Oregon Historical Quarterly/Volume 7/A Brief History of the Establishment and Location of the University of Oregon at Eugene

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Oregon Historical Quarterly Volume 7 Number 2  (1906) 
A Brief History of the Establishment and Location of the University of Oregon at Eugene by J. J. Walton


By J. J. Walton.

The Congress of the United States donated to the State of Oregon two townships of land to aid in the establishment and support of a state university. These lands were selected by the authority and under the direction of the State Land Board, composed of the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer, in different parts of the State. These lands were sold by the State, or the greater part of them, and very unwisely, too, for they were sold at a very low price. The State has realized out of the proceeds of the sale of this 46,000 acres of land about $100,000, when, if care and proper attention had been given this matter by these officers the State could have realized $350,000 or $400,000. The fund arising from the sale of these lands was set apart by the law as an irreducible fund, the interest of which should be used in the support of a State University. The constitution of the State provides that the Legislative Assembly may locate the university and make laws to govern the same.

In the latter part of July or first of August, 1872, at the old schoolhouse in Eugene, a quiet meeting was held by a few citizens, consisting of W. J. J. Scott, Ben F. Dorris, as school directors, John C. Arnold, as teacher of district No. 4, and Hon. J. M. Thompson and S. H. Spencer as friends. The object of this meeting was to discuss the propriety and ascertain if the means could be raised to establish a high school in Eugene, which high school was to be located on a block of land if the same could be procured from the county. Hon. J. M. Thompson was then county judge. In the conversation at this little meeting Mr. J. C. Arnold suggested the propriety of asking the legislature of the State to aid in some way in erecting a high school building. This suggestion of Mr. Arnold brought to the mind of Judge Thompson the fact that at the near approaching session of the legislature the State University of Oregon would be located, as that was the time limited by the State constitution. Judge Thompson immediately told the gentlemen present about the location of the State University, and then asked those present why not make an effort to secure the location of that institution in Eugene. This idea sent an electric thrill through that little meeting and by their prompt action in a short time through the entire community. Mr. Dorris responded to the question asked by Judge Thompson with his usual vigor and enthusiasm, said that we must go to work immediately, and that a public meeting must be called for the next evening. Mr. Dorris further urged the little meeting to take prompt action in the matter, for the reason that but a short time before at the State Teachers' Institute held in Eugene in the old Baptist church, Prof. T. F. Campbell (father of P. L. Campbell, now president of the State University) made special and minute inquiry as to the extent and condition of the university lands in this county. This inquiry made by Professor Campbell was answered by Hon. T. G. Hendricks, who was then school superintendent of Lane County, as fully and completely as possible with the facts at hand. Mr. Dorris again suggested that Professor Campbell had in his mind the location of the university possibly at Monmouth, Oregon.

A public meeting was, accordingly, called for the next evening at the court house. A few responded to the call, and among the number was Hon. T. G. Hendricks and myself. The meeting heard the object of the call stated by the little company who had met the night before at the schoolhouse. It was immediately resolved to make an effort to secure the location of the university at Eugene. It was determined by the meeting to make an offer to the legislature of $50,000, or to procure a site and erect thereon a building suitable for university purposes worth the sum of $50,000, and deed the same to the State of Oregon. In order to handle this matter it was thought best to form a corporation, and a committee, consisting of J. M. Thompson, J. J. Walton, and Ben F. Dorris, was appointed to prepare and submit articles of incorporation. The committee prepared a form of corporation and named it the "Union University Association," with a capital stock of $50,000. The articles of incorporation were approved and adopted and the names of the incorporators are as follows: J. M. Thompson, J. J. Walton, W. J. J. Scott, B. F. Dorris, J. G. Gray, J. B. Underwood, J. J. Comstock, A. S. Patterson, S. H. Spencer, E. L. Bristow, E. L. Applegate, A. W. Patterson.

