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Wilsonville-Boones Ferry Historical Society plans walking route that sheds light on city's geographical, cultural roots

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Longtime Old Town resident Steve Van Wechel points out important landmarks in Old Town.

As a resident of Old Town for the past 33 years, Steve Van Wechel has strolled past key neighborhood landmarks — like the Tauchman House that originally housed the ferry operator, the former Aden Store and the site of the first schools in town — hundreds of times.

But when he stops to read the informational signs the Wilsonville-Boones Ferry Historical Society put up many years ago, he often will learn an interesting tidbit he didn't know.

And he thinks Wilsonville residents and even those outside of the community can learn something, too.

Van Wechel and others in the historical society are in the very early stages of developing a Wilsonville history tour program. The tour would include informational walks across six quadrants of the City, which have yet to be precisely identified.

"What a way to emphasize the cultural history of an area, emphasize physical fitness, get people out and away from their screens. I think it would be a huge feather in the City of Wilsonville's cap," Van Wechel said.

Old Town is the first neighborhood they have mapped out because it has the richest history, according to Van Wechel and fellow historical society member Greg Leo.

"Old Town was the original place where Wilsonville was, where the Aden Store was, the other historic sights. What's interesting for me is the connection to the river and how Wilsonville developed as a community. We really are a river town and the ferry ... that shows that really interwoven connection between the Willamette River and the community," Leo said.

And while previewing the tour of Old Town, the first place Van Wechel stopped was the Tauchman House. The building in Boones Ferry Park served as the abode of Boones Ferry captain Emil Tauchman. The ferry was a key transportation service along the Willamette River and is said to have been started by Alphonso Boone, the son of famous explorer Daniel Boone. That assertion has been questioned recently, but the Boone family definitely started the ferry.

"When you start bringing in (pioneering woodsman) Daniel Boone and the connections with him, you start bringing in a lot of history that most cities don't have," Van Wechel said.

He also noted the electric railroad nearby, which became another popular transportation service in the early 20th century. Due to the positioning of those two services, Old Town was then the center of Wilsonville. But as the city expanded and I-5 plowed through town, the neighborhood became peripheral.

"It's kind of fascinating to me how cities move," Van Wechel said.

Starting to walk, Van Wechel headed toward a sign that commemorates a former saloon that operated near the ferry in the 1890s and early 20th century, the former site of three of the first schools in Wilsonville, a historic tree grove, the first fire department building in town, two churches that have been around for many decades (St. Cyril's Catholic Church and Wilsonville Methodist Church), the former Cottage Hotel (one of the first hotels in town) and many other sites.

Van Wechel also noted that Old Town still has many streets without gutters, sidewalks and curbs because residents there want to preserve the past.

"That's a piece of Old Town that's significantly different than everywhere else. That's the way it used to be and here it still is," Van Wechel said.

Some other areas the society could highlight include Memorial Park, Villebois (the home of the former Dammasch State Hospital), Coffee Creek Correctional Facility, Frog Pond and Charbonneau. Leo said the tour also could highlight the work the City has undertaken in recent decades to allow for considerable growth.

"From an architectural and urban design perspective Wilsonville is a very interesting place," Leo said.

Van Wechel envisions a tour similar to the Freedom Trail in Boston, which is marked to note historical spots of interest from colonial days. Some challenges of implementing a marked trail is the varying terrain of the landmarks in Old Town and the cost.

Van Wechel said the City of Wilsonville, including the public works and Parks & Rec departments, likely would need to be heavily involved in the project. One thing the historical society might have going for it is that Charlotte Lehan, a historical society member and Wilsonville City Councilor, is a key part of the project team.

"The approach I have is that the historical society, through grants, would provide all the intellectual property and the City then would actually do the installation," Van Wechel said.

Some of the initial steps the society will take include applying for grants to pay for new signage and other materials and for someone to conduct more research.

"It will be a lot of research. The historical society would have to get grants to hire somebody to come in and actually do the research," Van Wechel said.

Van Wechel said a project of this scope could take over 10 years to finish. But he and Leo think it will be worth it.

"The idea is that these history walks give citizens a better appreciation of geology, geography and the era of Wilsonville's existence," Leo said.

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