The Gardiner That Was

– by Georgina Durbin


Georgina Durbin is a native of Douglas County, the descendant of the pioneer Sawyers, Nelson, and Perkins families. Born in Gardiner, she has had a lifelong interest in the history of the Lower Umpqua and has been active in civic and historical affairs. Her husband, M. H. “Hobe” Durbin, is also active in community affairs and a member of the Port of Umpqua Commission. The TRAPPER is pleased to present Mrs. Durbin’s outline history of the town of Gardiner and her own recollections of life in that pleasant community.

Georgina Durbin is a native of Douglas County, the descendant of the pioneer Sawyers, Nelson, and Perkins families. Born in Gardiner, she has had a lifelong interest in the history of the Lower Umpqua and has been active in civic and historical affairs. Her husband, M. H. “Hobe” Durbin, is also active in community affairs and a member of the Port of Umpqua Commission. The TRAPPER is pleased to present Mrs. Durbin’s outline history of the town of Gardiner and her own recollections of life in that pleasant community.

During the early 19th century many people living along the Atlantic seaboard, especially those men concerned with trade and shipping, were intensely interested in developments on the Pacific Coast. Among these was a Boston, Massachusetts, merchant named Gardiner, whose family had shipping interests along the East Coast and to the Orient. Gardiner had read of the exploits of such men as Capt. Robert Gray, John Jacob Astor and others, and had more recently heard the exciting rumors of the discovery of gold in California and the development of new settlements in the West. He became intrigued by the possibility of finding new and profitable markets along the shores of the Pacific Ocean. In the summer of 1850 Gardiner decided to outfit a ship for trading along the Oregon coast and placed his nephew, George Snelling, in charge of the expedition.

Gardiner secured the ship, BOSTONIAN, commanded by Captain Coffin, and the expedition set out. The vessel made the rough passage around Cape Horn without incident, but on October 1st, 1850, as she was attempting to sail into the Umpqua River, the BOSTONIAN was wrecked on the bar. The vessel was a total loss but no lives were lost in the wreck and by a lot of hard work most of the ship’s cargo was saved. Ten days later, when the Klamath Exploring Expedition entered the Umpqua with the ship KATE HEATH, under charter to Winchester, Payne & Co., they found the crew of the BOSTONIAN busy dismantling the wreck and salvaging as much of the lumber as they could.

Although some of the merchandise was very likely taken up to Scottsburg aboard the KA TE HEATH, the bulk of the cargo of the BOSTONIAN was somehow transported nine miles up the estuary of the Umpqua to a site they called Gardiner’s City, in honor of the uncle back in Boston. The crew used sails from the wrecked vessel to protect the merchandise salvaged and evidently the lumber was used to construct a house; our abstract records that when Addison Gibbs sold to James T. Cooper in 1856 he retained, “. . . the house erected by George L. Snelling.” Snelling removed his saleable goods to Scottsburg, which promised to become the trade center and outfitting point for the southern mines. He had brought with him one of the prefabricated zinc houses being made in Boston at that time and he has the distinction of putting up the first permanent commercial building in Scottsburg.

My great-grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Sawyers, accompanied by their two little girls, were passengers aboard the KATE HEATH on that trip and two months later their third child, a baby girl, was born in Scottsburg. This baby was the first white child born on the Umpqua River and George Snelling, the Scottsburg merchant, considered this quite an honor. He presented the baby girl with a silver loving cup, one of our family’s treasured keepsakes. Incidentally, it was Mr. Snelling who suggested she be called Anna Augusta, the name of his sweetheart back in Boston.

According to Bancroft’s history, Captain Coffin of the BOSTONIAN first laid claim to the site of “Gardiner’s City” and later sold his interest to Addison Crandall Gibbs, and I am sure this is true, but Addison Gibbs was the first legal owner, as our abstract shows he received title to this land from the United States as a Donation Land Claim, all 320 acres of it. In 1851 it became headquarters of the Umpqua Customs District, with Collins Wilson appointed as Collector of Customs.

On June 30th, 1851, a post office called Gardiner’s City was established, with George Snelling appointed postmaster. This office was discontinued seven years later in 1858. The post office was re-established under the name of Gardiner in 1864, with Gard Chism as postmaster.

A post office was established at Umpqua City, down the bay from Gardiner, on September 24, 1851, with Amos Rogers as postmaster, and on the same date a post office was established at Elkton with David B. Wells as the first postmaster. On October 8th, 1851, a post office was established at Scottsburg with Stephen F. Chadwick as postmaster. I might mention here that both Addison Gibbs and Stephen Chadwick later became Governor of Oregon; Gibbs was 37 years old when elected in 1862. Chadwick was elected secretary of state in 1870 and became governor upon the resignation of Governor Lafayette Grover in 1877.

