The Beginning of Vernonia

(The following is a historical sketch of a Columbia county pioneer as it appeared in the Nehalem Journal of 1890 published in Vernonia.)

R. W. McNutt

At Spring Hill, Nova Scotia , April 28, 1836, the subject of this short sketch made his debut upon the stage of life, and throughout the years following that time he has been a prominent actor in the affairs naturally occurring in the career of every man. On December 14, 1867, he came to Oregon, and on the 10th of April, 1887, he arrived at the mouth of Rock creek, in the Nehalem valley.

After hunting around through the highways and byways for several days he concluded that the mouth of Rock creek was the hub of this fine rich county of valleys, and he told O. N. Prather, his guide, that right there would be one of the most flourishing towns in Oregon. Mr. McNutt with his youngest son, Carroll, went to work.

He hired eight men that knew how to handle the ax and saw, and while the trees and brush were being mowed down, some of the settlers came down to learn the cause of such unusual noise in the heretofore quiet forest. We here quote Mr. McNutt’s own words: “And when we began to let the light in on Uncle Frank Baker, he felt sure that it would let the afternoon sun in on him and burn him out; but after he got used to the noise he felt easier. I began the erection of a store at once, and at the same time ordered two loads of goods from the Cornelius store, and before I could get the roof on the house the goods came and I had to pile them away in a corner and began weighing and selling them out to the delighted mountaineers. I then got a few men together and threw a huge cedar tree across the then raging Rock creek and hewed one side of it on which to make a foot bridge, which we hoisted above high water and put a railing on, and that was the beginning of improvements.

One day, while Uncle Joe Van Blaricom and I were sunning ourselves on the hill back of my store, I proposed to lay out a few blocks and lots on his land and a part of mine that I had bought from him, and he laughed at me and began to spin some of his highly interesting soldier and hunting yarns, and forgot that I had mentioned anything about laying out the foundation for a large city. It was some time before he could make up his mind to it, but finally he consented and John Campbell was called down and perfected a plan and had about 100 lots laid out. The next thing was, we had nowhere to lay our heads or any place for strangers to stop, so I built a small hotel that was well patronized ever after. Now came the tug of war, for the new city wasn’t christened. I wanted to call it Alpa, but Uncle Joe was too strong for me, ‘For,’ said he, ‘the post office here was named for a little girl by the name of Vernonia Cherrington, and the name has gone out that way.’ So we named the future city Vernonia.”

Although Mr. McNutt’s new city is still small, all great cities were small once, and time alone can develop Vernonia to large proportions. The citizens of the future city will bless the day that its two founders sunned themselves back of the store.

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