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Daniel Harvey - like John McLoughlin - father of OC?

Blue Heron Beginnings: Commentary on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project


The birth of the modern Blue Heron mill site, as we know it today, arguably occurred in 1862-63 with construction of one building in particular: the Imperial Mills.

by: CARLETON WATKINS - This 1867 photograph shows Imperial Mills, a steamboat basin, People's Transportation Company warehouse and horse railroad passing in front.Its significance rests not only in its status as the flagship of the collection of buildings Willard Hawley purchased in 1908 for his paper manufacturing company that grew over the years into Blue Heron. Imperial Mills also linked the Hawley era, and what followed, back to Oregon City’s founding era and founding family, for the man who erected it was John McLoughlin’s son-in-law, Daniel Harvey.

Certain historical names ring with familiarity through our community: McLoughlin, Abernethy, Ermatinger, Barclay, Charman, etc. But mention the name Daniel Harvey, and you’ll likely get a blank look. This historical anonymity seems unjustified, given Harvey’s profound influence on Oregon City’s history — and particularly that of the Blue Heron site — through his construction of the Imperial Mills, and also his role in the creation of the Oregon City Woolen Mills.

Let’s begin with the trip John McLoughlin took to London in 1839, during which he expressed to Hudson’s Bay Company his interest in having services of an experienced miller for the Columbia District and Fort Vancouver. Hudson’s Bay engaged Harvey as a miller and farmer from 1841-46. Harvey brought with him to America a new kind of draining plough and a “proof staff” used in preparing millstones. On the voyage across the Atlantic, he had charge of “Six Merino and six Leicester Rams and Ewes, of the most approved breeds.” In addition to his duties as miller, he also farmed 640 acres of wheat on the Mill Plain near Fort Vancouver.

After the United States and Great Britain settled their boundary dispute by treaty in 1846, the British withdrew from Fort Vancouver, and Harvey followed McLoughlin to Oregon City. He married McLoughlin’s widowed daughter Eloisa in October of 1850, and managed McLoughlin’s flour and sawmill. The Harveys were among the small group gathered at McLoughlin’s bedside when he died in 1857 , and they thereafter lived in the McLoughlin House. Harvey became the executor of McLoughlin’s estate, and he and Eloisa became the sole heirs — including, after 1862, the restored Oregon City Claim with McLoughlin’s Mill Reserve — after the Harvey’s bought out the interest of Eloisa’s brother David for $25,000.

As the executor, Harvey proved himself a hardball businessman and negotiator. In his book “Pioneer Woolen Mills in Oregon,” Alfred Lomax describes the negotiations between Harvey and the Oregon City Woolen Mills’ original promoters. They included Harvey as one of the original incorporators of the Woolen Mills, but a meltdown occurred with Harvey demanding up to $100,000 — in 1863 dollars — for the entirety of the Oregon City Claim. Alternatively, the promoters sought specific lots and water rights for the mill. Things got so hot that the promoters publicly skewered Harvey in a report placed in newspapers in Salem and Portland:

“Resolution: That we consider the ownership of the Oregon City Claim by Daniel Harvey, as a curse to it, and a blight to all its best interests. And we would recommend that a Joint Stock Company be organized under the laws of this State, to bring water from some point above Harvey’s claim, by means of a canal through his ground, in order that an immense waterpower no lying idle and worthless may thus be made available and valuable.”

The promoters then re-filed without Harvey as an incorporator. The negotiations eventually smoothed out, and the promoters included Harvey as a director when they constructed the Woolen Mills in 1864.

Prior to the erection of the Woolen Mills, Harvey constructed the Imperial Standard Mills.

Modern floodplain regulations did not exist during the Civil War era. The flourmill Harvey inherited from John McLoughlin, built in 1844 and known under the brand name Oregon City Mills, stood below the falls, along a mill race, and along the shore of the Willamette River. When the great flood hit in December of 1861, it wiped out the Oregon City Mills and its contents completely, at a loss the Oregon Argus estimated at $50,000.

by: MULTNOMAH COUNTY LIBRARY - This 1863 ad in The Oregonian establishes that Daniel Harvey constructed the Imperial Mills, operated the mill and sold flour under the trade name Imperial Standard flour.Harvey set out immediately to replace the Oregon City Mills. On June 28, 1862, the Argus reported: “NEW MILL — Mr. Harvey, we understand, is about to commence construction of another mill, to stand south of and near Smith’s Foundry — to be 66 by 46 feet, and four stories high — considerably larger than the one washed away last winter.” The new mill stood on the tail race near the same spot along the river, but this time, on the high ground at the river level above the falls: it survived every flood that occurred thereafter during its existence, including the major flood of 1890.

The Imperial Standard Mills rose like an enormous barn at the south end of Oregon City’s Main Street. With the steep pitch of its roof, it actually reached five stories above its foundation. It housed six mill stones which milled wheat into the fine flour Harvey advertised as “Daniel Harvey’s Imperial Standard Extra Superfine And Self-Rising Flour.” (See sidebar.) Within a year of its construction, the Imperial Standard Mills was already “acknowledged to be among the finest on the Pacific Coast.”

But then, after this auspicious start, Harvey sold the mill. Whatever reason he had for selling the Imperial Standard Mills (Harvey died in ill health at the age of 64 in December 1868), he had launched an enterprise that would soar with growth in physical size, economic reach and worldwide reputation both for the business itself and for its hometown of Oregon City.

