I had the pleasure of attending my first meeting of the Oak Lodge History Detectives last week. After a couple of misses (I’ve usually found out about their monthly meetings after the fact) I finally made it to their latest meeting.
If you’re not from the area, Oak Lodge is a combination of the Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge areas in unincorporated Clackamas County.
After a roundtable of introductions – many of its members live in houses with familiar, local names – the group did some administrative chatter while others shared various historical artifacts (a crumbling deed was displayed and a few historical tidbits were passed around). Members are also working on an Oak Lodge Street and Place Names document – which will be an amazing resource when completed. (I never knew Oak Grove Blvd. was originally called Central Ave. until the early 1900s. I have a lot to learn about my community.)
This particular meeting also promised a presentation from OLHD Chairman Mike Schmeer on the Murder at McNary’s, which took place in the vicinity of Oatfield and McNary Roads in 1879.
Mike had a full-on PowerPoint presentation, with newspaper clips and photos, that helped illustrate what happened. He read a prepared paper and sprinkled it with news accounts, while another member read snippets from Minerva Thessing Oatfield’s diary, who was the first to find out about the murder.
He mentioned that information was available from 1930s WPA interviews and sure enough, I found the following from the interview conducted with the then-eldery Minerva in the 1930s on the chilling account of the murder:
The old McNary donation land claim is just down the road a short distance. The old house, the photograph of which I am lending you, was destroyed only a few years ago. In the early ’60s a murder was committed there that scared the whole countryside. A woman named Mrs. Hager, two daughters and a son were living in the house. They were supposed to have quite a bit of money hidden away, at least the girls bragged about it.
But as it transpired the son had taken whatever amount there was and invested it in a business elsewhere. Anyway, one day when the woman, Mrs. Hagar, had been left alone, one of her girls came home and found her out in the yard in front of the house, with her head nearly cut off.
I can see and hear that girl now, as she came shrieking down the road on her horse, screaming that her mother had been killed. It was an awful sight, and everything in the house had been turned inside out by the murderer as he hunted for the money.
Even the feather beds were pulled to pieces and feathers were everywhere. A number of men were arrested, but it was years after, when a man was tried and condemned for another murder, that he confessed to six, among them that of Mrs. Hagar.
Mike’s presentation expanded on this and added lots of personality and life. One note he brought up was that onlookers from the community and surrounding Portland rushed to the crime scene, there was courthouse drama and many lurid headlines. Some things never change.
The meeting adjourned and a few folks milled around. I met a couple of local historians, exchanged information and, of course, joined the organization. If you’re in the area, you should join, too.
As the evolution of my local knowledge slowly grows, it was another community building moment. It was fascinating hearing stories, and even more eye-opening to hear local street names such as “Naef” and “Oatfield” being used to describe people and their homesteads. It’s a connection to the past and more than just street directions and paved over suburban streets.