A historical family
If walls could talk, one of Eagle Creek's oldest homes would have countless stories of love, heartbreak and family ties.
The Lucy and Josiah Burnett house was first built in 1860 to house some of Clackamas County's earliest settlers. After serving as a rental house for several years, the historic home crossed Highway 211 last summer to a new location at Philip Foster Farm. The farm at 29912 S.E. Eagle Creek Road is managed by the Jacknife-Zion-Horseheaven Historical Society, an organization whose name pays tribute to nicknames of three areas surrounding Estacada. Since last summer, volunteers have worked to restore the house and remove additions made after 1880, which are not considered historic.
The house will have its debut at a fundraiser on Saturday, May 20. The Burnett's great-granddaughter Joanne Broadhurst, great-great granddaughter Catherine Curra and great-grandson Tom Burnett, who has led the restoration process, will be present to share stories of their relatives and the house. Funds raised at the event will be used to finish the restoration process.
Once the restoration is complete, the house will be dedicated to showcasing the daily life and responsibilities of pioneer women.
The house is a valuable addition for the farm, which already has a house built in 1883 by Foster's son, Egbert. However, Lucy and Josiah's home is more chronologically appropriate for the historical site's era.
Additionally, the house's new location brings the memories of several relatives and historic Oregon figures closer together, allowing visitors to the farm to better understand all of the members of the Foster family.
After traveling from Maine with a brief stint in Hawaii, Lucy's parents Philip and Mary Charlotte Foster established themselves in Eagle Creek in the late 1840s and hosted numerous pioneers traveling west on the historic Barlow Road. Their 640 acre property featured a store and places for weary travelers to stay.
The Fosters had journeyed west from Maine in 1843. They had traveled with Mary Charlotte's brother Francis Pettygrove — one of the founders of Portland — and lived in Oregon City briefly prior to
settling in Eagle Creek in
Broadhurst attributes the move to Eagle Creek to Philip's entrepreneurial spirit.
"He might have thought (Eagle Creek) was a good place to establish a store and catch people as they came over the mountain," she said. "It was the first destination resort. They had cabins (pioneers) could stay in."
Eventually, Lucy would fall in love with one of these travelers, Josiah Burnett of Missouri. Though the Burnetts would continue on to Roseburg from the Philip Foster Farm, Josiah and Lucy began exchanging letters, and their friendship blossomed into love.
Several years after their first meeting, Josiah wrote to Philip to ask for Lucy's hand in marriage. She was 20, and he was 31.
"Through my want of fortitude I am compelled to resort to this method knowing that speach would fail and under imbarassment, a stammering tongue would fail to express the wish of a true heart," Josiah wrote. "I shall await your answer with impatience for upon your decision hangs my future hapinef. That all important decision, my hapinef or my misery depends."
Philip agreed, but not until Josiah procured letters of recommendation from a judge and Joseph Lane, the first governor of Oregon.
After their wedding in the late 1850s, Lucy and Josiah joined the rest of his family in Roseburg. They remained there for a brief stint, but Philip and Lucy began to miss one another. Lucy was also lonely because Josiah often traveled for his work as a surveyor.
The year after their wedding, Philip offered the newlyweds 40 acres if they were to move back to Eagle Creek. The couple accepted the offer, and in 1860, their house was built across the street from Philip and Mary Charlotte's.
Lucy and Josiah would raise five children in their home. One daughter died very young, one daughter died at 14 and three boys lived to adulthood.
After the Burnett's daughter, Frankie, died at 14, Lucy received "a letter from the nuns at St. Vincent Hospital, complimenting (her) for taking care of her daughter and condolences," Broadhurst said.
Years later, during the house's renovation after its move to Philip Foster Farm, Burnett found a tiny child's tea cup between the rafters of the house.
"I think Frankie was up (on the second floor of the house) playing one day and dropped her teacup," Curra said. "She probably said, 'Mommy, I dropped my tea cup, where did it go?'"
Though Josiah often traveled for work, he and Lucy maintained their relationship by writing letters.
"O dear Jo Heaven knows that I love thee with pure and devoted love," Lucy wrote in 1857. "Alas alas time makes changes but be assured Jo that time cannot obliterate nor distance sever the chain that binds our hearts."
In another letter, composed after the pair was married, Lucy told Josiah that she was only able to write a few lines,
as one of their children was
ill, but she missed him and wanted him to take care of himself.
In particular, Lucy encouraged Josiah to be careful while working.
"I would have you be as careful as your health as possible for these Oregon winters are dangerous to every one who is exposed to their inclemency," she wrote in 1857. "You had better make less money and preserve health than to have your millions and not have health for what is life when we are invalid."
Later in Josiah's career, political tensions would make work difficult to come by.
"The family (members) were staunch Democrats, and at that time, surveyors were kind of political jobs," Broadhurst said. "We went from Democratic presidents to Republican ones, and there was a period of time where (Josiah) didn't get a lot of contacts."
Rather than become discouraged, Josiah found other people to receive the contracts and convinced them to hire him as head of the project.
However, Josiah died while surveying for gold in 1875.
"They found what they thought was gold near Squaw Mountain, (which is) now the Tumula area and brought back some samples, but through that trip he got pneumonia and died," Broadhurst said. "They never got to the goldmine, and nobody else has ever found gold in this area."
Four years after her husband's death, Lucy died of tuberculosis. She was 41.
"I figured she died of a broken heart," Broadhurst said. "She had already lost one daughter early on, and then Frankie died, so she had lost two children and her husband died."
Curra believes Lucy's grief is palpable in historic photographs.
"In the pictures where she's a little older and in her mourning dress, you can just tell (by) her face that she's so sad," Curra said.
Lucy had sold the house to German immigrant and local merchant Henry Wilburn (who also purchased her father's store) after Josiah's death, and she died at her half-brother James' house in Walla Walla, Wash. After her death, her sons were raised by her brother Egbert in Eagle Creek.
Though Lucy lived many years ago, she continues to influence her family and others. For example, her son Augustus saved the christening dress that she used for all of her children, and through the years many family members have worn it, including Broadhurst, Curra and Curra's children and grandchildren.
"It's a really special thing," Curra said.
Additionally, several summers ago members of the Jacknife-Zion-Horseheaven Historical Society recreated Lucy and Josiah's wedding on the farm. People played the roles of Lucy, Josiah and their minister, and participants read from the couple's letters.
Both Curra and Broadhurst are happy to know people will continue to learn about Lucy's story with the restoration of her house.
"She was really brave to have to go through all of that," Curra said. "Having that romantic love with beautiful letters and then losing her husband 20 some odd years later. That's really sad, even though it was a common occurrence. Times were uncertain, but they had a really strong sense of family. You can see that from their letters."