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History of the Grove

An excerpt from About the Trees Dr. Curt Yehnert, first appeared in the WOU pictorial book


“People take more pains with orchards here than any place that ever I saw,” Ira Butler noted. But it was the towering Douglas fir that really took their breath away. In the spring of 1867, Albert Whitfield Lucas, brother of WOU founder, Thomas H. Lucas, stood up among the assembly in Monmouth’s Christian Church and asked for volunteers who might go with him the following Saturday to get fir seedlings to plant on the college grounds.


Like President Rowland, Albert Lucas was a third son, born in Kentucky. He was 24 when he arrived in Oregon with his bride, the preacher’s daughter, Elizabeth Murphy Lucas. When he stood in church that springtime Sunday, he was a few months shy of 40, with nine children; his youngest, Susan, had just turned three.


The following Saturday, several men with wagons drove their teams to the Craven place half a mile south of town for the tiny firs, while several more gathered maple seedlings from a place near Independence. When they all met back at the school, the students from the college helped the old founders plant the trees – about 50 Douglas fir, spaced well apart, and a number of maples. When they had finished, they all sat down together – men and women, young and old, students and community members – to a supper described only as “of a kind now obsolete.”


After supper, someone passed the hat to help defray the cost of a large bell the school had just purchased – the bell that would ring from the much-loved future bell tower of Campbell Hall. It is one of the ironies of fate that some of the firs planted that Saturday would, nearly one hundred years later, snap in the ferocious wind of a Columbus Day storm, demolish the south wing, and topple the bell tower of Campbell Hall. But in an act of renewal and faith in the future, a new grove was created in 1972, using all native plants and trees, including 32 Douglas fir. The first fir seedling was donated and dug from the old Craven property south of town.


Despite Ira Butler’s beautiful start, credit for the school’s ultimate success is generally accorded to its second president, the capable and eternally optimistic Thomas Franklin Campbell. He was preaching, practicing law, and running a boy’s home in Helena, Montana, when he was chosen to succeed Rowland. After traveling with his family the 1,000 miles from Helena to Monmouth, he met with the trustees and asked where the school was located. They answered, “You are to build it.” When he asked about funding, they said, “You are to raise it.”


Mr. Campbell was then 47 years old, nearly six feet tall, 200 pounds, broad-shouldered, hearty and vigorous. He had arrived August 31, 1869, began preaching September 4, and opened Christian College September 6. In his first year at Monmouth, in addition to teaching, he preached 175 sermons and gave 11 public lectures on education and one temperence address. He also founded and regularly wrote articles for the Christian Messenger, which in its time enabled many young men to learn the newspaper business, including C. C. Doughty, founder of the Polk County Observer.


Additionally, Campbell traveled throughout Oregon soliciting funds for the school. By 1871 he had raised $15,000 to finance the first permanent college building, later named Campbell Hall in his honor. The design was modified gothic, and the brick was prepared on the grounds by the young men of the school. The central section was built in 1871-72, the tower wing in 1889, and the north section added in 1898. That building is now the oldest and, arguably, the most handsome building in the Oregon State System of Higher Education. “Men who have half a dozen irons in the fire are not the ones who go crazy,” he wrote in the Christian Messenger, September 1871. “It is the man of voluntary or compelled leisure who mopes and pines and thinks himself into the mad-house or the grave. Motion is in all of nature’s laws. Action is man’s salvation, physical and mental.”


aerial view of original grove


remainder of original grove


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