A Brief History of the South Willamette Area in Eugene, Oregon
By A. J. Fisher
Revised 03.01.13

Physical Description

The South Willamette area of Eugene occupies a strip of mostly flat land in a north-south orientation, nestled between the raised form of College Hill to the east, the Amazon Creek basin to the west, Downtown Eugene and the Willamette River to the north, and the foothills of the Coast Range to the south. For the purposes of this document, the geographic area of focus may be primarily limited to a few blocks within range of Willamette Street from 24th to 32nd Avenues.

The above historic photo (GN1330) courtesy the Lane County Historical Society shows the South Willamette area circa 1942 as seen from approximately 25th and Olive looking to the southeast. The street to the lower left is Summit (now called 25th). The KORE radio transmission tower is evident in the center of the image. It was located along Willamette Street near 26th or 27th. The channel of the Amazon Creek is indicated by the dark patches of trees and shrubs in the distance.

Early Eugene History

The area we call Eugene, Oregon was once occupied by the Calapooia people. These native people practiced controlled burning of the valley floor to increase growth of edible plants and to facilitate hunting.

In 1846 Eugene Skinner arrived in the area and built a small cabin on the edge of what we now know as Skinner's Butte. He operated a ferry service across the Willamette River not far from the current day Ferry Street Bridge. In 1848, the Oregon Territory was incorporated and the first government surveys were conducted in the 1850's. The Donation Land Claim Act of late 1850 was enacted by Congress to promote homestead settlement, including the Oregon Territory. A large section of the South Willamette area was once part of the 320 acre Donation Land Claim of William & Elizabeth Breeding (claimed between 1850 and 1853). Lane County was created in 1851 and named in honor of Joseph Lane, Oregon's first territorial governor.

In 1853, the name of "Eugene City" was chosen by Mary Skinner, wife of Eugene Skinner. The population of the city reached 200 around 1855. Columbia College opened in 1856. Three years later in 1859, Oregon was admitted into the Union. In 1871 the Oregon & California Railroad came to Eugene. A station was constructed near Willamette and Fifth Ave. It was also that year that Willamette Street downtown is reported to have been graded and had gas lights installed. A year later in 1872, the University of Oregon was created by the State Legislature. The arrival of both the railroad and the university helped to draw many people to the area.

Turn of the Century

- Introduction:

The sub-division of College Hill was taking place by 1890 however the South Willamette area was mostly farmland and otherwise undeveloped at the turn of the century. The population of Eugene in 1890 was 2,478. Ten years later in 1900 the community would grow to 3,236 citizens. A 1914 map of Eugene identifies the southern city limits along Willamette Street to have been near 24th Avenue.

- Landscape:

A hundred years ago, most of the South Willamette area was farmland and open pasture. The Amazon Creek flowed through a riparian corridor of shrubbery and trees and served as a conduit for precipitation draining off the surrounding hills. Contrary to today's dense, tree-filled urban environment, the area was primarily open and grassy with occasional trees. Trees and shrubs likely existed along fence lines and near the few buildings that existed. Historic photos of College Hill indicate a mostly grassy environment with few if any larger trees. It has been reported however that there may have been some oak savannah on the southwestern slopes of College Hill (near the natural land bridge to College Crest and the Crest Drive Neighborhood).

- Shared Open Space:

A noted early occupant of the South Willamette area was the Eugene County Club. It was founded around 1899. The club operated a nine hole golf course on large portions of both College Hill and the South Willamette area. The course is reported to have ran between 24th and 28th Avenues and Willamette and Lawrence Streets. A clubhouse was located on the west side of Willamette Street near 25th Avenue. The course was accessible by a mule-drawn streetcar from downtown or by a wood plank path. It's believed the Eugene Country Club remained in the area into the mid 20's* when a new 18 hole course was opened at the current location on Country Club Road.

- Transportation:

Multiple modes of transportation were available: a system of foot paths existed to the south serving the Crest area and the valleys beyond. The start of the Lorane Highway was accessible off Wood (29th) Avenue (approximately where it would intersect with Lawrence Street). Horses and horse-drawn carriages were common. Bicycles were also in use as is evident by local advertising. Downtown Eugene and South Willamette are reported to have been accessible to one another via plank sidewalks or the College Hill Street Railway. This early, mule-drawn streetcar operated in Eugene from 1891 to 1900.

