CORVALLIS IN THE NEW CENTURY: THE DAWN OF THE MOTOR AGE, 1900-1929

Historical Narrative

"Prosperity and Progress are in the atmosphere, and are the marked characteristics of this rapidly developing community, while its prestige as an educational center lends that indefinable charm in people and in manners which is indissolubly linked with a university town. The moral tone of the community is accentuated by the entire absence of saloons in Corvallis" (Description of Corvallis in 1910, Corvallis Commercial Club 1910:26).

Growth and the emergence of Corvallis as a genuine "college town" characterize this period of history. In contrast to the preceding ten years, which saw the population increase 19%, the first ten years of the twentieth century saw the population of Corvallis increase by 150% to 4,552 people (Population by Counties and Minor Divisions, 1900, 1910).

As the first decade of the twentieth century unfolded, Corvallis witnessed the introduction of the automobile and the "bungalow", two innovations which would profoundly affect the future development and appearance of the community. The river, which had played such a prominent role in the life of the community in the nineteenth century, was no longer consequential to the city (Corning 1973:114).

By 1900, the hard times brought on by the Panic of 1893 were forgotten in Oregon (Dicken and Dicken 1979:132). The first decade of the twentieth century was a prosperous period for Corvallis, perhaps aided by promotional literature like that distributed by the Benton County Citizen's League and the Commercial Club. The early twentieth century saw the establishment of a number of such organizations with the goal of promoting and improving Corvallis and Benton County. Among these groups were the Commercial Club, the Village Improvement Society, the Benton County Citizen's League, and the Civic Improvement Committee. The Commercial Club, which had 150 male-only members in 1910, was responsible for promoting paving projects, the cannery, sewer improvements and the gravity flow water system.

Probably in response to the nationwide "City Beautiful" Movement of this period, the Village Improvement Society was organized. The goal of the society was to beautify Corvallis through street clean-ups, landscape improvements at the depot, sewer improvements, etc. (Minutes of the Village Improvement Society, 1904-1911). The Civic Improvement Committee, among other projects, planted many trees on city streets in 1924. In the 1920's, the Chamber of Commerce civic improvement committee sponsored an annual Home and Town Beautification Campaign (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Apr. 5, 1924).

In 1905, Corvallis adopted a local option law and became a "dry" town (Corvallis Gazette-Times, July 24, 1937). In 1908, the numbering of streets in Corvallis was initiated. Monroe was chosen as the north-south base line because it was the most central street and the longest street running east-west, and the Willamette River was chosen as the east-west base line (Corvallis Times, March 27, 1908).

Progress was the tone of the period and major improvements to the city's infrastructure were carried out at this time. In 1905, the city voted to build a gravity flow water system to tap water from the Mary's Peak watershed. Ten-inch wooden pipe was laid from Rock Creek to Bald Hill west of Corvallis. Here a reservoir was built to feed city water mains. The plant was completed and put into operation in 1906. In 1927, much of the wooden pipe was replaced by steel pipe (Corvallis Gazette Times, March 19, 1976). By 1912, Corvallis had more phones per capita than any other city of its size in the U.S. (Corvallis and Benton County, Oregon 1910:12). Paving of city streets began in 1910. By 1912, Corvallis had 5 1/2 miles of bitulithic pavement. In 1911, two new sewers were laid (Corvallis and Benton County, Oregon 1910:12).

Even though the tone of the period was progressive with an emphasis on the future, there was an attempt to preserve history. In 1915, land near the Mary's River, which included pioneer J.C. Avery's house, was purchased for a city park. Descendants of J.C. Avery planned to move the historic Avery residence, which had been built in the early 1850's, and preserve it as a landmark. In 1916, the house burned before it could be moved. All that remained were the two chimneys, ten feet apart.

In 1912, the Southern Pacific Railroad published a publicity brochure for Corvallis and Benton County as part of an effort to promote emigration to the region on its rail lines. This may have been a contributing factor to the population growth during the first decade. Population expansion resulted in a large annexation of area to the city in 1909. Additions platted during the decade from 1900-1910 included: Louisa Irwin's Addition (1905), College Crest Addition (1907), North College Hill Addition (Supplemental Plat, 1908), Miller's Addition (1909), Emery and Kent's Addition (1909), N.P. and B. Avery's Second Addition (1909), Fairview Addition (1909), Rosedale Addition (1909), Park Terrace Addition (1909), and West Corvallis (1909). The flurry of platting activity in 1909 reflects the large area annexed on the west side of the city that year which essentially doubled the size of Corvallis.

In these additions, homes illustrating the wide range of early twentieth century architectural styles were built including: the Queen Anne style in the late nineteenth century; the transitional Colonial Revival styles in the early twentieth century; the Modern styles, such as the Bungalow and Craftsman styles toward the end of the decade; as well as vernacular house forms, such as the persistent gable-front and wing, gabled-ell, foursquare, and the hipped roof cottage. In 1904, the Benton County Citizen's League reported that $1000-$2500 bought a well-improved and pleasant city residence (Benton County Citizen's League 1904).

Of interest was the number of houses rented and not owner occupied at the turn of the century. An analysis of the U.S. Census of Benton County for 1900 indicates that of the 714 families enumerated as living in urban areas of Benton County, 362 were renting their houses (Martin 1938:22). The need for housing was, in part, related to the growth of the college in this period. In 1905, Professor Horner purchased lots to erect cottages for sale to families who came to Corvallis for educational purposes (Corvallis Gazette, May 3, 1905).

