A brief history of Keizer

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Keizer’s first known white settlers began to anive in the 1840’s. By the mid-1850’s 18 families had laid claim to 7,655 acres. Members of two families, the Keizurs and Pughs, had the largest total holdings: 2,415 and 1,912 acres respectively.

The community took the name of Thomas Dove Keizur, patriarch of the family which came to Oregon with the Applegate wagon train in the fall of 1843. From the time the Keizers arrived in the United States in the 18th century, they used 15 different versions of their family name. Most of those settling in this area spelled it “Keizur.”

The names of the holders of the donation land claims were Keizur (3 families), Pugh (4), Zieber, Spong, Purdy, Smart, Ford (2), Claggett, Fisher. Force, Stephens, Penter, and Smith. In the Clear Lake area, claim holders were George Lesley and Jeremiah Stevenson. Claims of John Zieber and Alvis Smith included land in both communities.

It was the Smith family which started Keizer’s only cemetery with the burial of an infant daughter at the southeast comer of their claim. Originally known as the Smith graveyard, it is now called the Claggett Cemetery.

The first school was held in a log cabin on the Claggett farm at what is now the intersection of Wheatland and River Roads. The first known schoolmaster was Hugh McNary, son-in-law of Charlie Claggett and father of Judge John and Senator Charles L., and eight other children.

In 1878 a new one-room school was built at the Keizer corners on 1-1/2 acres donated by John and Sally Pugh, and the school district received a number-88. Nina, a daughter of Hugh and Margaret Claggett McNary was the first teacher. A second room was added on the north side in the early 1890’s and the primary four grades were taught there.

This school was replaced in 1916 by a structure with four large rooms and stage on the first floor, and four rooms and a furnace room in the basement. The school was the heart of Keizer. Social functions, club meetings, holiday celebrations, and church services were held there.

Baptisms took place at the Keizer steamboat landing on the John Keizer farm (later owned by the Cummingses). Steamboats also stopped at the Beardsley landing at the west end of Chemawa Road, and at Spong’s Landing.

Keizer Bottom has been subject to flooding throughout its history. One of the worst floods ever to hit the Willamette Valley was devastating to the farmers of the Keizer area in 1861.

Homes, barns, furnishings, fanning implements, cattle, Ôand poultry were lost when waters came as far east as the present firehall site, and also isolated the community from Salem to the south. Claggett Creek, then unnamed, flooded the lowlands now occupied by Claggett Park and closed the road to the east (now Chemawa).

During the ensuing years, Keizer farmers built their homes on higher ground. The oldest home in Keizer, the John Pugh house, now owned by Rosemary Herber on Verda Lane, was built sometime before 1875 above Claggett Creek. High waters would many times swell the creek to the proportions of a river, but never reached the house.

It was the frequent flooding of the Willamette River which hindered development of the Keizer area. In 1917, more than 70 years after the first settlement, there were fewer than 70 families in the entire area. and most homes were on the higher elevations of Chemawa Road near the Oregon Electric tracks and off what is now Verda Lane, then Claxtar Road.

Developers generally steered away from the Keizer area, especially after the 1943 flood, which was another of major proportions and enabled a Coast Guard cutter to float onto the Rehfuss farm on Cherry Avenue through the draw where the Keizer Elks’ clubhouse is situated. There were more major floods in 1945, 1946, and 1948.

However, the dams being built on the WIllamette and its tributaries began to regulate the river to the extent that development began in earnest in the 1950s.

During that decade the seeds were sown for a small town. City phones replaced the country lines and a volunteer fire department was formed. River Road was realigned, widened, and paved. A doctor, a dentist, an optometrist, and a druggist moved to Keizer. The growing business community organized first as the Commercial Club, then the Keizer Merchants. Now the organization is known as the Keizer Chamber of Commerce. Lynn Martin expanded the budding Keizer News.

To facilitate further expansion of the Keizer School, the Grange hall was moved from its location on the north boundary of the school. In the late Ô50’s Keizer was the largest grade school in Marion County, although Cummings School had been built in 1953 to relieve the overcrowding. School financing and busing problems caused Keizer residents to elect to merge with the Salem School district in 1955.

Although Keizer was a bedroom community for Salem, a warm, small-town spirit prevailed. The merchants sponsored the popular Keizer Days parade and a kids’ parade long after the demise of the Cherry Festival in Salem. There was every imaginable activity for youngsters; garden and service clubs for adults, and churches of practically every denomination.

By 1960 there were over 5,000 people. Three schools were built to accommodate existing and projected enrollment. First came Kennedy grade school in 1964, then McNary high school. It housed the Whiteaker junior high until that school was built in 1968. McNary’s football field was seeded and the cinder track completed, when after 16 flood-free years, the Wlllamette River went on a rampage in December 1964 and January 1965. Washers, dryers, TV sets, furniture, and parts of houses washed onto the track and the low areas of the McNary and Keizer school grounds-virtually a modem replay of the flood of 1861.

A diking district was formed and an earthen dike built along the river approximately from Cummings Lane to 15th Street.

During the next decade the population doubled to 11,405, with orchards and berry fields being replaced by houses.

Another 7,000 people located in the Keizer area by 1980 and oldtimers looked on sadly as landmarks disappeared. The Cummings maple tree, whose trunk was six feet in diameter, was felled to permit construction of Shoreline Drive. It had once shaded the home of the pioneer John Keizer family. Another huge maple under which residents gathered to watch the Keizer Days parade on River Road near Cummings Lane was a victim of the widening of Keizer’s main artery.

As the need became more apparent for city services, such as street lights, water, or police protection, Keizer citizens voted to finance them through service districts. Many times the City of Salem tried to annex the growing community adjacent to its city limits, offering to provide these services.

In 1964 a number of Keizer residents, chiefly V. E. Smithley, E.T. Riley, and Robert Stutzman, tried to convince the people of Keizer that it would be cheaper and better to form their own city. The effort failed.

When the 1982 Oregon Legislature made it possible for communities of 20,000 or more to incorporate, many Keizer citizens worked hard to get an incorporation measure on the ballot. They believed that it was Keizer’s last chance to retain its own identity.

To the north of Keizer, clustered at the intersection of Clear Lake and Wheatland Roads were a church, school, fire station and country store, comprising downtown Clear Lake. The first school in Clear Lake was a one-room frame building constructed in 1892 on an acre of land donated by J. C. and Edna Hollingsworth Bair. The first teacher was Emma Massey. The building, surrounded by additions, is still in use.

Adjacent to the school is the Clear Lake Methodist church, also built on land donated by Mrs. Bair and originally known as the Edna Evangelical Church.

Clear Lake has always been a close-knit farming community. However, in the late 1960’s developers began building homes on Jays Drive, Barbara Way, and along the bluff above Mission Bottom to the north, and north and east of Claggett Cemetery, and the community had taken on the appearance of a small town.

Faced with drainage problems, many of the home owners joined the incorporation effort, and by a narrow margin, on November 2, 1982, the two communities elected to form the new City of Keizer.

Published November 5,1987. Reprinted with permission of Ann Lossner from her book, “Looking Back – People and Places in the Early Keizer Area.” The book may be bought at the Keizer Heritage Museum, 980 Chemawa Road NE, Keizer

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