetlow, Evelyn Hankel, Jim Dennon, Liisa Penner and all important contributors, the publication has won recognition for excellence in the field.

Regional Resource

Now over sixty years since formally incorporated in 1951, the Clatsop County Historical Society not only operates three museum showplaces, it provides cultural resources for the entire North Coast region. Under the guidance of staff and volunteers, it offers educational tours to students and adults on a daily schedule and by appointment; publishes significant historical data, and arranges public programs and events of historical interest.

Researchers find a wealth of material in the museum's collections which include over 30,000 photographs and 15,000 three-dimensional artifacts as well as 20,000 documents.

Now through its specialized staff and many dedicated volunteers, the Clatsop County Historical Society continues its mission to preserve and present the history of Clatsop County and the surrounding area.