Looking back at the history of Frog Pond
Occasionally, while Jason Neumann-Grable spends a spring evening fixing up the old Frog Pond Grange — a yellow building overlooking pastures along Stafford Road and just outside Wilsonville city limits — he'll hear the faint pitch of frogs croaking.
Neumann-Grable and his wife, Lauri, are Hillsboro residents who became acquainted with the grange after joining St. Michael's Anglican Church, which rents out the old building for Sunday services. To them, the croaking is a bit of a mystery.
"I have heard a whole bunch of frogs but didn't know what direction they were coming from," Jason Neumann-Grable said.
When City of Wilsonville representatives talk about Frog Pond, they are usually referring to not only the Frog Pond West neighborhood, which is expected to sprout 610 homes, but also Frog Pond East and South, which recently were added to the urban growth boundary and will add an estimated 1,300 homes to the Wilsonville community in the coming decades.
But when it comes to the actual backstory of the supposed pond that drew in the springy amphibians or how the moniker "Frog Pond" came to be such a significant component of the Wilsonville community, even some longtime Wilsonville residents don't have a clear answer.
"Everyone is asking about where the name Frog Pond came from? It goes way back," said Ron Boeckman, a member of the pioneer Boeckman family.
Church has German roots
Two of the Wilsonville community's oldest structures were named after the frog pond: Frog Pond Church, which is now Meridian United Church of Christ, and the Frog Pond Grange, which initially was the Frog Pond School.
Frog Pond Church started as a German Evangelist Reformers Church in 1880 by a group of German settlers, including families whose namesakes signify two significant roads in Wilsonville: Boeckman and Elligsen.
The church's bell previously hung in the Old Colony Church of Aurora until it disbanded in 1876. Then, a local youth group bought the bell for the new church in Frog Pond.
And to this day, on evenings, Sundays and during weddings, if the accompanying pulley has been properly greased, the bell sings nearly 140 years later.
"It is just as important and historic as the church itself," Boeckman said.
The church was a community hub when Candace Bennett, a member of the Boeckman family, was growing up in the 1950s.
"My mom taught Sunday school there for 50 years. We'd go to church, and then there would be potlucks after church. We'd spend the whole afternoon at church," she said. "Fathers were in the consistory that had meetings all the time, mothers did volunteer work in the community. It seems like most of our time was spent there."
Frog Pond Church also held the popular Strawberry Festival, where attendance nearly matched the population of Wilsonville some years and included a ham dinner, German potato salad and strawberries picked from local farms.
"It was definitely the social neighborhood event of our church on an annual basis and one of the ones Wilsonville had to look forward to in those days," Boeckman said.
The church initially had a graveyard on its grounds but moved it to the current Meridian Cemetery on Southwest 65th Avenue.
"The theory is it became popular — not just in our church — that cemeteries had visibility if they were on a hillside. We moved ours to an excessively hilly location, which makes it very hard to care for," Boeckman said.
Wilsonville City Councilor Charlotte Lehan, a cemetery expert who is a member of the Oregon Historical Cemetery Commission, suspects there are still some remains under the church parking lot that were not moved to the new cemetery, and Boeckman said the church might add a marker to honor the remains that were left behind.
Nevertheless, a stroll through the cemetery might make one question the idea that Wilsonville is a French community, according to Lehan, a misconception due to nearby French Prairie.
"It (Frog Pond) was an early center of German settlement. How French are we? We have Charbonneau and Villebois, all these French names. (Yet) It's (Wilsonville) a pretty darn German town," she said.
Frog Pond Church long ago switched its name to the Meridian Church of Christ, but when Lehan was growing up in Wilsonville, people continued to refer to it by its former name.
"I always had to stop and think, it's the Meridian United Church of Christ. Everyone just called it the Frog Pond Church," she said.
According to a church document Boeckman found, titled "Frog Pond Church Yesterday and Today," one of the theories for how the name Frog Pond came to be was that before there were street signs, travelers would use other visual and auditory cues to find where they were going. So when churchgoers told others how to get to the church, they told them to follow the sound of the frogs.
"I thought it was interesting that they referred to the area as what the sound was," Boeckman said.
Another theory cited in the book was that there actually was a frog pond and you could hear the frogs for miles at one point.
School becomes the grange
Wilsonville resident Sparkle Anderson's ancestor John Kruse built the first school in Wilsonville in 1876: Frog Pond School.
