Editor's note: Over a period of 12 years beginning in 1983, local historian Ken Munford wrote 561 columns on local history for the Gazette-Times. As part of the city's 150th anniversary, the newspaper will publish a selection of Munford's columns about Corvallis and its past, starting with this one from July 22, 1991, on the city's founders, William F. Dixon and Joseph C. Avery. Look for another installment next Saturday.
William F. Dixon and Joseph C. Avery, co-founders of Corvallis, came west over the Oregon Trail in 1845 in the covered wagon train that had elected Dr. Presley Welch its captain.
They may not have known each other before this trip, but in a train of 43 wagons with 80 men, 43 women and 129 children they no doubt got acquainted and perhaps became friends. They later worked well together for the benefit of Benton County.
Avery, born in Pennsylvania in 1817, moved west through Illinois, where he married Martha Marsh. He reached Independence, Mo., the jumping-off place for this train, in the spring of 1845. Dixon, born in Maryland in 1811, came west through Indiana, where he married a local girl, Julia Rounds.
Both couples had three children by the time the menfolk went west in 1845. The Averys decided that their Charles, age 3, Punderson, 2, and Florence, not yet age 1, would stay with their mother in Illinois. Martha's brother, Edmund Marsh, joined the caravan. The Dixons brought John, 11, James, 4, and Mary Ann, 1, with them.
Soon after the immigrants arrived in the northern Willamette Valley, Avery and brother-in-law Marsh came up the valley looking for free land. The bluff along the Willamette north of the mouth of the Marys River appealed to Avery as a place to locate a town, well above the high-water mark. He had grown up on the banks of the Susquehanna River and knew what a raging stream could do to settlements along its banks. He staked out a mile-square provisional land claim around the mouth of the Marys.
The next spring Dixon staked his 640-acre provisional claim along the Willamette, adjoining Avery on the south and surrounding Dixon Creek. His west line is now Kings Boulevard, his north line Grant Avenue.
Avery went twice to the California gold fields in 1848-49 and did well enough to purchase a supply of merchandise and have it shipped to him in Oregon so that he could open a store. According to Dixon's obituary, "In 1849 Mr. Dixon joined the rush to the gold mines in California, but returned after a few months and began to manufacture fanning mills, raw hide bottom chairs, tables and other household furniture … (which) settlers from all parts of the valley came to purchase."
In 1850, Avery platted 24 blocks for Marysville - renamed Corvallis in 1853. Dixon added six more blocks adjoining on the north, following Avery's design with numbered streets running parallel to the river and streets named for presidents at right angles. Each donated or sold for a nominal sum 40 acres of his property to Benton County; the land was to be used for city and county buildings and to be sold to help support the county government. By 1853 lot sales had brought $3,549 into the county coffers. One block reserved as a "public square" now houses the county courthouse.
Dixon helped organize a Methodist church, at first five miles north of the townsite, and served as a class leader. He donated lots at the corner of Second and Jackson, the present site of Henderson's Business Machines, and helped erect a log building to be used for a school and church services.
In 1854, Dixon and others made an unsuccessful attempt to start a seminary. Four years later, he and Avery and four others incorporated Corvallis College and served as trustees, laying the foundation for what has become Oregon State University.
The Dixons' home was close to what is 628 N.W. Second St., a site praised at that time for its view of the river and Cascade mountains. In contrast to Avery, who thrived on politics, Dixon never ran for public office, although friends urged him to do so. Avery died in 1876 at the age of 59. Dixon lived a vigorous life to 88 years. When he died in 1899 people remembered that he had been hoeing in his garden the previous day.
Dixon's great-grandson Blin Dixon and Melvin Hawkins, the former county commissioner who is related to the family, have filed records of the Dixon family in the library of the Benton County Historical Society in Philomath. They are available for anyone who wishes to read more.
WHO: Retired local historian
FAMILY: Wife, Marjory, died in 1993; children James, 63, and Kaye, 60, live in Corvallis.
EDUCATION: Bachelor's degree in education from OSU in 1934; doctorate in education from Stanford University in 1948.
CAREER: Taught English and history at local schools; served as principal of Harding school. Served as administrative officer with Air Force aerial photo and reconnaissance units during World War II. Became OSU director of publications in 1956. Spearheaded the formation of the OSU Press in 1961. Retired from OSU in 1977.
HISTORICAL ACTIVITIES: Wrote a historical column for the Gazette-Times from October 1983 to January 1996. Helped establish the Benton County Historical Museum in 1980. Organized and led popular historical tours through OSU's former Horner Museum. Is a Life Service Member of the Benton County Historical Society, and a member of the Polk County Historical Society, Saint Paul Mission Historical Society, and Mid-Valley Genealogical Society.
PROUDEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Served as president of the national scholastic honor society, Phi Kappa Phi.
FAVORITE HISTORICAL PERIOD: If he could live any time in history, Munford said, he'd choose the period beginning June 1, 1912 (his birth date).