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Famous walkers trot across new tome's pages

Bilderback spins tales of blackmail, train crashes, billboard menace


The Bilderback's new book has been released.Ken and Kris Bilderback’s latest book recounts sensational murder trials; a visit to Forest Grove from a United States President; accusations of blackmail and bribery against Pacific University’s president; killer cows, deadly train crashes and so many other fascinating details of local history since white settlers first appeared that you’d never expect the most riveting chapter focuses on sewage.

Ken Bilderback will talk about the sewage saga and other historical fun facts during his free 6 p.m. talk next Wednesday, April 30, in the Forest Grove City Library — and will donate $5 to Friends of the Forest Grove Library for every book sold at the event.

“Walking to Forest Grove: The Life and Times of the Prettiest Town in Oregon” brings to life all those dusty old names: the “Marsh” of Pacific University’s Marsh Hall, “Harvey Clarke” and “Joseph Gale” elementary schools, “David Hill” Road, Joseph “Gaston,” Col. Thomas “Cornelius” and more.

The book starts with two of the most famous “walks” to Forest Grove, including that of the only sitting U.S. President ever to visit the city: Rutherford B. Hayes.

As an Oregonian reporter recounted in 1880, the president and his entourage were taking the train to Forest Grove from Portland when a damaged trestle over Dairy Creek forced Hayes, his wife, son and the rest of the presidential party to disembark. They scrambled down the ravine through thick brush and weeds, crossing the creek and continuing on foot, singing songs to keep up their spirits, until they stopped two miles later, exhausted and hungry.

“A group of Civil War veterans travelling with the President formed a foraging party and found an orchard, where they picked apples for a Presidential snack,” Bilderback writes. “By now hastily assembled railroad crews had repaired the trestle, and the train was able to cross and catch up to the hikers. After a brief stop in Cornelius the train arrived in Forest Grove to be met by a fleet of carriages.”

Hayes visited with a friend who had served with him in the Civil War and shook hands with students from the “Indian School” started by Tabitha Brown.

Brown, who started both the Indian School and the Tualatin Academy (which became Pacific University), was the other famous walker.

Those who know her pivotal role in Forest Grove history might be surprised to learn the 66-year-old’s trip west from Missouri nearly ended in disaster.

For a savvy, educated woman, Brown made a surprisingly bad travel decision and wound up lost, hungry, freezing and stranded in the Sierra Nevada until her son came down from Forest Grove and rescued her.

Other chapters explore transportation problems; beautification efforts; devastating fires; newspaper rivalry; war stories from local veterans; Prohibition; and sensational murders, including a fatally stabbed victim who stumbled into a local newspaper office with just enough life left to name the murderer.

The edge-of-your-seat sewage story starts with the sickness and death of children who played each summer in the city’s stinky but cool drainage ditches.

It follows an exasperating series of delays, missteps and incompetence (every other word of this chapter seems to be “lawsuit”), including a dramatic fish kill in 1949, when thousands of dead fish the length of the Tualatin River were traced to Forest Grove.

Bilderback occasionally seems to wander off track. (Why are we reading about deer-hunting and Seventh-day Adventists in the middle of the sewage saga? What about the dying children?) But he usually finds his way back to his subject with an explanation for the diversion.

And he does a nice job of tying local events to larger societal changes, such as the disappearance of a “classless” agrarian society and the rise of the industrial revolution, with its continual tensions between workers and company owners.

For that — and for the story behind why “free-roaming cows were soon subject to arrest” — it’s a book well worth reading.




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