French Prairie

July 8, 2008

One writer described French Prairie as the Garden of Eden at the End of the Oregon Trail. Perhaps this is an exaggeration, but this area north of Salem along the Willamette River, has a unique cultural history and remains a rural delight of productive farmland. Hopefully, urban development will not ruin this fertile region.

Following a stop at the Santiam Rest Area, we began at the St. Louis Catholic Church, established in 1845 mainly to serve the retired French Canadian trappers from the Hudson's Bay Co. and other immigrants. The present structure dates from 1880. The local priest greeted us and Brenda Howard from the Historical Society gave a most interesting talk about the church and the community, plus relating the saga of Marie Dorion, who went west in 1811 with the Hunt (Astoria) party and in 1850, died and is buried at this site. She was a fantastic and remarkable lady, and well respected by all. We also visited the well maintained cemetery.

We then went to Ferguson's Fragrance Nursery where we enjoyed our sack lunches in their beautiful gardens - an immense place with thousands of plants and flowers. It is a very impressive place.

We then went next to the nearby St. Paul Church, built with locally made bricks in 1846. This mission was founded by the famous Father Blanchet, and even today is the focal point of the community. The 1993 earthquake caused such severe damage that the church was unfit for occupancy. The 60,000 bricks, originally bonded with mud, were removed one by one and replaced with mortar, which was a huge achievement.

82 year old Fr. Borho, in his 18th year of service here, described the statuary and other furnishings. Then our guide, Jean Abderhalden, took us through the church and grounds, the old cemetery site, the 1832 relocated and restored Murphy house and finally to the Farm Store, a well managed grain and feed mill.

Our last stop was at Baumans farm store and farm near Gervais, which features great produce, bakery products, flowers, and delicious ice cream. We were back in Eugene at 5:20, with Richard Patch as our excellent driver. Again, our thanks and appreciation to our leader, Mary Ellen West, for a great day.

Riders were: Ethel Allen, Patricia Baylis, Barbara Beard, Paul Beard, Barbara Chinn, RoseMary Etter, Rachele Fiszman, Barbara Flanders, Dennis Flanders, Bette Hack, Dora Harris, MaryAnn Holser, Ray Jensen (reporter), Natalie McClatchey John McManigal, Lenore McManigal, Natalie Newlove, Barbara Payne, Don Payne, Carolyn Rayborn, Liz Reanier, Ardys Ringsdorf, Nola Shurtleff, Julie Snell, Dick Speelman, Janet Speelman, MaryEllen West (leader) and Hawke Williams.


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