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Leander Kirk
remembers Brownsville



Lee Kirk (Leander, son of Alexander Kirk) tells of his father and early Brownsville days (16): (Excerpts)

“...I was born here at Brownsville... on May 29, 1847.  I have lived here the greater part of my life, although my home at present is with my granddaughter at Walla Walla, Wash.

“The exact spot off my birth was in a little log cabin ... at the south landing of the Alexander Kirk Ferry ... in present south Brownsville ... just back of the B. P. Daugherty home and the present Hedlund Hatchery. The north landing of the ferry was in what is now Brownsville’s public park, or perhaps a little east of the park boundaries and in the filbert and walnut orchard owned by Harry Thompson, former banker here. The ferry was established by my father, Alexander Kirk, in 1846 or 1847. It was the first ferry across the upper Calapooia and the place was commonly known as ‘Kirk’s Ferry’ for a long time before the name of Brownsville was heard of.

“My father, Alexander Kirk, ... came to Oregon in 1846. He was a member of the same emigrant party that brought Captain James Blakely, founder of Brownsville, Hugh Leeper Brown for whom the town was named, and Jonathan Keeney and others. R. C. Finley, the builder of the very old ‘Finley Mill’ near present Crawfordsville and of the old ‘Boston Mill’ near Shedd, was also a member of this train. Finley was my brother-in-law, having married my older sister Polly Kirk. Polly was only thirteen years old when she married Dick Finley and on her wedding night she cried because she had to sleep ‘with that man’. That, of course, was long before my memory but it is a family story.

“Dick Finley was a cripple. His legs had been badly broken while working in the Wisconsin lead mines before coming to Oregon.

“...The old house in Brownsville which my father built is commonly supposed to have been put up in 1847. They say that the date is cut in the top of the old chimney. If that is true I do not understand it. I was born in 1847 but not in that old house, The little cabin in which we then lived was further down the river bank and nearer to the ferry landing. I know that I was born there and I know that it was still standing when I got old enough to remember it. I must have been four or five years old when we moved up into the ‘new house’. Here is proof of what I am saying: After I was born there were twins born in our family, a boy and a girl. Both of them lived to be perhaps a year and a half old. Then the boy died. He died in the little old house near the ferry and we were still living there at the time. The new house, then, could not have been built before 1850 at the earliest. The twin sister lived — is still living.

“Another thing which is often told of my father is quite wrong. It is commonly stated that he bought the squatter rights for his land from Isaac Hutchens, who was first elected sheriff of Linn County. That is not true. My father came here and found Isaac Courtney living on the land which he desired. Isaac Courtney, by the way, was the man for whom Courtney Creek near Brownsville was named. Father paid Courtney a yoke of oxen and a log chain for his land rights. The land was a strip half a mile wide and two miles long extending across the Calapooia north and south, Father wanted that land because it held the best ferry site in the region. The original Kirk claim extended from where Mr. Peterman now lives south across the Calapooia and out south to the corner where the present Brownsville—Halsey road turns west. Now here is how that story got started concerning father purchasing the squatter rights from Isaac Hutchens. After he had settled on the land he became dubious about holding it. That he might not lose the land father hired Isaac Hutchens to live on the north half and hold it for him. Later, when father found that he could hold the land he paid Hutchens the amount agreed on and Hutchens moved away leaving the land in Kirk ownership. Hutchens’ cabin was on the butte just north of the present Brownsville High School building and that butte was sometimes called ‘Hutchens Butte’.

“The ferry was started by my father in 1848 or 1847. Of course it was only a 'winter ferry’. The Calapooia River is too narrow and shallow here to need any ferry in the summer when the water is low. In the winter, however, it was deep and swift and dangerous and travellers were glad to pay for ferry service. The ferry-boat was merely a small scow or flat-boat, just large enough to carry one team and wagon. I remember the old ferryboat well, It. was operated by means of a rope stretched across the stream and when loaded it was pulled across by hand. How it was done I certainly know for I tried in to run it across myself once and got into trouble in the middle of the stream. Old Jim Swank, whose claim was next north of father’s, found me hung up in the middle of the stream and helped me across. I was only five or six years old at the time and did not have strength to pull the heavy boat.

“My father had a canoe tied near the ferry and he used that to carry single passengers, especially children crossing from the north side on way to school. Among those school children were those of my brother, Riley Kirk, who had a claim in the east edge of the present North Brownsville.

“…When teams forded the river in the summer they crossed below the ferry.  That old crossing is still sometimes used in low water although it is now almost spoiled by the digging of gravel from the bank for road purposes.

“The first bridge across the Calapooia was built in 1853 or 1854.  When the bridge was built it of course stopped the use of the ferry. The bridge was built by J. Conser and was the first bridge ever built with county funds in Linn County.

