They heart history
Next Friday is St. Valentine’s Day. Next Friday is Oregon’s 155th birthday. Next Friday you can give your loved one a romantic card, a bouquet of roses and/or a heart-shaped box of chocolates capped by an intimate evening out.
If that sounds too stereotypical or unimaginative, make it an e-mail Valentine card, an orchid, local handmade chocolates or a box of Aplets & Cotlets, just to add a Northwest touch.
Then, putting an exclamation point on that old-time touch, you could head over to the Yamhill County Historical Society, at 605 Market St. in Lafayette, anywhere between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Feb. 14.
Why the historical society? Because the official county institution that preserves our heritage and chronicles our past is celebrating the Beaver State’s birthday.
A free open house will find both the historic Poling Memorial Church and the Miller Log Cabin open for viewing of exhibits, informal discussions with volunteers and a slice of birthday cake served with a cup of punch. All you have to do is bring a can of food for YCAP’s Regional Food Bank.
The Poling Memorial Church is, indeed, a piece of local history in its own right. Built in 1896, this Queen Anne edifice served as home to the Evangelical congregation for many years and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.
The Miller Cabin, though a more modern creation, having been built in 1994, is as handsomely well-constructed as any so-called “cabin” out in the woods or in the heart of town.
Half the main floor contains county records and other historical documents and materials. The other half is devoted to an extensive genealogical library where people can research Yamhill County pioneer familes. Archival files as well as work and artifact storage areas are upstairs.
Like most historical societies, Yamhill County’s has been given more items over the years than it can put on display. Recording information about provenance, cataloging and proper storage are ongoing tasks.
On the Miller Cabin shelves, you will find books stating that on Feb. 14, 1859, an Act of Congress was passed declaring Oregon a state. Most readily available would probably be the Oregon Blue Book, in which the entire act is reprinted.
Here is the preamble: “Whereas the people of Oregon have framed, ratified and adopted a constitution of state government which is republican in form, and in conformity with the Constitution of the United States and have applied for admission into the Union on an equal footing with the other states; therefore ... .”
This being the application’s official approval, it was accompanied by descriptions of all pertinent conditions, including boundaries, representation in Congress, use and disposition of public lands.
History buffs will recall the vast extent of the Oregon Territory prior to statehood. It encompassed the entireties of present day Oregon, Washington and Idaho, plus substantial sections of western Montana and Wyoming.
Upon acceptance of statehood, which passed in the Legislative Assembly on June 3, 1859, the act directed: “The residue of the Territory of Oregon shall be and is hereby incorporated into and made a part of the Territory of Washington.”
Yamhill County was established on July 5, 1843, as the Yamhill District. That came five years before the Oregon Territory was created by Congress.
Getting back to our state’s birthday and its relationship to Valentine’s Day: Actually, there isn’t one, at least not in any direct way.
Personal notes, handmade cards, candy and flowers were undoubtedly exchanged between romantically inclined couples in Washington, D.C.. on Feb. 14, 1859, the day Oregon became the 33rd state.
The Valentine’s Day tradition had flourished in England since early in the 18th century and America society was still very much influenced by the manners and customs of its former overlords.
On the rugged frontier, however, little notice was likely given to such niceties back in 1859. In the first place, there were as yet far fewer women than men. The 1860 census found Portland’s population to be 2,784, some 75 percent of them male.
There is the possibility, though slim, that a fancy Valentine card or two could have found their way by sailing ship to Portland — or even to the Yamhill Valley. If it had happened, credit should go to the creativity and business acumen of Esther A. Howland of Worcester, Mass., who began making ornate Valentine cards in the early 1840s.
Upon her graduation from Mount Holyoke Academy, Miss Howland received a beautifully hand-decorated Valentine from a business associate of her father.
She soon discovered it had been made in England, and correctly concluded that the cost of such an elaborate import was well beyond the reach of most Americans. She was the daughter of a successful businessman — he owned the largest book and stationery store in Worcester — and obviously inherited some of his entrepreneurial genes.
Becoming an importer herself, she tapped English suppliers for paper lace, ribbon and floral decorations that she crafted into a dozen Valentine card prototypes. She then enlisted her brother, who worked as a traveling salesman for the store, to pitch them to prospective buyers during his next sales trip.
As the story goes, she later said she would have been excited if he had come back with orders running a couple hundred dollars. But he returned with more than $5,000 in business, forcing her to move quickly.
The fame of Ms. Howland and her New England Valentine Company rapidly spread throughout the East, and eventually across the country, as eager buyers and recipients coveted her elaborate and colorful creations. In her own hometown, two competing companies cropped up, making Worcester America’s Valentine capital.
At the height of Esther Howland’s success in the late 1870s, sales in excess of $100,000 were racked up annually by “The Mother of the American Valentine.” Today, more than one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sold annually, outdone only by the 2.5 billion sold during the Christmas season.
Isn’t history fun? We’ve gone from Lafayette, Ore., to Worcester, Mass., and the 18th century to the present day. We’ve learned a bit about Oregon and Yamhill history. And we’ve certainly gotten an earful about things that come from the heart.
So get out there. Prepare for Valentine’s Day and Oregon’s birthday.
Buy those cards, candy and flowers. And go to 650 Market St. in Lafayette, where you can take a trip back in time — maybe all the way back to 1859.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.