A promotional brochure distributed by the Corvallis Commercial Club in 1910 noted that, in 1909, more than 200 buildings were constructed, several roads laid throughout the residential district, and an "artistic system of modern parking adopted and carried out". In the business district, there were contracts for $100,000 worth of pavement and miles of cement sidewalks were laid out in the city (Corvallis and Benton County, Oregon 1910:22). The brochure further asserted that, "Corvallis has great advantage for the home builder; business opportunities and social and educational advantages" (Corvallis and Benton County, Oregon, 1910:26).

While the population continued to grow in the second decade of the twentieth century, growth was much slower but still amounted to a 26% increase in the years from 1910 to 1920 (Populations by Counties and Minor Civil Divisions; U.S. Census, Vol. I, Population, 1940). Several more additions were platted in the decade from 1910 to 1920, including the Oak Creek Addition (1911), Miller's Second Addition (1911), College Heights Addition (1911), Kerr's Addition (1912), Hollenberg's Addition (1913), Fisher's Addition (1913), Fraternity Square (Supplemental Plat of College Hill Addition, 1915), Arnold Heights Addition (1916), and Supplemental Plat College Hill Addition (1920). It was noted that some of these additions transformed this section "from a wheat field and prune orchard to beautiful residences" (Gazette-Times, July 24, 1937). At the time these additions were platted, the Bungalow and Craftsman styles were at the height of their popularity. In 1912, over 100 residences were constructed (Polk 1913:247). Fifty-three of these residences were built east of Ninth Street, in the older portion of the city.

Development was also occurring some distance from the core city area. In 1911, the former D.B. Mulkey Donation Land Claim, northwest of town, was divided into 64 lots (located in the current Timberhill-Arrowood Circle vicinity) and the Willamettedale Farm, north of town, was divided into 16 parcels.

The early years of the 1920's saw extensive development in Corvallis. While there was a 31% increase in the population in the decade from 1920 to 1930, most of that population was added to the city in the early 1920's, with the population of Corvallis increasing by 1500 people in the first three years of the 1920's. This new populace boosted home building, especially in the years of 1921 and 1922. Much of this building occurred in additions platted during the preceding two decades, although the older sections of town also saw new construction as homeowners, who no longer needed so much land for barns and outbuildings, reduced their holdings to a single lot and sold adjoining lots.

Many of the plats dating to the third decade of the twentieth century were supplemental plats to already existing additions. They included a Supplemental Plat of Blocks 8, 9, 13, 14 College Hill Addition (1920), Supplemental Plat of the Fairview Addition (1921), Supplemental Plat of Block 10 College Hill Addition (1921), Beal's Supplement to Blocks 15 and 16 of the Wells and McElroy Addition (1922), Johnson's Addition - Supplement to Blocks 15 and 16 of the Wells and McElroy Addition (1926), Baber's Supplement to Lots 2 and 3 College Homes Addition (1928), and Reitsma's Subdivision of Lot 3 College Homes (1928). A new area platted at this time was the Hillcrest Addition, platted in 1921.

In 1921, 173 new residences were built and, in 1922, 125 residences were built. Of this number, 53 were built north of Madison, 35 were constructed south of Madison, and 35 were built on College Hill (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Jan. 1, 1923). In 1923, only 36 new residences were built. The newspaper reported that homes in 1922 ranged from $1000, for a "cottage" built for the use of self supporting students, to $4000. There were also some homes costing $20,000 (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Jan. 1, 1923).

It was during the 1920's that the development of the area known as south Corvallis, on the south side of the Mary's River, began with land subdivided into smaller tracts. Among these tracts were the Lincoln Tracts (1921), the Carver Tracts (1923), and Lilly Acres (1926). Figures IV-1, 2 and 3 illustrate the locations and boundaries of plats from this period of history.

In 1925, Corvallis had a city planner and, for the first time, building permits were required to build new structures. A.D. Taylor, the planner, recommended in 1925 that the riverfront be acquired by the city and developed as a park. He urged development of the school property, west of Sixth Street between Madison and Monroe, as a park, and he advocated the development of Avery woods as a park with access from 15th and Western streets (Corvallis Gazette-Times, March 19, 1976, p.A5). He also recommended that the city adopt a zoning ordinance to protect home owners from garages, laundries etc. (Corvallis Gazette-Times, March 19, 1976:A-5).

Based on previous surveys, the first apartment buildings in Corvallis were probably built in the early twentieth century. These first apartment buildings were generally built of wood, but in the 1920's, more substantial apartment buildings of brick, concrete, or stone tile were built.

Five apartment buildings were constructed in 1922, including the Beaver Apartments on north Second Street built by Camp and Steinel, owners of the Beaver Laundry (Corvallis Gazette-Times, Jan. 1, 1923). These apartments were built next to the laundry and used steam produced by the laundry for heat. Other apartment buildings constructed that year included the Fairview Apartments at Twelfth and Van Buren streets, the Ball Apartments in the Ball Building on the corner of Third and Jefferson, and the Schneider Apartments at 26th and Arnold Way.

In 1925, the 2 and one-half story, wood-frame McCready Apartments were built on the southeast corner of Fourth and "B" streets for J.S. McCready. Mr. McCready was also owner of the Corvallis Lumber Company located a block away from the apartments. That same year, the concrete Heckart Apartments were built on the northwest corner of Fifth and Monroe streets (Corvallis Gazette-Times, June 9, 1925). H.E. Wilder, a building contractor, erected a three-story, brick, "Spanish Type" apartment building on the northeast corner of Tenth and Jackson streets in 1926 (Fig. IV-6) (Corvallis Gazette-Times, October 15, 1926).
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