“There have been four bridges built across the Calapooia since the old ferry ceased to run. The first was all of wood. The second  was built, I believe, sometime in the 1880’s. Its cement piers are still standing. Each succeeding bridge was built a little further upstream. The third bridge is standing, although no longer used. It is a steel bridge built sometime about the end of the 1900’s. The fourth bridge was built last autumn (1938) and was dedicated today during the Pioneer Picnic celebration. (July, 1939).

“The first bridge built here was all of wood and was a covered bridge. north, after crossing the bridge.  Going north, the road led through the woods of the river bottom, up over the ridge where the high school now stands, and came out on the corner where the Methodist church now stands.

“When I got old enough to go to school I attended at the Old Spalding schoolhouse about one mile east of town. Rev. H. H. Spalding was my first teacher. The school was on Spalding’s claim which is now owned in part by the Samuelson Brothers and in part by the Goulard estate. The Goulard house, though much changed, by rebuilding, was originally built by Rev. Spalding. Spalding came to Brownsville when driven out of the mountain country by the Indians after the Whitman massacre. I learned my A.B.C.’s from a card prepared by Rev. Spalding. The schoolhouse was, as usual, just a little log cabin. Later Spalding built a better building of sawed lumber. I went to school in that building also.  Rev. Robert Robe also taught in that second building. He was one of the very early missionaries in the Willamette Valley. (Presbyterian).

“My second school teacher was a Miss Whipple. I will never forget the first time I saw her. Her skirts came about to her knees and below the skirts she had on a big pair of pants with draw strings at the bottom of the legs. Her first name was Edna. She stood me up on the floor for punishment when I WS5 naughty.

“Father John McKinney, a pioneer Methodist preacher, had a claim just west of my father’s but on the south side of the river. He built a church on his claim, and a parsonage. I went to school to Edna Whipple in John McKinney’s parsonage. The last day of the school term there was a neighbor hood gathering and celebration with speaking and other features. At the end of the program Edna Whipp1e, the teacher, and George Colbert, a young settler, stood up together. Then one of the older scholars, Mary Jane Stevens (Stephenson ?) by name, and a young man named Z. F. Moody, a friend of the Colberts, stood up together, and the two couples were married (50). It was a complete surprise to the gathering. Z. F. Moody had been in business in Brownsville, running a store. Later he became Governor of Oregon.

“After the wedding Moody and his wife moved into a bedroom in our house and lived there for some time....

“Some of the old teachers were great for whipping. One teacher, Dalrymple, was bad. I had just been promoted into an advanced arithmetic book and did not understand the problems very well. I asked the teacher to help me. He wouldn’t. I asked my brother to help me. He wouldn’t. When it came time to recite I did not have my lesson. The teacher Dalrymple, had an ash switch about five feet long. He got ready to whip me. He said ‘Better put your coat on for I whip hard.’ I did not have any coat, but one of the boys loaned me one. I thought he only hit me three times but the others said that he hit me five times. When I went home that night I was pretty sick. I went out where my brother Henry and ‘Freet’ Rice were working and sat down. They made me take off my shirt and show my back. It was all cut up. Henry said ‘If I had been there he wouldn’t have done that to you.’ My brother Henry told my father about it, but father never did any thing. Dalrymple was a Methodist and my father was a Methodist, and it was all right.

“Father was very active in the early Methodist Church work, He was a class-leader and elder. Our house was headquarters for all the passing Methodist preachers and for preachers of all denominations. A preacher would ride up and father would call: ‘How do you do, Brother; get down and come right in.’ ‘Lee, take the elder’s horse and take care of it.’ I would take the horse and feed it and care for it. Then another preacher would ride up and Father would say again: ‘How do you do, Brother; get down and come right in to dinner.’ ‘Lee, take the elder’s horse and take care off it.’  That is the way it would go. I always had to feed and care for the horses. It was:  ‘How do you do Brother Hines; How do you do, Brother Wailer; How do you do Brother Driver; How do you do Brother Driver; How do you do Brother Parrish; How do you do Brother Wilbur.’  And always it was: — ‘Lee, take the elder’s horse and take care off it and feed it.’ I remember that one night I had nine preachers’ horses to feed and care for. I used to get pretty tired of it.

“After the McKinney schoolhouse there was another school below town where a rock bridge used to span the slough. After that they moved the school to the east end of town. That was on the South Side.  At that time there was no town north of the river. The new school then was where the present south-side school now stands. ...

“...The old Alexander Kirk house here in Brownsville ... was run as an inn or tavern for many years. Anyone who wished to stop over at Brownsville could stay with father. Some boarded there for weeks at a time. Miles Carey put up the chimney on that house and built it according to father’s instructions. ... The fire-places are large there and took heavy logs.  Sometimes it would take two people to put the back-log in place.