In December 1863 Harvey granted a one-third interest in the Imperial Standard Mills, with water rights, to another HBC veteran named George LaRocque. They sold the remaining two-thirds interest to him in July 1864. LaRocque, once a mountaineer trapper, hunter, and guide in the Rockies, had become part of the community of French Canadians who settled the French Prairie near Butteville and Champoeg. He struck gold in California in ’49, and with his $12,000 became business partners with Francois X. Matthieu, who had been one of the two crossover votes at the seminal 1843 Champoeg meeting that decided Oregon would become U.S. Territory. Intriguingly, according to McLoughlin historian Burton Brown Barker’s study of the McLoughlin’s estate, whereas McLoughlin had countless debtors at the time of his death, LaRocque was one of the very few people McLoughlin owed money to; $4,252.55, although Barker does not indicate what the debt was for.

As the new proprietor, LaRocque immediately turned around and sold a half interest in the mill to a Portland partnership that included another pioneer, Vermont Yankee and eventual Portland street and bridge namesake D.W. Burnside. The new ownership group then placed newspaper notices announcing a name change from “Imperial Standard Mills” to simply “Imperial Mills.” The other major Clackamas County flourmill of the Civil War era, the Standard Mills in Milwaukie, predated the Imperial Standard Mills; they may have changed the name to avoid confusion with this earlier mill.

In its earliest years, farmers brought wheat to the Imperial Mills on horse-drawn wagons down Singer Hill, south on Main Street, and onto the north side of the mill. Horse teams also brought wheat from the steamboat docks and warehouses in Canemah, as Willamette Valley grains and other agricultural products were a major portion of the traffic. In 1862, a portage railroad, known popularly as the “horse railroad” and constructed originally with a wooden-strap track, linked Canemah to Willamette Falls, and this railroad also delivered wheat to the mill.

The Imperial Mills grew meteorically. It did serve a local market. For example, it advertised in 1867 that it kept constantly on hand for sale “flour, midlings, bran and chicken feed!” But, it advised, “Parties wanting feed must furnish their sacks.”

However, as early as 1864, still under Harvey's majority ownership, the mill had an export market for fine flour that reached along the Pacific coast, at least from San Francisco to Victoria. By 1869, the Weekly Enterprise was reporting, “The Imperial Mills of this city now ship their flour almost wholly to Boston, Mass., where it commands the highest prices — and meets with ready sale.” Imperial Mills flour was reported on the New York market in 1873. Then, fittingly, a decade after Daniel Harvey built his mill, the Imperial Mills cracked the European market with a first shipment to his birthplace, England. The Oregonian reported in 1874 that the ship Middlesex had “passed through the tropics” with “flour from the Imperial Mills at Oregon City,” and the flour had remained “entirely sweet, untainted, and free from mustiness and sourness.”

Tremendous infrastructure improvements around the falls certainly helped the Imperial Mills in its growth. In 1865, the Harveys sold a significant parcel of Mill Reserve land to a steamboat company, the Peoples Transportation Company, known by its abbreviation P.T. Co. The P.T. Co. excavated the steamboat basin, the precursor to the one we see today, and this basin allowed steamboats virtually to unload wheat right at the front door of the Imperial Mills. Next to the Imperial Mills, it built a sizeable warehouse that could transfer goods from the upper river level down to the lower river level; P.T. Co. also bought the horse railroad, and upgraded the wooden track to a track with steel rails. In 1869, “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay brought the Oregon Central Railroad Company through Oregon City at the base of the bluff, right across from the Imperial Mills, shortly rendering the horse railroad obsolete. Finally, 1873 brought the construction of the Willamette Falls Locks.

The growth in business also led to physical expansion. In 1870, the mill added an east wing — with a similar barn-like roof, but stepped a few feet below the original roof — for use as a granary. On its west side, it added a flume to draw additional waterpower from the basin. Across the street, by 1874 it had built a first warehouse along the railroad track. In 1882-1883 it built a second warehouse and grain elevator adjacent to the first, in order to receive wheat from the railroads. These adjacent warehouses, like the main mill building, used waterpower from the falls. By 1886, the main mill building rose two additional stories: it lost its barn-like roof, replaced by a shallow-pitched roof. Eventually, a grain flume connected the grain elevator to the main mill building.

After LaRocque died in 1877, Burnside became the proprietor of the Imperial Mills. A new invention called the telephone allowed him to work out of his Portland office and maintain a direct line contact to his on-site mill foreman, A.J. Apperson — a name that will be familiar to Canemah residents on the street named after him — and his head miller A. Comstock. He continued to maintain both a local and global business, for example shipping 65,000 barrels of flour to Liverpool in a 10-month period in 1878-79. Portland’s high-brow illustrated news monthly, The West Shore, wrote at the time, “The Imperial brand has a world-wide reputation, and the quality never varies, but is always kept up to its high standard of excellence.”

When Burnside sold the mill in 1883 to the Oregon City Flouring Mills Co. in 1883, it marked the end of the “pioneer” era for the Imperial Mills. At the time, the OCFM owned the flourmill on 3rd Street that had started out as W.W. Buck’s Pioneer Paper Co. OCFM’s brief two-year ownership pivoted the Imperial Mills into the Gilded Age, and ultimately to a different kind of milling.

Oregon City resident James Nicita is a former city commissioner. The author gratefully acknowledges the kind contributions of Richard Matthews and Denyse McGriff of the McLoughlin Memorial Association to this article. Next Installment: The Portland Flouring Mills Empire; Mr. Hawley’s Mill.



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