In 1854, according to Bancroft, the Cape Perpetua Customs District was established, with a Collector’s salary of $2,000. The Collector could hire a clerk at $1,500 and a deputy at each port of delivery at $1,000 per year. Besides these, there were a gauger and weigher at $6 per day, and an inspector at $4. The port of entry for the District was fixed at Gardiner, the seat of Customs collections for several years, during which time it was presumed there was a foreign trade. Addison Gibbs served as the Collector here until 1857. Gibbs sold his Gardiner property to James T. Cooper. In old Government field notes the settlement is referred to as “Cooper’s Wharf, United States Custom Office.”

In his diary for the year, 1856, Sylvester Hinsdale makes this statement, “During the past year our town has gone rapidly backwards, two-thirds of its wealth has withdrawn, and at least three-fourths of its population.”

It was in 1856 that a fort was established at the site of Umpqua City, an outpost in case of trouble with the Indians. Three years prior to this, Dr. E. P. Drew, who had bought the place in 1851, had been appointed Indian Agent for this area, a fact that may have had something to do with the location of Fort Umpqua at the site of Umpqua City. For the next six years Fort Umpqua was the busiest place on the river. The post included a big blockhouse and several officers’ quarters where the officers lived with their families. Joseph Clark opened a hotel there, and Ed Breen had a well-stocked store where the settlers of Smith River and Gardiner did their trading. But the story goes that when the paymaster of the troops visited the post in the fall of 1862, he found all the officers and men away on a hunting trip; as there were no Indian outrages to require a post there and when the paymaster reported back to San Francisco concerning the peace time occupation of the troops, the fort was abandoned.

In 1856 construction began on a lighthouse at the mouth of the Umpqua. The original structure was located on a rocky ledge near the river, out from Pyramid Rocks, a little down river from the Coast Guard boathouse of recent years.

I should mention, too, that Smith River was being settled during this time. In the next ten years it was practically taken over by Irish families – the Cowans, Lysters, 0′ Brians, McGillicuddys, Elliotts, Perkins, Daileys, Murphys, Cassidys, and others.

In 1864 James T. Cooper sold the south 9.70 acres of his Gardiner claim to four men, Chism, Bauer, Morey and Kruse. The northern boundary of this tract was Jewett’s Lane, the street just north of the big house later occupied by Harold Grubb. These four men built a sawmill about where Mrs. Simons now lives. It is said that they used timbers from the old Fort Umpqua blockhouse to frame this mill. They also built bunk houses for the men and a mess hall back next to the hills; the mess hall stood about where the Martins lately lived and this building later became a Chinese laundry. In addition, they built a store along the waterfront. There was deep. water there then, and ships landed near where the railroad track is laid today. The building of this sawmill was the real start of Gardiner as a town, and the post office which had been closed was re-established. The partnership of Chism, Bauer, Morey and Kruse was known as the Gardiner Mill Company, but they never legally incorporated under that name and this firm should not be confused with the Gardiner Mill Company that came later. The four men had troubles and in 1869 sold out to the Simpson Brothers, who operated the mill successfully until April 15th, 1880, when they sold out to W. F. Jewett and Joseph Knowland. In 1885 the Jewett and Knowland holdings became part of the new Gardiner Mill Company.

In May, 1865, Cooper sold the main part of his Gardiner claim, 310 acres, to Abel Fryer and J. B. Leeds, who had it surveyed and laid out in town lots. The Hamilton house, across Jewett’s Lane from the Grubbs, was in Lot 1 of the town of Gardiner. Mr. Fryer left his half of the property to Ed and Margaret Breen, and on July 25th, 1876, Mr. George S. Hinsdale bought into the firm. They built a new sawmill on the present site in 1877. Two years later the partners sold out to Mr. Hinsdale and W. F. Jewett came up from San Francisco to be the new manager. George Hinsdale had sold logs to the original Gardiner Mill Company in 1864, and had built up his logging interests during the following years.

On July 26th, 1880, a fire started in the pit of the new mill. A stiff northwest wind was blowing and the fire swept over the town, destroying 39 homes and stores, with a loss of $52,000. Only a few houses escaped; the Hannah Anderson home, the Hedges and Tabor houses in that end of town, and the Graham house and one which stood where the Gerhards now live.

