Saturday, February 13, 2010

Chas. B. Merrick Memorial

Chas. B. Merrick Memorial

You probably don't remember this, but about a year ago I tracked down Portland's obscure George Washington statue, at the corner of NE 57th and Sandy. While I was there, I took a few photos of an even more obscure & curious drinking fountain near the statue, marked simply "CHAS. B. MERRICK MEMORIAL A.D. 1916". My gut feeling was that looking for info on Mr. Merrick was likely to be a dead end, which happens a lot. So I didn't pursue the matter until now. But it turns out we're in luck this time, and I can answer a multitude of questions you didn't know you were about to ask.

Chas. B. Merrick Memorial

Charles B. Merrick was a civic leader in early 1900s Portland, and the 1911 book "Portland, Oregon, its history and builders" has a brief bio. Your basic Spanish American War vet / grocer / insurance executive (of the "Beaver State Merchants' Mutual Fire Insurance Association", organized 1908 ) / postmaster, and general pillar of the community. In his capacity as community pillar, he figured in the city's early urban planning efforts, lobbying the city and the public to adopt the Bennett Plan. And as postmaster, he was behind early experiments with airmail, where a pilot flew batches of letters from Portland all the way to Vancouver WA. That's more of a big deal than it sounds, actually, since the Interstate Bridge hadn't been built yet.

Chas. B. Merrick Memorial

The bio I linked to earlier said this of Merrick:

Born in Saginaw, Michigan, July 30, 1873, Mr. Merrick is thirty-seven years of age and may be said to have just fairly entered upon the possibilities of a long and useful career.

Merrick died not long after this was published, in August 1912, at Lakeview OR. He was 39 years old plus a month or so, or almost exactly my age right this minute, which is a tad spooky. The circumstances of his very untimely demise aren't noted in any of the online sources I've found, but I see that an area newspaper, the Alturas New Era, printed an obit dated August 28th. And the Library of Congress has a list of libraries that have the New Era on microfilm for this time period. None are local, unfortunately. But the answers are probably out there if some dedicated researcher wants to track them down.

A rootsweb blurb gives a little more info: Died August 21st in Lakeview, buried August 26th at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Portland. They actually have a search tool on their website, and it seems he's located at Section E, Lot 200, Space 1.

Chas. B. Merrick Memorial

The one thing I haven't found any info about so far is why he has a drinking fountain dedicated to his memory. I don't know who put it up, or why. I mean, I suppose being a community leader and having an untimely demise of some sort might be enough. And I admit I sort of like the idea of people who die at 39 being remembered for being youthful and for the bright future they had ahead of them. But still, I'm not able to tell you who put the fountain here, which is too bad. Surely that's answered as well by old newspapers on microfilm. But it only gives the date 1916, so until someone scans and OCRs papers from that era you'll be looking through a whole year's worth of Oregonian issues on microfilm, hoping there was a news story at the time. And since it's 1916, you'll be reading a great deal about World War I while you're at it, and that will be depressing. So this may be another chore for some avid researcher.

Updated: The scanning and OCRing has occurred, and the Oregonian historical database now has a few some answers for us. A lengthy obit ran on August 22nd, 1912, "LATE POSTMASTER BORN POLITICIAN", where the word "politician" is used in a complimentary sense. It appears the fountain really was created just because he was a well-liked pillar of the community who died young and suddenly. No cause of death is given, although my understanding is that this was not unusual in 1912. Except, of course, when a poor person died in lurid circumstances. Then it tended to be front page news. But that's another blog post entirely.

An August 18th, 1912 article states that Merrick and a number of other prominent citizens were setting off on an excursion to Lakeview to attend the convention of the Central Oregon Development League, whatever that was. Going to Lakeview by car was quite an undertaking in 1912, it seems, as the article goes on at length about everyone who was going, what routes they were taking, and the heroic efforts to make sure everyone had a map. Merrick and his party journeyed to Lakeview via Burns. That isn't exactly a direct route from Portland, and involves driving through what is still empty, rugged terrain.

A February 18, 1917 story about the dedication of the fountain includes a photo, which shows us that the fountain was once topped by some sort of urn or planter. It appears to have been metal of some sort, so my guess is that someone over the last near-century decided it was valuable and made off with it.

Chas. B. Merrick Memorial

1 comment :

Michael Solner said...

Just read your piece on my grandfather. My father Patrick was his only son, and I am Patrick's only son, but my father and mother were divorced in 1945 and my mother brought me to Los Angeles. We never discussed my father and it was only recently that my daughter discovered our heritage. I'll get to Portland one of these days and try to look you up and will certainly visit the fountain.


Mike Solner