City of Victorian Heritage

Before the days’ Union became a town Indians camped on the site.  When the white man moved in, the Indians moved out. First settlers of  Union were, Miller, Nodine, Lewis, Chapman, Henry, Busick, Coffin Clark, Hinkley, Hendershott, Perley, and the Woodells.  The population in the Grande Ronde Valley – 35 whites and 1 halfbreed. The first settlers built cabins here in 1862 and there became a general need for a trading post.  The winter of the following year John Andrew Jackson Chapman established a small store on his Catherine Creek property.  Union grew from that beginning and in 1864 a surveyor by the name of David Thompson laid out twenty-five platted blocks on Chapman’s land. A blacksmith shop was added to the town and then two more stores and a drugstore.  The same year a man named James Pyle established a toll road through what is now known as Pyles canyon and a county road was built between Union and La Grande.  This gave Union the advantage of two roads, the other, older road went across the valley to Summerville and then to Walla Walla.  Union was the hub of the freighting business.

The Union Drug Store building was built in 1903 by L.A. Wright and sits on the site of the earliest dwellings in the town of Union.  Those first dwellings succombed to fire except for the building used by J.A. Chapman who had Union’s first store.  L.A. Wright, who learned the pharmaceutical trade under his father’s tutelage, bought and built up his business at what is now The Union Drug Store.  Numerous doctors, lawyers and other professional offices have occupied the second story, but the main floor has always been a drug store.  The current owner, Walter Brookshire purchased the building in 1994.  The building is a good example of a Twentieth Century Commercial architecture on Union’s Main Street.
The Union Hotel was built in 1921, this imposing three story brick building is the largest commercial structure on Union’s main street.  The red brick walls are accented with white brick, which is used for quoins, corbelled beltcoursing, parapet decorations and flat arches above the windows.  With a grande entrance approached by a wide central staircase leading to a broad covered porch and entrances containing french doors, the Hotel is an excellent example of an early twentieth century hotel.  In 1919 the businessmen of Union recognized the need to provide modern accommodations and dining facilities for motorists going through town on Highway 30, at which time was the main route of travel through Eastern Oregon.  After its initial heyday the Hotel declined, restoration began in the 1990’s and continues even today.  The Union Hotel is renowned for it’s beautiful theme rooms and excellent food.
The Wright House, on N Bellwood Street, was built in 1882.  William T. Wright came west at the age of seven and moved to Union in 1865.  Mr. Wright combined Italianate Villa and the Renaissance Revival styles in this impressive two story brick home.  The interior was luxurious with touches of marble, sterling silver lockplates and a combination of gas and electric light fixtures.   A large two story wrap around porch greeted visitors and offered the Wright’s a peaceful evening resting place.  Originally the home had its own water tower as well as a cottage house and gazebo.  Mr. Wright was involved in many businesses including merchandising, milling, banking and gold mining.  He was president of the First National Bank and served a term as county clerk.

By 1865 the population of Union had grown to over a hundred inhabitants and it forced David Bivens and Samuel Hannah to lay out a large tract of land west of Main Street which became known as West Union. Nine years later North Union came into existence on land that had once belonged to the original claim of homesteader Fred Nodine. Union received its charter from the State of Oregon on October 19, 1878, and seven years later the first telephone system was installed.  It ran between the train depot and Dr. Drake’s office up town.

Little White Church – Originally the Methodist Church, this single story Vernacular Gothic style church was built in 1873 by early Methodist settlers.  This is one of the oldest church buildings remaining in Union.  The church has a stone foundation, is clad in clapboard, and has a steeply pitched gable roof.  The steeple and the bell tower were added in 1885.  The central entrance portico also has a gable roof.  One of the chief benefactors of the church was Abel E. Eaton who afforded the land and made other contributions for the construction of this church.  It was sold in 1905 to the Catholic Church.  Today the Little White (Methodist) Church is being preserved by the Union County Museum Society.
W.J. Townley built this large Victorian in the Queen Anne style in 1892 on N Fifth.  The twin to this house, the Gale home faces onto Delta.  At one time these houses were on the same tract of land.  The Townley and the Gales were related as a brother and sister married a sister and a brother, both families were active and prominent members of the early settlement and growth of Union.  This home, listed on the National Historical Register, has three floors with a full basement, and features four tiled fireplaces with large Tudor chimney and an enormous Povey stained glass window in the stairwell.  A spacious front porch graces the front entrance.
This Italianate commercial style building was built in 1870.  W.T. Wright is said to have operated Union’s first bank out of this building, living in the small dwelling attached to the rear.  The site became a grocery and stationery store in 1884, and a small office was added about 1885.  The dwelling portion was converted to business space for a millinery shop.  A small photo shop was also added to the rear.  By 1905 the narrow office portion was utilized as a cobbler and harness shop.  In 1930 Leo Anderson opened Anderson’s Shoe Repair Shop, in 1948 he moved his shop to La Grande.  After intermittent vacancies the shop was used as a carpentry shop in the early 1960’s.  A card and gift shop was located and operated during the 1980’s.  Today when you enter the double wood doors you walk into a charming pub which offers good food, beer and wines.  On a warm summers day or evening you can also enjoy the outdoor garden.

