Historical society rewrites history, honors a Wilsonville founding figure
The catalyst of Wilsonville's inception appears to have been misattributed, at least according to the research and deductions of Wilsonville City Councilor Charlotte Lehan and other local historians.
While conventional wisdom suggests Alphonso Boone started Boones Ferry, which commercialized the Wilsonville area leading to the settlement of Boones Landing (eventually Wilsonville), these historians think that his son Jesse Boone instead introduced, or at least popularized, the ferry as well as the route that became Boones Ferry Road.
And yet, Jesse and his family reside in an unmarked grave at Butteville Pioneer Cemetery. The Wilsonville-Boones Ferry Historical Society and the Butteville Pioneer Cemetery Association want to change that. These groups will add a gravestone monument with original artwork during an event from 10 a.m. June 26 at the Butteville Pioneer Ceremony.
"They (Jesse, his wife and kids) played such an important role in the development of this whole area that we need to do our best to tell their story as well as we know it and to acknowledge them at the Butteville Cemetery," Lehan said. "It seemed long enough for a family being in an unmarked grave so close to the place they played a significant role in our history on both sides of the river."
As detailed in a previous Pamplin Media Group article, Lehan and others discovered that Alphonso had only stayed in the Wilsonville area for less than a year before embarking for California during the gold rush. Jesse also went to California but returned, whereas his brothers did not according to Lehan. Jesse then received a land grant near Wilsonville, but was murdered in 1872. It is documented that Jesse operated the ferry up until that point.
"It is for sure Jesse who is the only one who commercialized and built Boones Ferry Road.
That's not something you do in six months. Boones Ferry Road went from Terwilliger in Portland to Salem. That was a huge undertaking," Lehan said. "Either Jesse should have 100% credit for both the ferry and the road, or he should have 90% of the credit for the ferry and 100% for the road."
Lehan noted that Native Americans likely also frequented these routes for hundreds of years prior to the Boones arrival. So it isn't exactly true to say the Boones "discovered" the Willamette River crossing near I-5 where the ferry traveled.
"You have to ask yourself: 'Did the Native Americans not notice this, that this was only low-bank crossing in the Newberg Pool (section of the river)?" Lehan said. "They had been here 10,000 years. The Boones had been here for six weeks. It was only logical that this was a traveled route already and that's why they landed there."
Wilsonville Arts and Culture Council President Christopher Shotola-Hardt designed the artwork that will go on the monument at the gravesite for Jesse, his wife Elizabeth and their nine children. The image shows a ferry carrying a horse carriage and an individual looking out at the Willamette River.
"I wanted to give a sense of what the ferry looked like and its usage, so there's the ferry operator standing at the rail on the side. There are two people in a horse-drawn wagon. You can see the cable behind the ferry. You see reflection in the water. It's got a good spatial setting, relationship and depth," Shotola-Hardt said.
The former Wilsonville High art teacher said they plan to embed the artwork onto t-shirts and other merchandise for locals to purchase. Shotola-Hardt said this was a way for people to be reminded of the history without having to travel to the cemetery.
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