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The first settlement in the Harrisburg district was near the foothills. Among pioneers were John Wilson, Thos. Wilson, Luther White, David Putnam, William Vaughan and others. First arrivals were in 1847. Soon thereafter the land towards the Willamette River was taken up. Among the earliest settlers close to Harrisburg were Wm. A. Forgey, David Acry and W. H. McCully, Hiram Smith, Thomas Roach, J. P. Schooling and several more. In 1852 the population in the vicinity of Harrisburg numbered about 100 (101). The land was unfenced and stockraising the principal occupation. The community organized and a precinct was formed and named Prairie Precinct, with the voting place on Muddy Creek, near John Harris’ place, on the claim of Henry F. Schooling. 

The land on which Harrisburg stands belonged to Wm. A. Forgey who had the site surveyed and town lots laid out in 1852. In 1853 D. and A. A. McCully started a store which become the germ of the new town. Forgey called his town-site Thurston, but the Post Office department rejected the name since there was already one Thurston in the state, so Forgey called the place Harrisburg, after his home town in Pennsylvania (102), and the precinct took the name of the town.

Harrisburg was slow to grow at first, then progressed more rapidly, to decline again in 1857 until, in 1861, only one store remained, run by Perry Hyde. The price of real estate become very low.  The lot where Smith & Brasfield's store now stands (1878), plus two lots where the drug store is, with a house included, were all bought for $112.  Farm land close to town  could be had for seven or eight dollars an acre.  About this time Smith & McCully went into business with some $8,000 capital, infusing a little life, from which period the town rallied. The annual exportation of grain about 1878 was around 300,000 bushels per annum, and from 12,000 to 15,000 barrels of flour were shipped (101).

There is a local version of how Harrisburg got its name, backed by Mrs. Alice (McCully) Belmont and several old settlers, namely that the town was named for John Harris whose place on Muddy Creek early voting took place.

In November, 1866, Harrisburg received its city charter, with 45 voters for it and two against. Judges at the election were E. B. Moore, J. C. Snodgrass and J. V. Smith; clerks James Reiley and B. H. Rouch. Growth of population according to the U. S. Census has been: 

1880 — 422 people; 
— 413; 
1900 — 502; 
1910 — 453; 
1920 — 573; 
1930 — 575; 
1940 — 622.

Thomas Sommerville of Harrisburg gives some facts about early days (103):  

 In 1872 the following business establishments existed in Harrisburg (104): “2 boot and shoe shops; 2 wagon shops; 1 grocery store; 1 tin shop; 2 millinery shops; 1 dentist; 1 church building; 8 dry goods stores; 2 drug stores; 2 hotels; 2 livery stables; 2 cabinet shops; 3 blacksmith shops; 1 Odd Fellows Lodge; 1 large school; 1 turning lathe shop; 1 lawyer’s office; 1 butcher shop; 1 jewelry shop; 1 photo gallery; 2 barber shops; 1 Masonic Lodge, etc.

The Oregon & California railroad (east side) was finished to Harrisburg in June, 1871 (105). The railroad, bridge across the Willamette at Harrisburg was completed in October, 1871. Passenger fares were 5 cents per mile, total fare between Portland and Albany $4. The Oregon Electric Ry. reached Harrisburg about 1912. But steamers were the first means of transportation to affect the town. The James Clinton was first to go up the Willamette as far as Eugene, Lane County. Incidentally she was instrumental in causing the powerful Peoples’ Transportation Company to be formed. David McCully and associates had repeatedly tried to induce Captain Jamieson of the steamer Enterprise, which ran on the river, to come as far as their place of business, but Jamieson would only go as far as Orleans, opposite Corvallis. When the James Clinton, launched in 1856 at Canemah by captains Cassidy, John Gibson and Cochran, who were ambitious to form a steamboat combination, went on the Yamhill River route out of Oregon City, David McCully went to see the commander, Captain Cochran. Cochran agreed to try to make not only Harrisburg but Eugene if the towns would subscribe certain amounts of stock to the steamer line he represented. Since without steamboat connections all up-river goods and all down-river produce had to be hauled over 70 miles of rough trails by wagon, or freighted along the streams in flatboats from Eugene — while the same procedure applied to goods and produce destined for or from Harrisburg, which was about 33 miles from Orleans — the two committees were not slow to come to terms (106).