“Riley (Kirk) was much older (than I) and had a donation land claim north of the river and in the eastern end of the present North Brownsville ... Riley was married and had at least one son before coming to Oregon in 1846. His wife died and he married again soon after reaching Oregon.

“I left here in 1864. I got a job to work with Andy Warren, the son-in-law of Rev. H. H. Spalding. ...I rode with Andy’s boy and Louis McMorris. We rode to Eastern Oregon over the cattle trail.. I first cut grain there and then went to Bannock City with a pack train, with the McMorris boys.

“My brother Tom took up a fractional forty south of father’s claim here near Brownsville. Then father gave him 100 acre’s from the south end of the claim and he bought ten more acres of father for $100. He built a cabin on his land using the logs from the first old Brown store in Brownsville. Later he built the house standing there now the one which Walter James now occupies. He also set out the walnut tree in front of that house. I was 11 years old when the house was built. The carpenter was Peter Kessling.

"Moody (Z. F.) & Mitchell ran a store here at Brownsville at a very early date ... Moody was also a surveyor ... did much surveying about Brownsville, Later he moved east of the mountains. There he built a tall bridge over the Deschutes River.

“My father, Alexander Kirk, was born in Tennessee, about forty miles from Knoxville, in the year 1805. He died March 19, 1877. My mother was Sarah Sweeten. My mother died on my birthday when I was 11 years old. That was in 1858. After my mother’s death my father married a widow by the name of Coyle, widow of Jim Coyle of the Sodaville neighborhood. She had a son named Wils. Coyle.

“My father came to Oregon in 1846. They reached the Calapooia on November 15th of that year.  After establishing the ferry ... and living here for a number of years father went to Centreville, now called Athena, one mile west of Weston. Father’s grave is in the Keith graveyard southeast of Athena. ... My mother is buried in the Masonic Cemetery here at Brownsville.

“...My father was not a blacksmith but he put up the first shop here… a little shack ... at the corner of what is now south Main Street and the Brownsville—Halsey highway.... Chester Austin now has a service station on that corner.  Since father was not a smith he rented his shop to a man by the name of Wilcox. Afterwards ... it was taken over by Richard Benjamin who was smith and wagon maker. Later it was run by Benjamin Baird, by a man named Hunter, and by many others. The shop, though of course in a different building, was still there when the highway was widened. Because of this ... it was necessary to raze the building. The last smith to work on the original site was Chas. Rauch. When he was forced to move away by the widening of the highway there had been a shop on that spot of ground for at least eighty years. Mr. Rauch still does blacksmithing in Brownsville. His new shop is at the south end of the ‘new’ Brownsville bridge. Blacksmiths are becoming a rare and dwindling tribe. Rauch is the last of at least a score of pioneers of his trade here.

“One of the very early mail carriers through Brownsville was named Howard. He came through from Salem to Eugene, or probably to Pleasant Hill south of Eugene, which was then a terminal point for valley traffic. Howard would stop overnight on Wednesday at father’s house and then go on up to Salem.

“…A list of my father’s family — W. R. Kirk (Riley) was the oldest boy; he was married and had a family when he came to Oregon in 1846. He is the father of Andy (Andrew J. Kirk).

“Henry Harrison Kirk ... was the father of Wm. Kirk who now lives on the ‘lower road’ between Brownsville and Halsey.

“Thomas Jefferson Kirk lived on the southern end of father’s claim.  His house, built at a very early date, is still standing.

“Leander Kirk - is the informant of these data, now 92 years old.

“Polly Ann, usually called ‘Pop’, married the miller, R. C. Finley.

“Elizabeth Kirk married Bill Burden; Arlie Kirk, married Clay; Amanda Kirk, born 1850, twice married — first Boyce, then Hyde — is still living.

“Besides the above there were two sisters who died young, and one brother, the twin of Amanda who died at the age of one-and-one-half years.”

Brownsville Quick Facts

Location:  Twp 13S, Rge 2W, Sect 31, also 14S, R2W, Sec 6 

Name Origin:  Hugh Brown, early settler. 

Other Names:  Kirk's Ferry, Calapooya 

Post Office Established:  18 May 1859 

First Postmaster:  James W. Meach 

Incorporation Date:  1876 

Population 1999:  1495 


Sketches & Photos:  J M Moyer, M.A.E. Swank, Brownsville Woolen Mills, Wagon Bridge


More Links:

Richard Chism Finley

Hugh Leeper Brown

Captain James Blakeley

Brownsville History

Brownsville Woolen Mill - Fire

Further Reading:

"Brownsville" by Margaret Standish Carey & Patricia Hoy Hainline


Town histories were  abstracted from:  "History of Linn County", Compiled by Workers of the Writer’s Program, Works Progress Administration,1941.  See bibliography for above-cited references.  All photos from the collection of Lisa L. Jones, unless otherwise noted.  Lisa L. Jones contributed and is solely responsible for the content of these pages.  Copyright 2001.