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History buffs rejoice: A collection of information on Downtown's history is coming together, with more on the way.

COURTESY PHOTO: GFU - The online map allows users to click on a specific address and view all known businesses that have existed at that location. Many things are lost to time, but a group of George Fox University staff and students are making sure Newberg's history is not one of them.

Last school year, the group — composed of former university archivist Rachel Thomas, history professor Caitlin Corning, librarian Jenny Bruxvoort, chief of staff Rob Felton, student interns and an entire class — scoured various GFU resources for information on and photographs of downtown Newberg.

On April 15, after almost nine months of research, the team launched a new website showcasing two historical maps of Newberg's First Street, complete with data, written descriptions and photos.

The first map allows users to click on a specific address and view all known businesses that have existed at that location. The second map allows users to filter it by decade, with colored icons identifying the type of business a building held throughout time.

"(The website) provides a way for people to learn the history of downtown Newberg," Corning said. "Even people who are new can get a sense of the place."

Research for the maps took months, as staff and students poured through the school's archives, old sports programs and past editions of the Newberg Graphic, as well as the student newspaper and school yearbooks. They also sought wisdom from several local organizations, including the Newberg Downtown Coalition, the Newberg Area Historical Society and Newberg Rotary.

The project originated from a need to preserve Newberg history. In the 1990s, a fire destroyed a building containing historical records of the town, leaving GFU's archives as a main source of information about Newberg's past.

A few years ago, GFU applied for a grant from the Council on Independent Colleges and the Mellon Foundation to begin researching and building the website, but the project was sidelined thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, eventually revitalized this year.

The finished product was presented to the Newberg community in April and to audiences in Baltimore, Maryland, along with other schools' projects funded by the grant.

"I'm proud of the students," Corning said. "They accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. To do even First Street was a lot of work."

Everyone involved has also learned a lot of interesting facts about Newberg.

"My favorite fact I learned in this project is we had two female surgeons in Newberg at the turn of the (20th) century …," Connor Shelton, a GFU history major and the project's head student intern, said. "That's definitely something I wouldn't expect to see in towns at the turn of the century, but Newberg was able to do that."

Corning noted that many of the buildings in use today in downtown Newberg were constructed in the 1930s and earlier.

"You can walk downtown and know what this (building) was in the past …," Corning said. "While the shop inside isn't the same, the architecture is the same. It would be recognized if someone (from the past) popped forward, even if it wasn't a restaurant anymore."

"(The map) puts it into perspective the fact that we are a chapter in this history of this town that was there before us and will continue on after," Shelton added.

Over the next couple of years, Corning, with help from new batches of students, plans to map the rest of downtown Newberg, while also filling in the information they couldn't find about First Street. Another goal, she said, is to improve the narrative behind the map to better emphasize how downtown has changed over the decades.

Eventually, Corning said, she would love for the maps to be used as lesson plans at local elementary schools.

"It's useful right now, but our plan is to make it even more useful," Corning said.

Project leaders are looking for community feedback on the project. A questionnaire is available on the project's website


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