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
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;
1890 — 413;
1900 — 502;
1910 — 453;
1920 — 573;
1930 — 575;
1940 — 622.
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
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.