It took Captain Cochran of the James_Clinton three days to make the trip from Corvallis to Eugene. His was an adventure on a largely uncharted stream. All navigation in those early days was always more or less risky, especially at low water stages in the Willamette or when rains and fogs blocked out visibility, during the winter months. At certain low water stages it took steamboats days to negotiate the 60 miles between Canemah and Salem.  Above Salem the Willamette was even less navigable. Boats were apt to hang up on snags and “sawyers” or sunken logs, on sand bars and shoals, when hawsers had to be passed to trees on shore so the boat could pull itself free by aid of its capstan and steam. The boats’ crews had to jump overboard and wade through mud and water with the heavy lines and climb slimy banks to get them anchored. Which was no sort of play at the dead of night. In contrast, when the river was at flood, on stormy nights, there was always the danger of the steamer missing the channel and coursing over the river banks into meadows or forest swamp lands.

 However, the James Clinton reached her farthest destination, Eugene, on March 12, 1856, making Willamette River steamboat history. She operated on the upper stretch of the river until the fire at Linn City, near Oregon City, on April 22, 1861, when she was burned with the mill and the warehouse. The stock subscriptions from Eugene and Harrisburg, however, enabled the steamboat people to build a steamer to take the place of their burned craft — namely the Surprise which ran on the upper river until 1864. After the opening of the locks at Oregon City and the forming of the Willamette River Transportation Company, this concern began operations on the upper Willamette with the Governor Grover, the first good-sized steamer to make Harrisburg, arriving at the town on March 17, 1873 (107).

 Of noted Harrisburg citizens David McCully came to Oregon in 1852, when near middle age. He was born at Sussexvale, New Brunswick, Canada, September 15, 1814. He crossed the plains to the California mines in the company of his brother Asa in 1849. Returning east by water, he again crossed the plains in 1852, arriving at Salem, Oregon August 17, went on to Harrisburg, took a donation land claim and remained until 1858, when he succeeded Stephen Coffin as president of the Peoples Transportation Company. For eight years he was active in steam boating circles, spending most of his time in Salem. He married Mary N. Scott on May 7, 1840. She was born in Jefferson County, Ohio, October 18, 1821, and died at Salem November 21, 1885 (108). David McCully died December 10, 1906 (109).

 Asa A. McCully was born at St. Johns, New Brunswick, January 31, 1818, went with his brother David to California in 1849, returned east with him, and remained at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, until 1852, when he again crossed the plains, this time to Oregon, with his brother David, Dr. John Samuel, and another, unmarried brother, William H. McCully. He took up a claim at Harrisburg and in 1853 once more made a trip east, after cattle, which he successfully drove to Oregon and pastured on his land. He was the first postmaster of Harrisburg. In September, 1848, he married Hannah K. Waters at Mt. Pleasant, Iowa. She died at Portland, Oregon, on August 1, 1905. Asa A. McCully died from the effects of a kick by a horse on August 12, 1886 (110).

Fred Lockley is authority for the story that when in the very early days steamboat captains as a rule stopped at Corvallis as at the end of navigation (111), David McCully bought 50 tons of freight — merchandise and goods — in Portland and had it billed via the steamer Enterprise to his store at Harrisburg. This made Corvallis merchants jealous and they threatened to boycott the vessel if the freight was delivered. In consequence the Captain of the Enterprise dumped McCully’s freight at Corvallis and the McCully’s had to have it hauled by ox team to their place of business. It was this incident that compelled the McCully brothers to dicker with other steamboat captains until they finally got steamers to venture their way.


Harrisburg Quick Facts

Location:  Twp 15S, Rge 4W, Sect 9 & 16

Name Origin:  Presumably Harrisburg, PA

Other Names:  Prairie Precinct, Thurston, Harrisburgh

Post Office Established:  7 Nov 1855

First Postmaster:  David McCully

Incorporation Date:  1866

Population 1999:  2715

Photos:  Chas M. Grimes, B. R. Grimes, B. R. Holt, Enoch Hoult, J.P. Schooling, J. R. Wilson

Further Reading:  

Historic Harrisburg--A Little Town on the Willamette River by Bess Tweedt

Willamette Landings by Howard McKinley Corning


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.