The city celebrated its 'birthday' with cake and a song Saturday. Historical items were also put on display.

Cornelius has turned 125 years old, and on Saturday, May 5, that occasion was cause for celebration.

Mayor Jef Dalin led a crowd of several dozen in the Cornelius Elementary School cafeteria Saturday afternoon in singing "Happy Birthday" to the city. He then cut into a birthday cake, slices of which were served to attendees.

"I'm pleased that people wanted to come out today to learn more about their history," said City Manager Rob Drake — no stranger to these sorts of festivities, having presided over the centennial celebration in Beaverton in 1993, when he was the larger city's mayor.

Beaverton and Cornelius, along with nearby Sherwood, were all officially proclaimed cities on the same date: Feb. 10, 1893. In Cornelius, the City Council didn't hold its first meeting until May 5, 1893, and that is the date the city celebrates as its official "birthday."

Read the mayor of Cornelius' salute to the city on the occasion of 125 years since it incorporated, published May 2, 2018.

One of the most prominent local families in what was then called the Free Orchards area in the years leading up to incorporation was that of Col. Thomas R. Cornelius, a veteran of the Indian Wars as well as a farmer and businessman. When the city was incorporated, it was named for Cornelius.

Washington County Sgt. Jordan Weston, who serves the Cornelius Police Department — the city previously maintained its own police force, but it now contracts with the Washington County Sheriff's Office for police services — wore period attire, including a top hat, to portray Col. Cornelius for the event, alongside Liza Schade, curator of the Washington County Museum, who dressed as the colonel's niece Tillie.

"This is one of my favorite things to do, is to do historical re-enactments," Schade said. "Any time I get the opportunity to dress up is always fun."

Schade brought artifacts to represent the history of Oregon, which were spread out across several tables inside the museum. (Yet more, and much bigger, pieces of history were on display outside the school: old farm equipment, a vintage steam-powered water pumper and a real historical covered wagon, among others.)

"The items really physically connect you to those actual people that used these items and lived entire lives that we may never even know about," Schade said, indicating a boiled-leather bucket that was once used by the Cornelius Fire Department. "Who knows who actually used this fire bucket, but just touching it or looking at it makes you imagine yourself as a fireman in the 1890s."

Stacy Metzger and Bob Haney told visitors about the purpose, mechanics and history behind the water pumper, an apparatus built by the American LaFrance Fire Engine Co. in 1907.

The pumper was considered outdated by the time it arrived in Forest Grove and Cornelius during the Great Depression, having been determined to be surplus by Portland Fire & Rescue. But it faithfully served the rural area for many years after that, being towed by a tractor out to the scene of fires and supplying water from a coal-fed steam boiler, Metzger and Haney said. It is still owned by Forest Grove Fire & Rescue and displayed at parades and other special events, like the 125th anniversary celebration in Cornelius.

"It's so beautiful, you know, and you don't expect something mechanical to be beautiful until you really take a look at all the parts," Metzger said. "Kind of like the way you look at a part up close of a steam locomotive, and it's like art. Things were beautiful then, and now they're just 'how fast?' or 'how functional?'"

Dalin congratulated winners of a youth drawing contest to portray "What Did Cornelius and its Residents Look Like in 1893?" Winners were Mariana Garcia Luna, a third-grader at Echo Shaw Elementary School, and Rebekah and Grace Stramel, third- and seventh-graders at Free Orchards Elementary School and Evergreen Middle School respectively.

Drake noted the outside contributions that the city's partners made to the event, from the apparatus provided by Forest Grove Fire & Rescue to the drawing submissions from the Hillsboro School District to the artifacts and costumes brought by the Washington County Museum. He was pleased with the turnout, too, he said — dozens of people from across the age spectrum.

"I think it's part of the city having an identity and honoring our past," Drake said. "And there are a lot of younger people today, as there are folks who've been here a while, but it sort of extends the life of the city and lets them see what the city was and what it's becoming. I mean, we have a lot of change and progress, and yet we still have maintained a small-town feel."

By Mark Miller
Editor, Forest Grove News-Times
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