Early on, Willamette Street was being touted as the "main business street" in the Eugene City and Lane County Directory (1892-1893) running north and south. Early infrastructure improvements to the corridor include paving of Willamette in 1907* and additional paving to 20th Avenue in 1909*. Service on the College Hill Loop of the Portland, Eugene & Eastern Railway was inaugurated on July 31st, 1910*. The electric streetcar ran every half hour and cost 10 cents. Advertisements in the Eugene Daily Guard for Howe's College Crest Addition to Eugene states "Are you going to live another winter where you have to walk to town thru the mud? Remember- We have a car line".*

By 1910, the population of Eugene had risen to 9,009.

Installation of electric lighting on Willamette Street downtown also began in 1912. It was a couple years later in 1914 that nearly a mile of four inch water main was installed on South Willamette Street to supply houses along the street as far as the city limits around 24th Avenue. Around 1915, the City Council passed resolution demanding wood sidewalks be replaced by concrete. Around 1924 or 1925, additional paving on Willamette Street was completed from Hospital Road (near 20th Ave) to the city limits (still located near 24th Ave).

- Buildings/Uses both Residential and Commercial:

An early community establishment in the area was the Eugene General Hospital built in 1907. It was built on the west side of Willamette between 20th and 21st. It was renamed Mercy Hospital in 1912 after being purchased by the Catholic Sisters of Mercy.

Agricultural operations are known to have existed in the South Willamette area around the turn of the last century. According to Polk's Eugene City and Lane County Directory of 1918, the James S. and Julia E. Moore dairy farm is understood to have been in operation on the south side of Wood Ave (29th) about three blocks west of Willamette Street. Another advertisement identifies the Eugene Floral Company and the Eugene Carnation Farm (Mr. and Mrs. J.A. Hooning) operating a greenhouse at the northwest corner of Willamette and Summit (now 25th) Streets and identifies the "College Crest Car" (P.E.&E Railway electric streetcar) as a recommended method of transportation. A bit further to the north at 2193 Willamette lived C.S. Prather who raised poultry.

- Conclusion:

The gradual improvements made to Willamette Street, such as graveled and paved roads, streetcar service, electric lighting, concrete sidewalks, and water service, supported the development of early commercial districts in Eugene.

Mid 20th Century

- Introduction:

By the mid 20th century, the South Willamette area contained multiple gas stations, food outlets, and other businesses related to automobiles or residential needs. Larger scale agricultural uses such as farming had seemingly disappeared from the area and more urban uses had developed to provide goods and services to South Eugene's residents. The area was fairly self-sufficient and nearby neighbors could purchase many typical household goods without having to travel downtown. Population of Eugene in 1940 was 20,838. A zoning map of the City of Eugene was featured in the October 15, 1946 edition of the Eugene Register Guard. It confirms that 24th Avenue was still the city limit. The population more than doubled by 1960 to around 50,977 citizens.

- Landscape:

As residential sub-development occurred in the area, many homeowners landscaped their properties which resulted in a greater number and diversity of plants and trees in the area. This increase in vegetation is in contrast to the mostly open, grassy pasture that previously existed.

- Shared Open Space:

Amazon Park forms the eastern boundary of the South Willamette area. The park is around 100 acres in size and includes running trails, exercise equipment, a dog park, skateboard park, and more.

Civic Stadium was constructed in 1938. The Friends of Civic Stadium website includes information on the stadium's historic past and hopeful use into the future.

- Transportation:

The automobile became the dominant mode of transportation, along with buses. Streetcar service had ended in Eugene in 1927 overnight and buses were employed instead.

Cruising the "Gut" became a popular pastime with young people with automobiles beginning in the mid century and up until the 1980's.

- Buildings/Uses both Residential and Commercial:

Dense residential development occurred along sections of Willamette Street, Portland Street, and Amazon Parkway.

Many commercial businesses operated along Willamette Street in either stores or out of homes. In 1949, Willamette Ceramics operated at 2525 Willamette. Riddle Plumbing Shop operated out of 2568 Willamette. Rosencrans Heating & Sheet Metal and the R & G Manufacturing Company operated at 2773 Willamette. Pierce Cabinet Shop operated at 2809 Willamette. Baronti Animal Hospital operated at 2835 Willamette (current location of Animal Health Associates). The Danish Home Bakery operated at 2865 Willamette.

Several automobile-oriented businesses occupied property in the South Willamette area in the mid century. Dusty's South Willamette Service Station operated at 2495 Willamette. Doe's Body & Fender Service operated at 2887 Willamette and Union Oil Service (2895 Willamette) was located on the northeast corner of 29th & Willamette and . Stone's Service Station was located opposite on the southwest corner of the intersection. By 1952, Stone's had become Rick's Chevron Service.

