'Six generations, one legacy'
It always seems as if Oswego Heritage Council volunteer and board member Mark Browne — who is usually on the lookout for a good historical collection to unpack — has a new project waiting in the wings.
But his latest find just might be one of the most interesting and historically relevant collections he's ever found of documents, photos and antiquities that relate to the early development of the town of Oswego.
This time, Browne's project is taking place just outside the city's border, where the Cook Family Farm — in all its wooded and bucolic glory — stands in wait for the day its number is called to become one of the town's historical sites.
"When you consider the existential importance of (the Cook Family Farm), Oswego developed because of farms like this. People needed to eat, and they ate because this agricultural belt surrounding the town, which was made up of farms like the Cook's, fed them," Browne says. "Nothing could have happened in Oswego developmentally without the farms that surrounded it."
Browne stumbled upon the farm during an historic home tour, where he met Rick Cook and, eventually, Cook's older brother Steve. The Cooks trace their lineage on the Stafford property back to their great-grandfather, James Preston Cook, who traveled to Oregon from Ohio and purchased the farm from A. R. Shipley, another historical Oswego figure and former Portland postmaster, in 1900.
"It's 118 years' worth of stuff," Rick Cook says, "except we have some letters from the Civil War, so it seems it goes back even further than that."
Shipley purchased the 1,000-acre plot abutting the Tualatin River in 1861, and by 1868 he'd built a house and large barn on the property. J.P. Cook had moved to Oswego in 1883 to cut and haul timber to make coal for the Iron furnaces; after Shipley's death in 1894, his wife sold 130 acres of the property to Cook.
As it stands today, the property includes a grove of historic trees, some of which date back nearly 150 years. The property was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2008, the same year that Clackamas County gave heritage status to the tree grove. The old family barn — potentially one of the oldest structures in Clackamas County still standing resolute and strong — was recently given a bit of love when the Cooks replaced a few beams on the northwest corner and reinforced the foundation.
After meeting the Cooks during the historic home tour, Browne approached Rick Cook about the mound of documents and photos sitting on his dining room table, looking like they needed a good project manager to collate, file and preserve them.
"Almost nobody has done what Rick and Steve's family does, but there's a certain point where almost everybody gets stuck, where the mound reaches about 2.5 feet off the table. So I had the glorious pleasure of coming in, getting it synthsized down into a manageable method of preservation," Browne said. "I've seen collections like this wind up in the trash. Family passes away and all of a sudden someone says, 'What are we going to do with all this crap?' And it ends up in the dumpster. But what's in this collection is quintessentially relevant to the history of Oswego, not just the family."
For the Cooks, the preservation of their family history — and by extension the history of Oswego — is an exciting development in their endeavor to protect both the family legacy and the land upon which they've built memories for more than 100 years.
Rick Cook recalls family Fourth of July gatherings that would often see nearly 100 people in attendance. In the future, he'd love to see barbecue pits installed and the property opened up to the public to enjoy and celebrate the traditions of the Cook family for generations to come.
Moving forward, Rick Cook says he will continue to work with Browne to preserve his family's history and help fill in some of the blanks surrounding Oswego's early days. He likens his experience with Browne to that of the 1997 Mitch Albom novel "Tuesdays with Morrie," a memoir of the author's time spent with his 78-year-old sociology professor, Morrie Schwartz, who spends his final days relaying life lessons and cultural teachings to Albom.
"Instead of 'Tuesdays with Morrie,' I've got Wednesdays with Mark," Rick Cook laughs. "Down the road, we'd love to see this place preserved like Stevens Meadows or a Luscher Farm type of thing. It's been in our blood, and we just want to be sure that it's safe: six generations, one legacy."