Union was one of the first towns in eastern Oregon to gain electricity.  The Union Electric Power and Light Company was organized in the Spring of 1890 with a capital stock of one hundred thousand dollars.  The company purchased the flouring mill site, gained water power and within a matter of months incandescent electric lights were being burned.  There were even a few street lights that made day from night.

The Methodist Church, built in 1905, is a one-and-one half story brick building with eaveless steep gables surmounting Gothic windows. The two-and-one half story spire is covered with shingles and capped with finials.  The spire caps a square bell tower, its belfry is open and gabled. The church was erected at a cost of $10,000.00 and was dedicated as debt free.  A contemporary brick annex has been added, it houses a kitchen and activity hall.  It’s brickwork has been done to complement the original structure.
Virginia-born Jeremiah Thomson moved west during the 1850’s serving as a government scout to help immigrants settling in Oregon.  In 1873 Jermiah Thomson built this beautiful home, it is a simple cottage with an ornate Renaissance Revival style octagonal tower.  Originally there were equally fancy porches and some of the decoration from them has been used to create the patio.  The spindles, rosettes, and pie crust moldings are typical of this style.  Mr. Thompson owned and operated a planing mill and his was the first power-operated turning lathe in the area.  His wife, Mary, was a milliner and operated her store from their home.
In August of 1932 ground was broke and the corner stone was laid for this Old English architecture church.  It is fashioned in a patchwork or crazy bond pattern in stone.  The stone was quarried from a farm east of town on Little Creek near High Valley, and hauled by team and wagon some three miles.  Oregon Trail Lumber Company donated the stumpage, and ward members cut the trees and prepared logs for the mill.  Logs were skidded to landings by teams of horses and the work began in January. In 1940 work began on the adjacent recreation hall. The attack of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 caused a halt to the building efforts, and was not resumed again until November of 1945.  Today this church is the only Latter Day Saints church located on the Old Oregon Trail.

In 1891 a new charter was granted to the City of Union.  This enlarged the corporate limits of the city to one square mile and empowered the mayor to establish a water system from Catherine Creek.  Among the most important industrial enterprises undertaken in Union have been the Union Woolen Mills, the Oregon Roller Mills, the Union Creamery and the Allen Fruit Evaporator. The woolen mill got off the ground in 1897.  There had been attempts before to tap the area’s sheep resource but not until 1897 did anyone make a go of it.  And then it was a success because of one man – Abe Eaton.

William Roth built this significant Italianate commercial building in 1881, it was the site of The First National Bank of Union until 1952 when a more ‘modern’ bank was built up the street.  The second story was originally used as the International Order of Odd Fellows hall.  The rear office space initially was used by the Eastern Oregon Republican from 1888 until the turn of the century.  The one-story ‘annex’ portion was built in 1882, Sanborn Maps from the 1800’s and 1890’s idicate that this was used as a post office.  With its distinguished segmental arch windows and door openings this brick building is an excellent example of an Italianate commercial building.  In 1968 the Union County Museum Society began developing the building for exhibits.  Today this building is full of memories and artifacts of days gone by, with the history of the City of Union as well as Union County.
 This Mansard style house was built in 1904 by Abel Eaton.  The lowered roof-line erupting in Gabled windows, engulfs the upper story and, in effect, turns the attic into a second story.  It is rumored this style of architecture created a means of avoiding taxation on a two story building.  Mr. Eaton was a businessman involved in many areas, including freighting and ranching.  He built one of the largest woolen milles in the state in 1898, here in Union.  He was mayor of Union, a school board member, and a Prohibitionist candidate for Govenor.  Mayor and Mrs. Eaton celebrated the completion of their house with a dinner party for fifty.  The house is an excellent example of the Mansard style, which had largely gone out of style by the time it was built.  The interior wood and brick work still show the orginial crafsmanship.  The hanging staircase is an engineering marvel.  The house contains six bedrooms, two baths, and two parlors.  Because Mr. Eaton did not trust banks, he built two vaults beneath the house, which were accessed by trapdoors, and paid his employees in cash.