The South Willamette area has been home to multiple grocers and food stores over time as well. According to the Eugene-Springfield and Vicinity Telephone Directory (December 1952), the Pay'N Takit Super Market, owned by Leonard & Ruth Skelton, was open 7 days a week at 2489 Willamette Street (current location of Capella Market). The market featured groceries, meats, a frozen foods department, fancy party foods, and more. A "large paved parking lot" was an additional convenience. The store became an Irish Swartz Market by 1955.

Other markets included Wick's Market at 2498 Willamette (current location of Down to Earth) who offered frozen food lockers for rent. The 29th Street Super Mart was located on the northwest corner of 29th and Willamette and offered "fountain lunch", a barber shop, and the availability of parking space. A final food market in existence during 1949 was Stone's Grocery (and Stone's Service Station as described above) operated at the southwest corner of 29th Avenue and Willamette Street.

The Eugene Drive-In Theatre was operating on South Willamette on a large lot roughly equivalent in size and location to current day Woodfield Station. The 1955 City of Eugene Directory lists Willard Gamble as the theater's owner. Aside from the outdoor theatre, additional amenities included a modern snack-bar, bottle warming service, and a "Kiddie Playground & Miniature Train Ride". Long-time neighborhood resident and volunteer Greg Giesy recalled "The screen for the drive-in move faced into the hill so neighbors with picture windows could watch the movie from their living room. The drive-in even ran wire to some of the homes so they they could hear the movies for a fee". The theater is known to have operated from at least 1949 through 1962. It relocated to Glenwood in 1963.

Additional businesses existing along South Willamette in 1955 include Cooper Brothers Heating Service at 2646 Willamette, Steinmuller Construction at 2705 Willamette, the Willamette Riding Stables at 2719 Willamette (horse rides south towards Spencer's Butte), Pennywise Drug Store and Lamont's Hatchery & Feed Company at 2800 Willamette, the Gable Tavern at 2841 Willamette, Whitney Floor Covering at 2845 Willamette, Oakes Cleaning Plant at 2855 Willamette, A & W Root Beer at the southeast corner of Willamette and 29th, and Builder's Supply Incorporated at 3255 Willamette. The Durham Brothers Logging Company was also located at 3586 Willamette. Much farther out was Tom's Poultry Farm at 5375 Willamette and Lucus Ranch at 5400 Willamette.

A couple community-oriented destinations on South Willamette were the Young Women's League at 2606 Willamette and the Dunn School at 3411 Willamette.

- Conclusion:

Many of the goods and services apparent along South Willamette in the mid century are similar to those we see today; grocery stores, gas stations, retail stores, dining establishment, and other small businesses.

Today

Residential in-fill over the past 50 years has left very few undeveloped lots in the area. The population of Eugene in 2010 was about 156,000. The city limits today along Willamette Street ends near the intersection with 52nd Ave. It's estimated that over the next 20 years an additional 34,000 people may move to Eugene.

Sources

Landscape Change in South Eugene, Oregon, 19th & 20th Centuries (2010) by Alvin W. Urquhart

South Willamette's "Gut" Exposed - Eugene, OR by Greg Giesy, Friendly Area Neighbors Board member and longtime resident. Originally printed in the Summer 2011 edition of the Friendly Area Neighborhood Newsletter.
http://www.friendlyareaneighbors.org/archive_docs/thegut.html

Transportation to College Crest in 1918 by Roger Houglum. Reprinted with permission from the Crest Drive Citizens Association Newsletter around 1988 (exact year of initial publication unknown).
http://www.friendlyareaneighbors.org/archive_docs/history_cc1918.html

Friendly Neighborhood Street Map with Historic Features, Friendly Area Neighborhood Newsletter, Winter Issue, January 2009.
http://www.friendlyareaneighbors.org/map_historic.html

Timeline of Eugene and College Hill History, Eugene Downtown Core Area Historic Context Statement Planning and Development Department, City of Eugene - November 1991.
http://www.friendlyareaneighbors.org/archive_docs/timeline.html

Conversation with Scott Landsfield, owner of Tsunmai Books, on February 24th, 2013: "Tsunami building built in 1949, was a dry cleaner and venetian blind store before, the connecting building was an insurance agency office and the end of the pavement was near 27th avenue for a while. the location of Skopil's Cleaners was once a livery stables and people could rent horses and ride south to the butte. The Gut was a popular draw to young people as far as Seattle to the north and Los Angeles to the south from the 1950's until it got bad in 1987".