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Voices of Spencer Creek

The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte: A Little History of the Spencer Butte Neighborhood Association

Daily Democracy and Helping Each Other Through the Years

By Lois Barton

Posted on Oct 31, 2003

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"The Party," with ancestors and the living, scanned image of painting by Susan Applegate

Our rural community boasts a neighborhood association. In its original form this friendly gathering was founded in 1921. At that time this was a farming community and folks got to the monthly meetings by horse power in the flesh, usually teams and wagons.

The Spencer Butte Neighborhood association these days may hold an annual progressive dinner where attendees eat each course of the meal in a different home. We all own a ten acre park with a well, electric power and a small service building. Occasional fire control demonstrations take place at the park. There is often an Easter egg hunt for local children in the park, and meetings now and then in member homes providing educational opportunities for members and attendees: a mushroom specialist, small woodlot management, local water problems, or fire protection.

As the community developed into primarily a bedroom community the name was changed to reflect a new focus. In the 1950s this was called the Spencer Butte Improvement Association. For several years members ran a food booth at the Lane County Fair where they served potato salad and barbecued chicken. A logo was designed. Plans were developed to get fire protection here outside the city limits. Because there were no fire plugs, and pumper fire trucks must climb a long hill from the city station, a water storage tank was added in the park where pumper trucks could refill without that long trip to town. Representatives were elected to serve on the district fire board. With these arrangements in place, insurance rates on upscale suburban-type homes became more reasonable.

County road crews were persuaded to clear roadside brush by hand rather than using chemical sprays. The gravel access roads were paved in the 1970s, a big improvement especially on the long Willamette hill. *That* road had been hazardous for years because it was used by trucks hauling construction discards to a city dump in the neighborhood. The gravel was seeded with broken glass and nails dropped from those dump trucks, creating frequent flat tires for local residents who used the road. At the time local feeling ran high among folks who believed the improved access would lead to speed-caused accidents and possibly more vandalism because of the very ease of access.

The original community organization was entered into in 1921, as explained in the book Spencer Butte Pioneers. An old newspaper clipping dated June 4th, 1921, notes that a "Spencer Butte Progressive community club was organized 'last Sunday,' ...About fifty people who make their homes near Spencer Butte gathered for dinner and a social day. Officers were elected. ...and a committee appointed to draft rules and bylaws."

The Spencer Butte Pioneers book continues the story with accounts of those days by various interviewees. " 'Florence Murdock told about Saturday night dances in their home...People came from all around with their lanterns and their boots, even from Creswell. The living room was big enough for three squares at one time. Some of the Swaggarts use to play for the dances. Then the Swaggarts got saved and didn't go to dances any more.'

Elsie Sutton confirmed this story and added 'When we got converted they had to hire someone else to play for the dances.' Later Lester Swaggart donated an acre of land for the club's use and the neighborhood group started a club house. The building was used for Sunday School classes and other functions, as well as the club's dances and other social events.

Ralph Toll and his mother described the clubhouse as they remembered it: 'It was a forty-by-sixty-foot building and it had a division for the kitchen. They never finished that building. The two by four studding was framed in and a bed room the same way. They put a bed in there for the little kids. They had benches all the way around the main room and they danced in the middle. They had a big stove on the north end. It was a wood heating stove. They used to stick me under the benches while they were dancing and all I could see was ankles.'

Ralph's mother corrected him, saying 'There was a long table stretched out there, eight or ten feet long. I put him back under the table. Fixed him a bed under there. He wasn't the only one. There was a whole bunch of kids under there. The Christensen's little girl was about four or five.'

Ralph continued, 'The kitchen was framed in on the north and the bedroom or lounge was on the other side. There was a door that faced toward the Sisters (mountain peaks in the Cascade Range) that would have been east. That was a double door and the kitchen was on the right as you came in and across the hallway was the bedroom. The alleyway was about ten feet wide and the bedroom was about eight by twenty as I remember it. There was twenty-one windows around the building. The east entrance was the main one. There was a single door over in the northwest, and then a single door came into the kitchen on that north side.

