SODAVILLE — Once upon a time, the city
of Sodaville was a hotspot of the mid-valley, the place to take the legendary soda water cure and the place to see and be seen.
These days, the soda spring is gone and the population has settled into a quiet community of about 350 people. But to Julie Harrington Grunberg and JaDala Coyle, it will always be home. And now, the two are inviting everyone who’s ever shared that home to come back for a visit.
Grunberg and Coyle are organizing an all-town reunion on Saturday, July 26, inviting everyone, past and present, who has ever lived, worked or gone to school in the town four miles southeast of Lebanon.
Social time for the all-Sodaville reunion starts at 11 a.m. at the former Sodaville school, now Sand Ridge Charter School, at 30581 Sodaville-Mountain Home Road. A potluck starts at noon and a short presentation of the city’s history, complete with plenty of memorabilia, will follow.
“We have our roots in Sodaville, and we love it so much,” explained Grunberg, who hopes eventually to open a museum in town featuring all the photographs and historical items her research has uncovered. “We’ll reconnect our generation.”
A long drink
Sodaville owes its fame to Coyle’s great-grandfather, Reuben Coyle, who took up a land claim in the area in 1847. As the legend goes, Reuben was hunting for his lost oxen when he stopped at a spring, ignored the rusty red substance encrusting the nearby rocks, and took a long drink.
At first, the pungent, carbonated soda water convinced him he had been poisoned. When he didn’t get sick, he named the spring, and later the town founded there, for the soda-like taste. The town was incorporated in 1880.
The soda spring brought people to town in droves, convinced the water had healing properties. Grunberg’s father, George Harrington, compiled a 476-page book of photographs, essays, memories and news clippings about his hometown, dozens of which recollect those exhilarating first years.
In the 1890s, Sodaville was the summer resort for Oregon’s elite. The articles recall the days when the town boasted two to three hotels, a skating rink, two bath houses, three churches and an ice cream parlor. Locals worked at the chair factory or the brick foundry, or the livery stable or blacksmith shop, and took breaks at the local saloon.
Mineral Springs Seminary, later Mineral Springs College, was founded in 1892 and operated with 100 students through 1910. Stagecoaches made Sodaville a regular stop, hauling bottles of the famous water to Albany, where it was sold in restaurants.
Thomas Summers, who won a lawsuit in a dispute over who owned the land claim containing the spring itself, deeded the spring to the town in 1871.
Some accounts say when the donation was transferred to the state in 1890, Sodaville Springs became Oregon’s first official state park. The Oregon’s Parks and Recreation website itself actually gives that honor to Sarah Helmick State Park, deeded in 1922. Either way, the land did have official state park status as of 1947, but has been back in Sodaville’s control as a city park since at least the city’s 1980 centennial.
The water was collected in shallow wells and ladled up to drink by a communal long-handled dipper. A city ordinance threatened to file misdemeanor charges against anyone who carried that dipper away.
A spring house built above the water itself was completed as Sodaville Mineral Spring Hall in 1901. Grunberg remembers going to dances there as a girl, a two-mile hike from the family home on Harrington Road. Parents would take turns chaperoning.
“We would meet our friends there, and our boyfriends there, and most of us had our first little kisses there,” she said, beaming at the memory.
She and Coyle also share fond memories of the former Sodaville Store, a building on the east side of Main Street that closed some 50 years ago. There, you could purchase soda pop for 5 cents a glass bottle, and a bag of penny candy could be savored for months.
But the water that founded the town couldn’t sustain it. Sodaville residents had trouble with faltering wells almost from the moment of incorporation.
In the first decades of the 1900s, devastating fires ravaged the town. Articles George Harrington collected share memories from longtime residents who recall hearing the church bell ring when the flames broke out, and seeing the men come running with buckets.
“They’d try to fight the fire, but usually they lost out and it burned to the ground,” Eileen Crane, who moved to Sodaville as a child in 1920, recalled to the Democrat-Herald in 1988.
Lack of water kept the city from regaining its boomtown status. By 1910, Sodaville had become so small and sleepy that a blind man, George Price, was elected town marshal.
The aging Sodaville Mineral Spring Hall was torn down in January 1970. City Hall now stands there.
Accounts vary as to when the spring was shut off completely. An article from 1978 includes a photograph showing a sign labeling the spring as “impure.”
A Democrat-Herald article from February 1980 states the Linn County Health Department had just closed the old spring after finding fecal coliform there, although the same article states the spring was closed “once before” for the same reason.
The city tried for close to three years to clean up the contamination, but gave up in the mid-1980s and let it remain shut off.
Today, the spring still trickles underneath the building where City Hall now stands. But while visitors to this month’s reunion will be invited to view the cistern there, the water is no longer collected for consumption.
‘Friendly little town’
Coyle and Grunberg say they actually prefer Sodaville’s tiny-town status. In some ways, they say, it still feels like it did in the days when you couldn’t get in trouble without multiple neighbors telling your mother before you got home.
Coyle has lived in the town for all but about eight years of her life. Grunberg now occupies her childhood home, which includes a stairway post made from one of the pillars of the old Mineral Springs College.
“My dad, when they tore it down, asked if he could have it. We bought this house from my dad’s estate and we had it remodeled, but I said oh no, that post had to stay,” Grunberg said.
The post isn’t portable, but the two women are bringing stacks of other materials to the July 26 reunion. Among them are a “signature” quilt made about 1920 by members of the Sodaville Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Grunberg also has several membership and meeting books from that organization, going back to 1916.
They’re also bringing a quilt featuring historic photos of the town and its residents. Grunberg won the quilt, created by women of the Sodaville Evangelical Church, in an auction some 20 years ago.
Visitors who went to Sodaville School from 1951 on may find their picture in one of the class pictures the two have collected. They might even be able to look up their report cards in the thick historic grade book, 1891-1962, which lists pupils’ names, marks and even how far they had to walk that day to get to class.
“We’re very proud of our schooling,” Coyle said. “There have been doctors; there have been all kinds of professional people coming out of it.”
Grunberg and Coyle say their dream is to take all the materials they’ve collected and create a museum dedicated to the town’s history. They have their eye on the old store building, which the city of Sodaville is acquiring from Lebanon Habitat for Humanity as part of a swap for city-owned parcels across from City Hall.
No decisions have been made on what will happen to the old store, said Judy Smith, the city’s administrator. One option might be to move City Hall there, which would open the current City Hall for other uses, including perhaps a museum. But community input is needed before any direction is chosen, she said.
The reunion idea came to Grunberg because she was part of a group of about 10 current or former Sodaville residents who would gather each year when one of the party came home to visit family. Then, in the last copule of years, two of the group died.
“And we said, kind of as a joke, we should have a reunion before anyone else passes,” she said. Coyle joined that effort this past March and the organizing began.
Grunberg said she doesn’t know how many people to expect at the reunion, but she’s hoping for at least 300. She and Coyle have sent invitational postcards to that many people, along with making 220 copies of fliers with reunion information.
“We’ve been working so hard on this,” Grunberg said with a smile.
Said Coyle: “It’s a friendly little town. I was born here and knew everybody. That’s what kept us here.”