History tells of glory days
When next you drive south down Highway 99W, look for the “Whiteson” sign about four miles from McMinnville.
This little cluster of buildings on your left appears to be a drowsy community, clinging to the adjacent highway as if it were a lifeline, but this once was a town with glory days.
Today, Whiteson has no school, no newspaper, no hotel, no bank. But history reminds us it once was a bustling railroad center and the crossing point for two railroads: the narrow gauge, Portland to Airlie line, and the standard gauge, Portland to Corvallis.
In 1915, it was an important shipping point for fruit, walnuts, poultry, vegetables. It had public school, high school, Presbyterian Church, Artisan Lodge, newspaper, two stores, hotel — and travelers, often requiring overnight stops, thus providing thriving business for the hotel.
Founder of this glory town was Henry White who, in 1851, headed across the Plains to Oregon with his wife and eight children. In a tragic accident en route, their 5-year-old son fell from a wagon and broke his leg.
In Oregon, the Whites first settled in Marion County, across the river from what was to become Wheatland. A few years later, they bought 300 acres at the Wheatland shipping port. Four years later, White sold the Wheatland acreage, bought 300 acres at the Whiteson site, gave the railroad a right-of-way and laid out “his” town, originally known as Whites. A post office was established Oct. 3, 1889, with Dennis A. Browne the first postmaster. The post office name was changed to Whiteson on Oct. 2, 1890.
In “An Illustrated History of Oregon” (1893), Harvey Hines wrote of Whiteson: “It is a beautiful town site, now having a hotel, and a few stores, and a corresponding number of residences.”
The burgeoning town also needed a school. For a time, there was talk of moving the little Johnson-Grub College-Waddell District No. 12 building to Whiteson. When this did not happen, Whiteson residents built their own one-room District No. 78 building and chose as school board members A.M. Hoffman, W.F. Howard and J.W. Hanville, and E.T. Miller as clerk.
The building was started in fall 1892 and finished in March 1893. “Schools of Old Yamhill” notes that during construction, the pupils perhaps attended school in Tyler’s Hall, where some early school meetings were held.
In April 1903, District No. 78 doubled its schoolroom space by adding a second room. Ninth and tenth grades were added to the curriculum, and a second teacher was hired.
Whiteson’s Front Street had a store at either end, each with gas pumps out front. The post office was in the store at the southern end of Front Street.
The Amish were considering Whiteson as a possible location. Oregon’s first Amish settlement was in the Rock Creek area of Clackamas County but, by 1895, some 20 years later, they had begun settling in the Amity area. A June 1896 issue of the “Amish Sugarcreek Budget” reported “an Amish settlement was proposed at Whiteson in Yamhill County.” Two years later, the settlement had grown sufficiently to have an ordination.
According to Father Martinus Cawley in “The Amish of Amity,” the move to Yamhill County had been motivated in part by need of new farms for recently married couples. Because of the financial squeeze of 1893, desirable land in the area was surprisingly inexpensive. He writes that, as the years passed, some Yamhill County Amish families moved into houses within the village of Whiteson, which were already wired for electricity — and Whiteson offered a grade school. Several Amish families took advantage of these ready-made Whiteson houses rather than building for themselves out on the farms. Those on Cherry Street, Whiteson’s northernmost road, had direct access to acreage between their back door and the bluff overlooking the Yamhill.
Father Cawley, Monk of Guadalupe, Trappist Abbey, described the public’s perception of the Amish: “Beards, bonnets, buggies, and buttons replaced by hook and eye.”
But then, Whiteson’s glory days began to fade. Americans were looking to automobiles and trucks instead of trains. A crisis in the Amish settlement resulted in an exodus to California.
The ninth and tenth grades at Whiteson School were dropped. And 1935-36 was the last year school was held in Whiteson. In 1942, Whiteson consolidated with Amity.
Whiteson — the glory town founded by Henry White — today has no newspaper, no bank, no hotel — but it has historic Whiteson Cemetery — known also as Taylor Cemetery.
Father Martinus writes, “The Amish graves mostly are located in the southeast corner under the big madrone. The more elegant stones are of recent date, but the humble cement stones are original. In fact, the mold in which they were made still exists.”
History also recalls Whiteson’s past with road signs, such as “Hook and Eye Lane” west of Whiteson. On this road, Amishman Sam Weirich built a residence where his son Alvin lived.
And look for the sign “Old Station Road” north of Whiteson. According to “Origin of Yamhill County Road Names” by Dan Linscheid and Elise Swan, Old Station Road marks the alignment of Highway 99W. Old Station was the railroad depot at Whiteson.
Likewise, the sign “Telegraph Road,” a mile east of Whiteson, recalls an earlier local chapter of history. It goes back to an ill-fated attempt in 1855-56 to connect Oregon with California in pioneer telegraphic days. In some areas, poles were not provided for the wires, so they were hung on trees. This resulted in maintenance problems and the system fell into disuse, according to Linscheid and Swan.
Glory-town today has not even a zip code, but history remembers its past. History remembers it played an important part in the making of Yamhill County.
Elaine Rohse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.