“History is a cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories of man.”
— Percy Bysshe Shelley
Thanks to some historical inspiration from Mother Goose, a flapping blogger from the Chicago area, our family took it’s own little trip through time yesterday. Right in our backyard.
We didn’t see any “famous” landmarks, nor did we see anything that would have made the newspapers or television. What we did see, we saw as a family, and we didn’t have to drive very far either. We followed a driving tour made by the Washington County Historical Society, ironically found the day before while cleaning out our bedroom.
The tour passed through the rolling hills of the Willamette Valley, home to some of the most fertile farmlands in Oregon. Because of the abundance this soil produced, the area was the final destination of many of those who survived through to the end of the Oregon trail in the mid-19th century.
Townships were small by today’s standards, but large by the standards of the period. Each community tended to segregate itself by nationality and religion. For example, Dutch Catholics founded the town of Verboort trying to escape religious persecution. It was a better life they sought and built through hard work and a spirit of community. A community spirit in which their descendants still take part in to this day through their annual sausage festival.
To the east about five miles stands the Old Scotch Church. Founded in 1873 by immigrants from Aberdeenshire, Scotland. All members of the Free Church of Scotland, they founded this Presbyterian church and saw it through it’s initial struggles. The unique octagonal steeple is reminiscent of older, gothic cathedrals.
The cemetery that surrounds the church dates from the same period and includes many of the founding church members, as well as one notable historic personality – Colonel Joseph Meek. Meek’s name may not be recognizable today, but in early Oregon, it was revered.
Meek was a trapper and mountain man who had gotten involved in the original efforts to form a government in this area which would become the Oregon territory. He served as regional sheriff, legislator, and tax collector. He also was elected to travel to Washington D.C. with news of the famous Whitman massacre and capture of the mission. No doubt furious at death of his daughter while a prisoner of the Cayeuse Indians, Meek successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to not only bring justice but to declare Oregon a federal territory. He was also tasked with hanging the five Cayeuse deemed responsible for the massacre (using the controversial evidence of witnesses suspected of not having been at the mission). Meek brought home both vengeance and the Oregon Territory.
Education was important to the early Oregon settlers, and the immigrants to Washington County were no exception. A one room school house opened in 1877 to serve the tiny town of Hillside. Serving it’s citizens ably until 1966 when it was consolidated with the larger community of Forest Grove, it is now a carefully preserved bible church still in use today. Education was valued then by the settlers and that commitment was carried out by teachers in the school who taught up to 24 classes per day.
No historical jaunt is complete without at least some mention of time. Whether it’s the momentous events that change the world in an instant, or the small, forgotten lives that somehow seem all-the-more important when one looks closely, time marches on.
It continually shapes and evolves us with a pervasive, but silent presence. In spite of our strongest desire to be immortal, time says no.
Time decides who is remembered as well. It controls who is famous and who is not. Our time on earth may be lost to history like the lives of the people who lived in these small, immigrant farming communities.
However, like their action so long ago, our actions can also ripple on. Those “irrelevant” communities which sprang up and died formed the backbone of this country on which we prosper today. So many of our ancestors toiled endlessly in the farmland of a new world, hoping to eek out a better life. They knew someday their time would come. They also knew their good works would live on in the people who followed.
Like a small town parade, time’s parade marches on. And in our time we each join that parade, as did our forefathers, knowing that our time to march will someday stop. We cannot know how our entry in the parade will be judged, or if it will even be remembered.
But we can take solace in the knowledge that if we act daily with intent to help not only our family, but those in our community, then those good actions will live on in the people whose lives we touched.
Yesterday’s gift of time … Took our family on a trip through time, right in our own backyard.