The articles of incorporation were signed and acknowledged on the 30th day of August, 1872, before O. W. Fitch, notary public. The legislature met in September, 1872, and it was necessary to have a bill prepared to present to the legislature to create the University of Oregon, and locate the same. The matter of preparing a bill in proper form was discussed by the incorporation, and it was determined to refer the same to Judge Mathew P. Deady, United States District Judge for Oregon, and then acting as code commissioner, appointed by the Legislature to codify the laws of Oregon. After some correspondence and interviews with a committee of the incorporation Judge Deady consented to prepare a draft of a bill with provisions suggested by the incorporators.

At that time it was thought proper and right by the members of the Union University Association, that inasmuch as the citizens of Eugene and Lane County were proposing to donate to the State a site and building worth $50,000, the Union University Association ought to have a right to elect a certain number of the board to govern the State University. So the bill provided that the board of directors to govern the State University should consist of nine members, six of whom to be appointed by the Governor of the State, and three to be elected by the Union University Association. The bill provided that the Union University Association should select a site, to be approved by the State Land Commissioners, and erect thereon a building worth $50,000, and deed the same to the State Of Oregon on or before the first day of January, 1874, and on failure to do so the act should become null and void. It was the intention and purpose of the incorporators of Union University Association, and those working with them, to raise the sum of $20,000 by subscriptions and donations principally in Eugene, and the remaining $80,000, by a tax levy on the assessable property of Lane County.

A bill authorizing the county court of Lane County to levy a tax on the assessable property of the county sufficient to raise the sum of $30,000 to aid in erecting the building for the university was drawn by a committee appointed by the Union University Association, and submitted to the legislature at the session thereof in 1872.

The incorporators of the Union University Association held a meeting October 23, 1872, to organize, and elected J. M. Thompson, chairman, and J. J. Walton, secretary. At that meeting a committee, consisting of J. M. Thompson, J. J. Walton, W. J. J. Scott, and B. F. Dorris, was appointed to solicit subscriptions. The sum of $20,000 was raised by subscriptions and donations, principally by the people of Eugene, but not without a struggle and persistent effort, for at that time Eugene was a small place. But the people were enthusiastic and enterprising, and very liberal in their donations.

The bill to create and locate the State University passed both houses and was signed by the Governor; and also the bill authorizing the county court to levy a tax on the assessable property of the county for the aid of the people in raising the remaining $30,000 to secure the university, passed the legislature and was signed by the Governor. The question of the location of the site of the University in Eugene was a source of much contention. The people living in the west end of the town wanted it located near them, while those living in the east end wanted it there. And on the 8th day of November, 1872, a called meeting of the Union University Association was held to consider the question, and it was decided to appoint a committee to select grounds for a site, and receive propositions and bids for the same. A committee was appointed for that purpose, consisting of Dr. A. W. Patterson, Ben F. Dorris, E. L. Bristow, W. J. J. Scott, and J. G. Gray. This committee received propositions from quite a number of persons to sell land for the site, and reported the same to the association. To harmonize these factions it was agreed to select a site for the university on the D. R. Christian land just south of Eleventh Street, and between High and Oak streets, containing some ten acres, that being a central point between the factions. But many serious objections were made to this location, the principal ones were that the land was too flat,—want of drainage, and that it would soon be in the center of the town. The act locating the university at Eugene, provided that the Board of State Land Commissioners, consisting of the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer, should approve and accept the site and building on the part of the State. I suggested to the Union University Association that inasmuch as the law required the State Land Commissioners to approve and accept the site, it would be the part of wisdom to invite these State officers to Eugene to look at the different sites offered and indicate the one they preferred. This was done. Governor Grover, Secretary Chadwick, and State Treasurer Fleischner were invited to come to Eugene and view the different sites and indicate the one they preferred. The Governor could not come. Secretary Chadwick and Treasurer Fleischner came, and after viewing all the sites offered, they selected the Henderson site, where the university now stands. This settled the controversy as to the site. The grounds, consisting of eighteen acres, were purchased of J. H. D. Henderson for the sum of $2,500.