The city of Corvallis plans to look at the possibility of changing the name of Avery Park, which was named for the city’s founding family.
The move by the city follows Oregon State University's decision to rename Avery Lodge and Benton Hall and the Benton Annex because of the racial views of the individuals for which the buildings were named. OSU, which released its decision Nov. 27, also reviewed Gill Coliseum and the Arnold Dining Center but chose to keep those names.
Most of the controversy surrounding Avery stems from allegations that he ran an extreme pro-slavery newspaper called the Occidental Messenger.
“Personally, I think that it is appropriate that the city consider renaming,” Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber told the Gazette-Times. “The OSU research provides the data to refer to, and their decision adds motivation to the several requests I have received.”
Traber said he had received the requests from community members about Avery over a period of months, while adding that no other names have been mentioned.
The city process also will include addressing two streets, Southwest Avery Park Drive and Southwest Avery Avenue, which run from Philomath Boulevard through the park to link with Highway 99W. The city has policies to address both street names and the naming of public facilities and lands. Also in the mix is the Avery-Helm Historic District, which covers part of downtown.
Two neighborhood associations, Avery-Helm and Avery Addition, contain the Avery name, although any name-changing decisions seem likely to be up to the residents.
No timetable has been set, said Traber, who noted that “I intend to begin the effort to determine council interest in considering the issue and (the) timing of that work.”
OSU’s process included commissioning reports from historians on each of the four names plus a public meeting on each building. The final decisions were made by President Ed Ray.
"The preponderance of evidence gathered by the scholars’ report and this naming review process — and shared by other historians in the past — indicates that Joseph C. Avery’s views and political engagement in the 1850s to advance slavery in Oregon are inconsistent with Oregon State’s values," Ray wrote in a message to the OSU community announcing the change.
Ray added that the next steps will be during winter term when the Architectural Naming Committee will begin working with the OSU community to generate potential names for Benton Hall, the Benton Annex, which currently houses the university’s Women’s Center, and Avery Lodge.
The issue of Avery Lodge sparked a pair of guest opinions that were published in the Gazette-Times. Gary G. Avery, a descendant of Joseph Avery who lives in Valencia, California, wrote a piece backing preservation of the name, while retired OSU history professor William Robbins wrote a column supporting the change.
The Avery issue has been simmering in Corvallis for more than a decade. In 2004 the Corvallis School Board voted to name a new middle school after Joseph Avery and his wife, Martha. Twenty eight days later amid a public outcry, the decision was reversed and the school ultimately was named for two-time Nobel Prize-winner Linus Pauling.
Avery Park got its name in 1937. The land had originally been used by Avery (1817-1876) to store logs and timber while he was building what became Corvallis. Avery arrived in the area near the confluence of the Marys and Willamette rivers in 1845. The town was originally called Marysville. The name was changed to Corvallis in 1853.
Avery also was instrumental in the founding of what became Oregon State University during its transition to land-grant status after beginning as Corvallis College.