Decades after that first view of Corvallis from the Harrison Street Bridge, newcomers to Corvallis remember these things: The view north of the bend in the slow-moving Willamette River, just past the Oregon State University crew docks; the greenery of all the downtown trees; and, rising above it all, the clock tower of the Benton County Courthouse.

“It’s a jewel box of a town,” is a favorite way one longtime resident describes it.

It’s compact, pedestrian and bicycle friendly, known for its innovative and well-educated residents. Many of them work at Oregon State University or Hewlett-Packard Co.

The walk from downtown to the university under the arching branches of the stately sycamore trees along Jefferson Avenue is a cherished feature.

But when the Corvallis Gazette-Times asked readers via Facebook and word of mouth earlier this month to help select the 50 most iconic objects that represent Corvallis, one was mentioned far more than any other: the Benton County Courthouse.

We are launching our series with the 1889 courthouse, which has been in continuous use since it first opened on the block between Fourth and Fifth streets and Monroe and Jackson avenues.

Other top favorites were our city’s many bronze statues, its alley art, Reser Stadium, the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, a kinetic sculpture from da Vinci Days, the Memorial Union and the locomotive in Avery Park.

The maraschino cherry, developed at OSU, and even people such as two-time Nobel prize-winning chemist Linus Pauling and high jumper Dick Fosbury were mentioned, along with the view from Bald Hill.

Our challenge: Find the objects that bring those people and places to mind.

Over the next weeks — once each day until about mid-August — we will offer our readers a vignette that features a photo of an iconic object, and a succinct version of its story — 50 in all.

We’ll show you the view from Bald Hill, all right, but it will be from the bench that beckons hikers who climb up there.

The idea wasn’t ours first. Our sister newspaper, the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson, told the story of its much-larger city in 100 objects, and it was a popular feature. The Daily Star even invited its readers to play a photo-matching game. 

We’re eager to provide this series, and proud to have the chance. After all, we’re writing about Corvallis, Oregon.

Courthouse tops list of Corvallis' iconic objects

Bar none, the Benton County Courthouse is Corvallis’ most iconic object, from its four-face clock, clear-eyed justice statue and manicured lawn.

The gleaming white building catches the eye of first-time visitors to Corvallis as they cross the Harrison Bridge into Corvallis and see it rising to the south, downtown.

That’s a view that has been available since 1888 in the block bounded by Fourth and Fifth streets and Jackson and Monroe avenues, where it stands as the oldest continuously operating courthouse in Oregon. Among those who attended its dedication ceremony on July 7, 1888, were middle-aged veterans — dressed in their Civil War uniforms.

It remains the hub of Corvallis, as well as the emblem of Benton County — and not just for legal events.

It’s where Benton County residents go to resolve legal matters, obtain passports and marriage licenses, and cast their ballots. They meet there to celebrate, mourn and protest. In fact, the oldest continuous anti-war protest in the nation, which began Oct. 8, 2001, still takes place in front of the courthouse daily between 5 and 6 p.m.

The annual Christmas parade winds up there, and when residents want a special holiday card, they pose in front of the courthouse, which is decorated in December with elegant, oversized ribbons and wreaths.

In the 1950s, some city leaders wanted to turn the courthouse into a civic center. But longtime Benton County Circuit Court Judge Richard Mengler (1911-2001) successfully put a stop to that in favor of remodeling the building.

It’s so charming now, its image was co-opted a few years ago by a city in another state. While imitation is sincere admiration, we put a stop to that, too. The courthouse is ours.

(5) comments

TruthIs

Funny, right before seeing this I was just telling some out of state friends about the demise of the press and maturing reporting as the public's witness in civic discussion. The press like the G-T has become little more a vehicle dedicated to sustaining navel-gazing feel-good myths as an excuse for rationalizing a studied refusal to deal responsibly with the obligations of citizens in a democratic society. Narcissistic infotainment certainly sells ads, but there is a serious question whether it is detrimental to fostering civic maturity.

Significantly, the Courthouse is that while it presents a picturesque image, it is both a false nostalgia the G-T can't even get right in the story AND in 2014 it is actually a rather decrepit, low-functionality building for this community. When it was built in 1888 it was the dour, depressing grey of concrete. It wasn't until 1913 that County Judge Victor Moses ordered that it be painted white in 1913.

jdm

Truthis, I like the article, the effort and the idea. In a world full of negative it is nice to enjoy something for a change. Your post was not enjoyable and it was a downer. Go get an ice cream or something to sweeten you up on the public palate. . .

TruthIs

Don't bother you with the facts when escaping into a fantasy is so much easier, right?

Stand Up

Truthls, I can’t think of anyone that would expect or want, a daily, local, community newspaper intended for a population of 50,000 people to fulfill the obligation of knowledge, dedicated to being a responsible member of a democratic society.

That obligation is to the individual and with up-to-the-second w-w-web access and several other broad-spectrum daily, delivered newspapers available, the obligation shouldn’t fall to the GT.

We can be responsible, mature members of our democratic society AND still enjoy the news, history, fun, and community sentiment of the local community newspaper, the Gazette Times. It can be read and enjoyed in the manner intended as a community/neighborhood newspaper.

Perhaps, Truthls, you should start your own newspaper. I would be very interested in reading your daily 'no fluff, rational printing that fosters total civic maturity with absolutely no errors'. You would have a much larger reader-base than just those that read the ‘comments’ sections. You could even find something to complain about in it, i.e., ‘if people would only read my paper and believe as I do, they would be responsible members …’

TruthIs

Exactly. Escapist infotainment and effortless access to it. Because all those other news outlets devote their space to important local news and politics, they'll fill the ignorance hole.

One actual news reporter Jim Day, (but six sports reporters, and three or so navel gazers) devoted to covering all City business with 120 days to City elections, Council considering a bond issue after months of secret meetings, whiners complaining to save their empty lot is more important than supporting education. A plan about "public participation" that is all about bureaucratic process, rife with mechanisms that will only increase cronyism, and no causal arguments how it would actually bring more diverse voices into City governance. And what was that about OSU updating their 10 year plan that will only have local consequences and more whining? Not too mention that one will find precious little reporting, much less critical questioning, of the candidates standing for office about these significant local issues.

Of course it is all about infotainment that nurtures civic dysfunction by appealing to the escapism of those who supposedly talk about higher values. That's the surest way to make a buck in a town that puts a very high value on that. Let's not forget the G-T is just one out of a couple hundred infotainment distribution outlets operated by the corporation. The 'local' newspaper image is as much a feel-good fantasy as the BC courthouse story.

Funny how just reporting the reality is reviled as the worst and most unfair criticism. Do you agree or disagree?

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