The Simpson sawmill and its buildings were also saved. As an inducement, the mill company offered free lumber to anyone who wanted to stay and rebuild. It is said that this offer was one of the main reasons for all the big, spacious homes for which Gardiner was noted.

During this time Mr. Jewett, Mr. Knowland and Mr. Hinsdale were planning to combine their interests in the lumber industry, develop shipping interests, and market their products in California. They were joined in this enterprise by three men from California – Charles Stevenson, James Haven, and John Dolbeer. The resulting firm was offically incorporated under the name, Gardiner Mill Company, in 1885. Its principal business was to be transacted in San Francisco and the term for which it was to exist was fifty years. The firm acquired timber titles over a wide area, built a large up-to-date sawmill near its present location at the north end of town, and erected the Gardiner Mill Store near the site of the former one.

The Gardiner Mill Company also established a brisk sailing trade between Gardiner and California ports. Such sailing vessels as the LILY, the BEULAH, the SADIE, the LUCY, the LOUISE, and the CAROLINE, and later the steam schooner SAN GABRIEL, were household names here for years. To Gardiner people, San Francisco was ‘the city’, from which we received our food, merchandise and supplies, and where many of our young people went for schooling or to find work.

Mr William F. Jewett was the Mill Company’s manager here, the only representative of the firm who resided in Gardiner. He took a very paternalistic interest in the town from the time it was rebuilt after the big fire. It was his idea to have all of the buildings painted white, which caused it to be known as the ‘White City’. He also planted poplar trees along every street. Jewett kept the Company-owned houses spick-and- span, and instituted “clean-up” days to keep the town tidy. He was tremendously proud of his home, but Gardiner never did become entirely a “company” town.

Another man who did much to build up and advance the town was Alfred W. Reed. He came to Gardiner in 1870, found employment as a sawyer in Simpson’s mill, and was subsequently foreman of the sawmill. Later Reed became interested in steamboating and became one of the owners of the steamer ARGO. He and William Wade then built the sternwheel steamer RESTLESS, one of the best-known river boats in early days. The RESTLESS ran between Scottsburg and the mouth of the Umpqua for years; from the latter location, Reed’s brother, Westley Reed took the passengers and mail down the beach by stage to Coos Bay.

In 1877 Alfred Reed was instrumental in developing the salmon canning industry on the Umpqua. The cannery was located across the river from Gardiner on the island since known as Cannery Island. Mr Reed did very well in this business; one 90 days’ catch netted him $40,000 clear, the gross sales being $120,000. In 1884 Reed acquired the land north of Gardiner from Fryer and Leeds. He rented the portion along the waterfront to the Gardiner Mill Company and the remainder became known as “the ranch”. Reed raised livestock there to supply his meat market in town, and also established a dairy which his brother, Wes Reed, later operated, furnishing milk and cream to the Gardiner residents for many years. He also operated the old tannery in Scottsburg, which Warren Reed moved to Gardiner in 1901. In 1896 Alfred Reed began operating the Gardiner Creamery and an adjoining cheese factory. Mr. Jannelle came from Canada to take charge of this business. The last three businesses mentioned above were located on the river front near where the International Paper Co. plant is today, and the remains of the pilings they were built on, I think, are still there. In addition to all of these enterprises, Alfred Reed and G. S. Hinsdale were the only State Senators ever to be elected from this district. Reed was elected in 1898, and lost his life in 1899 while attempting to find a location for a salmon hatchery on the North Umpqua near Curry Rapids, below the town of Winchester. During the time Reed was in the Senate my mother, Annie Nelson, served as his clerk at a salary of $3 per day after teaching school for $20 per month, this salary seemed fabulous!

In 1880 many new homes were built in Gardiner. Henry Wade put up a new hotel where the Herb Hedges and Al Perkins homes are now located. Next to it, on the comer, the Masonic Lodge had a two-story building; the Masons met upstairs and the Ancient Order of United Workmen and the Degree of Honor ladies met downstairs. The A.O.U.W. was the first lodge in Gardiner and my grandfather, Peter Nelson, put up the Union Hall, which served as a community hall for many years; part of this hall is now the Harold Warren home. The Gardiner Mill Company built a new store, which was located right in front of our home; in the middle of the present highway, this building faced north. The first building replaced was the schoolhouse, which was built just below the present school playground; it was a two room structure, with the primary room called the “little room” and the upper grades, including 9th and 10th, housed in the “big room”.