Union had its fifty-year birthday in 1928 and though the population of the town was over a thousand there wasn’t a huge celebration.  In the next fifty years the town doubled and for the centennial there are two thousand people to celebrate a hundred years of Union.

This one story rectangular building was built in 1870, has a stone foundation, volcanic tuff storefront, and brick walls.  The storefront was orginally an Italianate, with cast iron storefront but was changed around the turn of the century.  Two original slender cast iron columns remain on either side of the recessed entrance.  The intact metal cornice is topped at the corners with ball finials.  Built by Aaron Sommer, this was the first brick building erected in Union.  In 1878 Adolph Levy came to Union and bought interest in the store and became a partner, soon he bought out the business which he conducted under his name until 1895. Upon his retirement his sons purchased the business and it was then known as Levy Brother General Store until its closure in 1942.  Adolph Levy and both of his sons were very active in the operations of the city of Union.  His son Milton served as mayor from 1923 to 1930.  Beginning in the 1950’s this vacant store has been used by many organizations and has been divided into serval residential rentals.
The Masonic Lodge was built in 1898 on property donated by John Burns, the proprietor of Union’s first hardware store.  This prominent two story structure is built of red brick with a front of volcanic tuff.  Once this building was completed the Lodge moved into the upper story.  The lower level became Townley-Gale’s “Busy Store” Merchantile which operated through the war years.  At various times there have been numerous businesses operating from this commercial building.  Besides the merchantile, Shanks Cafe & Bakery, Fisk’s Grocery, and Dr. Paul Stennfeld all conducted business here.  The north half became occupied by the U.S. Post Office in the 1900’s, who expanded to utilize the entire first story space in 1969.  The upper floor is still used as a Masonic Hall.
This Italianate commercial building was built in 1873, in 1877 and adjacent facility was built.  The north site was a general mercantile establishment, Foster Bridges & Company were doing business into the 1890’s.  By 1900, this establishment became the Elk Saloon, and by 1910 this site was in use as a moving picture theater.  Other businesses operated from this site include a jewelry store and a bakery, it even became a drug store by George Ferguson.  After Mr. Ferguson moved this location again became a hardware store and still operates as a hardware store.

After spending time in Union and talking with some of our oldest residents you can hear a bit of hidden hostility between the towns of Union and La Grande.  The following was found in the Union Centennial Album 1878-1978. Union County was created by legislative act of 1864 and La Grande was named temporary county seat.  The matter went to a vote in 1872 but no town in the county received the required majority so two years later there was a revote between La Grande and Union, Union won. You might think the matter would end there – it didn’t.  La Grande played bully and threw its weight where it did most good.  La Grande helped lose the railroad for Union, then the sugar beet factory and finally the main east-west highway. In 1890 a group of residents from La Grande were able to bring the issue to another vote.  Union won this again, fair and square, but still they quibbled about it in La Grande. In 1901 La Grande was successful in getting the legislature to act.  They changed the boundary of the county, carving away the Sparta-Cornucopia panhandle and adding it to Baker County. There are those who believe that panhandle resident Kelsay Porter was tried for murder and hung in Union just to weaken the town’s hold on the county seat.  At any rate, by then the balance of power had shifted to La Grande and in the election of 1904 La Grande finally won.

Union City Hall is on record as being one of the smallest and oldest in Oregon.  The construction of city hall was undertaken in earnest late in the 1880’s to provide a fitting place for business for the growing town, as well as a new city jail (housed in the northwest corner of the first floor).  There were numerous construction delays, which resulted in the ultimate completion date not in 1891, as the inscription would suggest, but in the spring of 1892.  This structure also housed the hook and ladder truck and the hose cart after its completion.  The tower base, located on the northeast corner of the building, retains its simple cornice and originally house the fire bell.  In the 1950’s a single story garage addition was built to house the growing fire department.  The tower base now is mounted with an electric fire siren system.  The City Hall proper has never been used as anything but as a City Hall.
This single story bungalow was built in the 1920’s by Thomas Adams, with the assistance of his brother Charles.  The Adams brothers worked as a team in the construction and finishing of numerous Union residences from 1910 to 1930, with the majority of the modest bungalows built in Union were constructed by them.  The brothers were admired for the quality of their wood working and craftsmanship which shows in the details of decorative brackets and large exterior stone chimney.  This modest bungalow was originally built as a residence for Richard Benson, who, with his brother founded Benson Brother’s Meat and Packing Company.  The Benson holdings included over one thousand acres near Hot Lake, as well as a larger ranch up Catherine Creek.  Today this home still has it original character.