Anderson's mother, Betty Kruse, actually attended the school until she graduated from eighth grade and went on to West Linn High School. The one-room school had students of all ages, including, according to Anderson, immigrants from Ireland and other places who had never attended school before. There also were many budding farmers.
"The kids, the boys especially, would go to school until they were big enough to work on the farm. And there weren't too many that actually graduated from eighth grade at that time," said Wilsonville historian Emery Aden in a City of Wilsonville document.
Meanwhile, the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, a fraternal organization made up of mainly farmers, met at the building and eventually built a second story that they could use as their own meeting space.
Anderson said that as bus services became prevalent, children in Frog Pond were able to attend Wilsonville Grade School, which was built around 1880, closer to the center of Wilsonville. In turn, Frog Pond School became superfluous. The school district sold the property to the grange shortly after Betty Kruse graduated, according to Anderson.
"My grandfather didn't want my mother to bus into town, so he (John Kruse) made sure it stayed open until she graduated," Anderson said.
The grange referred to the building as a "cracker box" because of its shaky foundation. It was rebuilt in 1922 using membership fees and donations at a time when membership was growing significantly.
According to an article about the grange in the Spokesman in 1999, the Frog Pond Grange had the first female grandmaster in the United States, Lydia Ann Carter, and the meetings focused on crop production.
"Discussions were held on which crops to plant and where the best markets would be," the article reads.
Anderson, who owns the well that provides water to the grange, has heard stories of grange members sending kids to throw rocks in the water where the frogs lived to get them to stop croaking.
"It kept the frogs quiet and the boys busy," she said.
At the time, it was, along with the church, a central community gathering spot.
"Between the grange and the church, that was the social life here," Bennett said.
"The Frog Pond Grange was a center of early agricultural and any nonreligious community activities," Lehan added.
Along with meetings, the grange hall hosted many dances, plays, birthday parties, bridal showers and garage sales, and Bennett said the same people who were members of the grange hall were often members of the church.
"There was a lot of good music and happiness and dancing," Boeckman said.
"We didn't have a whole lot of entertainment at that time. That (going to the grange) was something we did as entertainment to get together," said longtime Wilsonville resident Barb Boozier.
Anderson has heard that the parties could get a little rowdy.
"You could always tell the really good parties because by the time it was over, there would always be a big fight in the parking lot," Anderson said her mom told her.
The Frog Pond Grange still sits on Stafford Road and is still owned by the national grange organization.
However, Bennett's mother, Hilda Boeckman, who was the secretary of the grange for many decades, noted in a 1999 Spokesman article that farmers gradually became a significantly smaller portion of the grange membership.
"You had to be a farmer to join originally. Now there are no farmers anymore," Hilda said.
And according to Jason Neumann-Grable and fellow St. Michael's congregant Dave Mahar, the grange now includes mostly members of the church and other people who want to preserve the building.
Though St. Michael's doesn't own the building, the Neumann-Grables said the grange has allowed them to spruce it up. And the two have power-washed the place, removed blackberry bushes and fixed the furnace.
Their goal is, in part, to turn the grange hall into a community hub like it once was and to hold pancake breakfasts, dances, blood drives and other events there.
"With the proposed housing that's going to come along, we're hoping this could become a community center again for that neighborhood," Lauri said.
Past preserved for future
Weeks ago, as the rush to finish homes in the 2019 NW Street of Dreams located in Frog Pond West reached its apex, a construction worker fashioned each letter in the words "frog pond" onto a barrier structure on Boeckman Road in front of the nascent residential neighborhood.
About 10 years ago, Frog Pond residents lobbied the Metro regional government to decline to designate the area for industrial use and to preserve Wilsonville's vision of having it be more of a residential enclave.
"It was a very cohesive time for the citizens of the Frog Pond area. They really stepped up and were able to explain succinctly to Metro why that didn't make sense as an in-
dustrial expansion," Lehan said.
And during the most recent urban growth boundary expansion, Metro added Frog Pond East and South into the boundary for residential use, rather than industrial.
According to a City of Wilsonville document about the history of Frog Pond, the frogs lived in a "damp marshland," not a pond. Anderson said the frogs aren't as prevalent anymore because farmers drained the marshlands to make them more suitable for agricultural production.
But there still might be some damp spots where the amphibians congregate, which could account for the frog noises heard by Jason Neumann-Grable and others.
Though the frog pond might not have existed, the grange hall, the church and, especially the name itself, have been preserved in history.
"It (Frog Pond) immediately identifies a long-ago timeframe and a continued reference to some of the history of Wilsonville and (two) of its oldest buildings," Ron said.
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