All of the houses were painted white and the Gardiner people were tremendously proud of the appearance of their new town, and continued to feel that way through most of the next forty years. In my mother’s time, as in mine, there were “clean-up” days every so often, and I can remember being taught in school and at home to never drop papers or trash on the streets, and my mother remembered being taught the same thing.

Gardiner was a busy little town-the sailing ships were exciting, and my mother recalled that the first person to sight a ship coming around the bend would call, “Sail Ho!” and everyone would go down to the docks as fast as they could. We childen just yelled “Here comes the LILY”, or the CAROLINE or the LOUISE, as the case might be, and got down to the dock as fast as those of earlier days.

Several of my mother’s friends married seafaring men and as I was growing up, the arrival of the SADIE, the LOUISE, or the CAROLINE would mean there would be parties for Captain Erickson, Captain Anderson, or Captain Westerdale, usually card parties of twelve to twenty tables for “500” -at one or another of the Gardiner homes.

The ships were usually towed up the river from the bar by a tug, the HUNTER, and later, the GLEANER. However, if wind and tide were right, the captains delighted in making a dramatic entrance by sailing up the Umpqua to the Gardiner docks, and no one could ever forget the majestic sight of a ship under full sail coming into view down the river. Daily excitement was furnished by the comings and goings of the river passenger steamboats, the RESTLESS before 1898 and the EV A after that date. These were both stem wheelers, big and roomy. The EVA was brought down from Portland loaded with flour, and her engines were installed here after her arrival. These boats also carried the mail, of course, and they were the most important things on the river.

Another type of boat, the fishing boat, brought employment to many men and adventure to the children of my mother’s generation and mine. They provided a memory none of us could ever forget – the sight of the fishing boats at night, with their lights twinkling all up and down the river and reflected, shimmeringly, on the water. Nothing was ever more beautiful!

And speaking of fishing, that industry brought us our first contact with a foreign race. Every fall dozens of Chinese with long pigtails came to work in the canneries. In my mother’s time they lived over on the Island, but I remember them living down the hill in the buildings that later became the Chinese laundry. The only foreign student I can remember having in our school was a boy we called Sam Chinaman. He was very popular, especially around the Chinese New Year, when he introduced us to pine nuts and something else that had a big pit and sweet, sticky brown stuff around it. (Ed: Lichee nuts? ) And everybody collected the fat brown jugs with the narrow neck that some kind of wine, I think, came in.

But to go back to 1880 -even before the fire, Gardiner people celebrated Christmas Eve together. Later, my grandparents took their children and a big clothes-basket full of gifts over to the Union Hall, and in due time my parents took their children and a big clothes-basket of gifts down to the Odd Fellows Hall for the celebration. There was always a huge Christmas tree and a program on which both parents and children had worked for months.

Another big community celebration over the years was the Fourth of July, when the people from Smith River and the Lakes would join us for a picnic with lots of food, races and a Speaker of the Day. Sometimes the steamboat EVA, with a big scow in tow, would take crowds of people to the beach, and magnificent celebrations were held in the town itself. Dances were held on Valentine’s Day and Election Day, and often in between – at the Union Hall, or up Smith River at the Perkins or Sherrett home, or in Scottsburg, as “Ginia” told us. Twenty five years later dances were held in the Odd Fellows Hall, or at one of the famous “Platforms” up Smith River. Over the years you went by boat, and these dances were perfectly respectable all-night affairs. Whether the event was a dance, a picnic, an election, or a funeral, everybody was expected to attend and they usually did.

I should mention that Gardiner was always education-conscious. There were piano teachers and art teachers, and my mother’s sister was sent to Roseburg for advanced training in her art work, while my mother and others went to Normal Schools. Incidentally, my mother, was one of the first graduating class of Ashland Normal School in 1896; twenty years later, my entire graduating class of five went on to college. Around 1900 there was a twenty-five piece brass band that gave summer concerts in a specially-built grandstand down by the river. There was a Shakespeare Club, and in 1905 the Womens Literary Club was organized; a study club of women, we celebrated its 60th birthday in February, 1965 – it is the third oldest unaffiliated Womens Club in the State of Oregon.

On the afternoon of January 27th, 1904, a group of Episcopal ladies of Gardiner met for the purpose of organizing a Ladies Guild. After some discussion concerning the Guild and its work, it was decided to organize and officers were duly elected. The first formal meeting was held February 2nd, 1904, with twelve members present. They paid a $. 50 membership fee and $.10 per month dues; over sixty years later, the entrance fee and dues remain the same. The treasurer’s report at the annual meeting in February 1905, showed a balance on hand of $55.30, the money having been raised principally from a “social” where refreshments, fancy-work, etc. were offered for sale. Later bazaars were held, a cookbook compiled and sold, and chicken pie dinners served. It is noted in the minutes that each pie must contain two chickens!

