Determination in deed
Many of us keep a few coveted mementos from our family’s past stashed away for safekeeping, to be trotted out from time to time for reminiscing with relatives and friends.
Some of us even proudly display on the walls of our homes a framed photo or two featuring long gone relatives whose names have great or even great-great in front of them. We cherish such tangible links to our lineage as the personal treasures they are.
For most of us, these are our only material connections to our family heritage.
Judy Odell McAllister of Dayton is one of the few who can lay claim to something more. In addition to vintage photos and other items of Odell memorabilia, she owns a family cemetery.
How did she come by this very personal piece of real estate? And how did it manage to survive intact?
That story begins with her great-great- grandfather — John Odell, 1799-1869 — who completed the journey across the Great Plains in 1851 with his wife, Sarah, and two sons.
He acquired a 320-acre donation land claim just east of Dayton and began farming. Five years later, at the age of 56, he decided to set aside an acre and a quarter as the final resting place for members of his family.
The plot of wooded land was adjacent to Webfoot Road, making it easily accessible for burials and visits. In fact, it proved to be so conveniently located, he ultimately donated it to the local Methodist church he co-founded.
What came to be known as the Webfoot community built a chapel on the property. And it assumed management of the cemetery.
A pastor from Jason Lee’s Methodist Mission at French Prairie crossed the Willamette River on the Wheatland Ferry to conduct services for a small but active congregation.
John’s eldest son, William Odell, became involved in the development of Dayton. He worked in conjunction with its proprietors, Gen. Joel Palmer, the famed pioneer leader and legislator, and his partner, Andrew Smith.
William went on to become surveyor general of Oregon, deputy U.S. surveyor, postmaster general for Oregon and president of Willamette University.
John’s other son — McAllister’s great- grandfather, John Albert Odell, 1844-1918 — inherited the family farm. Known as Albert, he and his wife, Martha, farmed it aggressively and added a peach orchard.
The family augmented its local status when one of Albert and Martha’s daughters married into the highly successful Alderman clan.
The Alderman Farms agricultural and food processing operations eclipsed all others in the area. The majority of teens living in the eastern part of the valley before the mid-1960s worked for the Aldermans at one time or another.
In 1916, just a couple of years prior to his death, John Albert made an arrangement with his son, Albert, and daughter, Sadie, to split the 320-acre farm equally.
But the interests of young Albert, 1880-1967, lay elsewhere. He almost immediately sold his 160 acres to Sadie and moved to Portland.
The following year, Albert — McAllister’s grandfather — had a son, Charles — McAllister’s father.
Albert’s wife had an extensive network of relatives in Portland, so the Portland Odells had only occasional contact with their kin in Dayton. But old family ties eventually drew McAllister back to her Yamhill Valley roots.
She and her husband, Dennis, moved onto rural property near Dayton in 2005. And that kindled her interest in Odell family history.
She was aware of the family cemetery from discussions with relatives. The old family farm had been sold back in the ‘40s, but she discovered the cemetery had been deeded to the Methodist Church early on, so wasn’t part of the deal.
Further research turned up the fact that one of the conditions of ownership set forth between her great-great grandfather John and the church was continued maintenance of the cemetery.
And one glance at the site’s long-abandoned chapel, a replacement for the original, was enough to show the condition had not been met. The grounds were badly overgrown.
The sad state of affairs was exacerbated by overt signs of vandalism, both to the chapel and cemetery. And within that cemetery lay the remains of many of McAllister’s ancestors, including patriarch John Odell.
Given the breach of terms, ownership of the property legally reverted to the family. But none of McAllister’s relatives were interested in pressing a claim, so she and her husband decided to take it up with the church on their own.
The church ended up verifying its custody of the original deed, acknowledging its failure to meet terms of the conveyance and renouncing any claim it might have to the property. That enabled McAllister to claim ownership, legally conveyed by the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church on June 7, 2005, via a bargain and sale deed.
However, the current owner of the old family farm is listed as the owner of record by the county, and has refused to sign a quit claim deed acknowledging the McAllister ownership. That continues to cloud the title.
Over the past several years, McAllister and her husband, sometimes assisted by other members of the family, have invested considerable time and effort into cleaning up the property.
“The chapel looks a lot better,” McAllister said. “But it needs a roof badly, and we just don’t feel that we can put in the money without resolving this issue.”
She said members of many other pioneer families are also buried in the cemetery, including the Herndons, Logans, McTeers, Cooverts, Perrys, Turners, Robertsons, Logans and Nichols. So her interest isn’t just personal.
McAllister said, “We just want to see this historic cemetery taken care of. The mistake by Yamhill County should be corrected. Our only recourse is to make noise and hope someone will listen.”
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — taking a close look at the piece of pioneer history on Webfoot Road that deserves to be preserved.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.