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10 biggest milestones, myths about founding will be discussed at History Pub event

PMG FILE PHOTO - Wilsonville Councilor Charlotte Lehan will discuss the myths of the city's past, including the mystery of whether Jesse or Alphonso Boone started Boones Ferry.

So far this year, McMenamins Old Church and Pub's "History Pub" 2019 series slate has included topics such as UFOs in the Pacific Northwest, "pinball racqueteers" and the legacy of the Tillamook Burn.

The monthly event in Wilsonville is a way for locals to learn about local history. But it's rare that topics directly pertain to Wilsonville's past — that is until this month.

At 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 24, the Wilsonville-Boones Ferry Historical Society and Wilsonville Library Foundation is hosting an event titled "Myths and Milestones – Ten things you need to know about Wilsonville History." Longtime City of Wilsonville lobbyist and historical advocate Greg Leo will discuss 10 of the City's most catalytic events while Wilsonville Councilor and former mayor Charlotte Lehan will address myths about Wilsonville's origin.

"It should be thought-provoking ... and the past is prologue," Leo said. "As we examine the history of our place, it no doubt will shape our future."

The first milestone Leo will discuss is the establishment of Boones Ferry, which became a popular way to travel along the Willamette River and led to the settling of Boone's Landing (now Wilsonville), in 1846.

"I will assert that (Boone's Landing) is a more appropriate name for Wilsonville than Wilsonville. It (Wilsonville) was a river landing and the site of the ferry (and not as connected to its namesake Wilson)," Leo said.

Leo also will bring up the establishment of the Oregon Electric Railroad from Portland to Salem.

"It really put Wilsonville on the map," Leo said. "Wilsonville could have been any farming community in the Willamette Valley if it didn't have the railroad coming through it. It became an important connector on the Portland to Salem rail line."

And transportation, Leo said, will be an overarching theme of the talk. Leo will explain that Wilsonville has developed from a small farming community to a mid-sized town with a lucrative industrial sector due in large part to transportation related factors like the development of Interstate 5.

Leo will also mention Wilsonville's incorporation in 1968, which he said was spurred in part by the need for public services such as sewer and water in the then emerging Charbonneau community. Fairly recent episodes such as the fight over the prison siting in Wilsonville, which was initially slated for the current Villebois neighborhood before Wilsonville officials convinced the state government to allow what is now Coffee Creek Correctional Facility to be placed at the current site near Day Road, and the vote to allow the City to use the Willamette River for water services will also be mentioned. And Leo said decisions like these have made Wilsonville a better place.

"It's a livable, great place to live and raise kids and work and that's not by accident," he said.

Lehan, for her part, has been digging into the history of the illustrious Boone family and the truth about the founding of the Wilsonville community. She has found more discrepancies than clear answers. And while Alphonso Boone is regularly credited with starting Boones Ferry, Lehan is skeptical.

"The biggest mystery, some of it still remains a mystery, is who started the ferry and when did they start it. There's conflicting information. I have a feeling Alphonso gets more credit than he should and Jesse (Alphonso's son) not enough," she said.

Lehan also has determined that Jesse's grave resides at the Butteville Cemetery near Wilsonville. She and the historical society want to add a gravesite marker commemorating Jesse.

"Jesse, who certainly did most of the building of Boones Ferry Road and ran the ferry until he was killed, is lying in an unmarked grave in Butteville," Lehan said. "I think he had such an important role in Wilsonville history."

Lehan will also talk about Chinese and Japanese families who resided near Wilsonville in the 19th century and the misperception that Wilsonville and surrounding areas have French, rather than a German influences.

"We've got a lot of French names now between Charbonneau and VIllebois and all their street (names) but that probably doesn't coincide with our actual cultural heritage," she said.

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