Two lots were given to the Guild as a site for a church by Mr. and Mrs. W. P. Reed in June, 1907. By February, 1908, the treasurer reported $709.05 on hand and it was determined to go ahead with plans to build the church. The cornerstone was laid by Bishop Scadding on September 23rd, 1908. A contract was signed in January 1909, calling for construction of the church for the sum of $593.00. A vestry room was added to the church in February, 1913, and a contract signed in July of that year to wire the church for electricity. The last big expenditure was for a “great hall” and an adjoining apartment for the vicar to reside in, in the spring of 1956.

In 1911 Gardiner suffered another bad fire. The hotel, the Masonic building, another hotel across the street called the Pacific Hotel, and several homes were destroyed.

However, in the next few years the town acquired a new modem hotel, a movie theater, a power plant that furnished electric lights to the entire town, and a 20-bed hospital with two doctors, Dr. Fields and Dr. Pratt. This hospital also had a trained nurse, Helen Lewis, only her name wasn’t Lewis at that time.

A telephone exchange was installed next to the post office, across the street from the Reed & Jannelle store. All of these new buildings and institutions came before 1914, when the newly-organized Umpqua National Bank was established here.

During this time, however, steam vessels were replacing all of the sailing ships- the best of the timber had been harvested, the Gardiner Mill Co. had new leaders who had other interests elsewhere, the railroad was on its way, and, to cap the climax, the mill burned to the ground in 1916. Although it was not immediately apparent, this signaled the end of an era for Gardiner, just as the year 1856 was the end of an era for Scottsburg. With the coming of the big Gardiner Mill Company, the many logging camps of independent loggers contracting logs for the sawmill, and the sailing ship trade with San Francisco, the period from 1880 to 1916 might be called Gardiner’s Golden Age. During this period the town was really something special and unique. Every year people still come back, looking for certain spots or landmarks, and with wonderful stories of the Gardiner that was. To them, and to most of us who lived here, Gardiner will always be Shangri-La! This feeling was due in part, I think, to the fact that the people who rebuilt Gardiner spent the rest of their lives here. Their children grew up and made their homes here, and their children, too, had the same feeling that Gardiner was the best of all possible worlds.

John Roosevelt told me that the Gardiners are still a prosperous Boston family – as common a name there as Roosevelt is in New York. The loss of the mill in 1916 and the by-passing of the town, named in honor of the Boston merchant, by the railroad did not end the life of the town. It was just the end of the Gardiner that was and the beginning of the Gardiner that is.

This story was taken from a 1969 issue of the UMPQUA TRAPPER.  You can read more and see even more pictures by buying the UMPQUA TRAPPER.   Click the “Umpqua Trapper” button above to find out how!

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5 Responses to The Gardiner That Was

  1. Lee C Jensen says:


  2. W. Kliever says:

    Histories recount how the town of Gardiner was named: The schooner ‘Bostonian’ was the first ship to break up on the Umpqua River bar on October 1, 1850. The ship was captained by a man named ‘Coffin’ and owned by a man named ‘Gardiner’. The wreckage was used to start a tent city’.
    In the early 1850s, the bay provided upriver access to Scottsburg, Jacksonville and other points in the Oregon interior, which became an important terminal during the gold rush.

    You may wish to consider: The captain of the Bostonian was ‘Thomas Coffin’, a member of a large Boston shipping-whaler family. The ship was named for a Quaker ship master-owner and U.S. Congressman from Massachusetts, ‘Gideon Gardner’. Thomas’ father, Joshua, had captained another famed Gardner ship, the Ganges.

  3. Yvonne Hunt says:

    I grew up in Gardiner We were all one big family. Everyone knew everyone.. We all helped each other. Us kids all played together. Kick the can, red light-green light, playing baseball at the field next to Jewett School, evey ive over, playing on the school’s playground and what ever we could play. It was great. What do kids do now a days? They are biking or waking talking on their cell phone.

  4. John says:

    Very cool history. I have the exact same ariel picture as shown at the top of this story. It has the same writing and it is actually a postcard.

  5. My husband and I are new to Gardiner. We moved here recently to pursue our artistic endeavors. We love it here and sense it’s specialness. We started a Facebook page dedicated to Gardiner Oregon as there wasn’t one yet. Thank you for this very interesting historical overview. I have posted a link to this story from the Gardiner Oregon Facebook page that we started.


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