'It was built with a triple floor. It was framed for a second story, but
they never did do anything up there. It would have been right nice if we'd ever got it finished. They had shelves across the east side of the kitchen and a big cook stove in there with one of those warming ovens. I got the job of filling the reservoir.'

Maggie interjected here, 'Well you helped. You was too little to do much,
but you took your little bucket and carried what you could.'

"Ralph went on. 'Roy (Toll) and Marvin (Swaggart) and Bill (Kindt) and Orin and Kenneth Westrope brought in the water but they let me help. They had a pump. a pitcher pump, just outside the kitchen door. If I remember right it was about an eight foot well. Jim Breeding dug that well...' "

The building was torn down during WWII for the lumber in it. People had
moved away and the club was no longer meeting. Gertrude Knox shared memories from those days.

" 'We used to have a dance up there every other week or so. People in the
neighborhood played for it. Everybody would take a cake or sandwiches or something. The clubhouse was never quite finished. It was always just a big hall with two-by-fours that were going to be partitioned off but it never did get finished. There was an old barrel stove in it and they would start a fire. Tables for food. We used to have Sunday School there. I can remember going to Sunday School picnics there and there was the tents and the rest rooms. Breedings and McBeths and Toll, Kindts. There was just a certain group that always came. Westropes was another family. I was about eight years old. ...I can remember many a time going to a dance in the middle of winter up there. Mother and dad would put us in the back of the hack, on a blanket, and road would be so rough. We'd cry and fuss about it, and they'd sing at the top of their voices to cover our fussin'. We had a wonderful time after we got there. They'd dance till midnight, then eat, and we'd have that long drive back home.' "

The ambiance that connected neighbors fifty years ago has largely
disappeared. Neighborhood Association meetings attract only a few people out of the hundreds who live within the three mile radius of Spencer Butte, which used to mark the boundaries of the Improvement Association in the '50s. There is a "fire list" which can be used to warn neighbors of a local fire, but the majority of those same folks work "in town" and are not home to receive fire calls, or any other kind during daylight hours. I've lived on this old homestead south of the Butte for more than fifty years, and rue the changing times which have so completely altered the local human interactions of those earlier days.

Copyright ©2003 by Lois Barton

Now Available on Compact Disk:

Stories from The Sunnyside of Spencer Butte

Three and a half years of years Lois Barton's stories–so you can read them without going online!

Lois Barton's Selected Works
Volume I, Chanticleer's Tales

Send $10, plus postage of $1.50
84889 Harry Taylor Rd.
Eugene, OR 97405

Writer and historian
Lois Barton
Lois Barton is an 85 year old mother of eight children. She has lived on the same rural acreage just south of Eugene, Oregon for more than 50 years. All their children learned to milk, to keep the woodboxes filled, to do their share of household and garden chores. Her first book, Spencer Butte Pioneers, was published in 1982 when her youngest started to school. Since then she wrote five other books: Daughter of the Soil, now out of print; One Woman's West; A Quaker Promise Kept; and Through My Window, autobiographical sketches, sequel to Daughter Of the Soil.

Through the years Lois has been a 4H leader, president of the neighborhood association, a precinct committee woman, election board clerk, editor of the Lane County Historian, and a life long Quaker. She spent a month in Southeast Asia in 1974 as a member of a church peace mission, after working for ten years as director of the Eugene Chapter of the World Without War Council.

Visit the Sunnyside of Spencer Butte Section in our new format for more of Lois' stories. See more of Lois Barton's articles in West By online magazine's archives:

Visit the Heron Rookery

Sauerkraut and All That

Charlotte's Overdose - Just who is Charlotte and what did she take?

The Midwife - The midnight call awoke an unusual midwife.

The Mystery of Fox Hollow - Fact and fiction meet in this story of the origins of Faith Rock.

Trees, Tame Trees and Squirrel.

© Copyright 2000-2004 by West By

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