Update: Mildred Stevens, August 24, 1916 to September 8, 2015. Mildred died a few days after her 99th birthday. She was loved and revered in Garden Home. She was essential to our research of Garden Home history.
At 93 years of age Mildred has a wonderful memory and sense of humor. She is still active in the community, sewing and baking and seeing friends. She lived in Garden Home, Oregon from 1940 until 1969 with her husband Austin whom she married in 1935. They had three children: Richard who was born before they moved to Garden Home; Judith Ann was born in1940 and Barbara in 1948.
Mildred and her husband originally rented the small two-bedroom house and one acre for $20 a month from the Upchurch family who owned the adjoining property on which stood the Upchurch Store. In 1942 they bought the house and property on southeast side of Oleson Road from the Upchurchs for $3,000. Most houses then were two, sometimes three bedrooms with one bathroom. The Upchurch store, purchased from Chris Jager, was on the southeast corner of Garden Home and Oleson Roads, where the Dairy Queen is now and the Stevens’ property was where the Garden Glen Apartments are now.
The day we visited Mildred she was just finishing up baking 13 dozen cookies for a Christmas cookie exchange she was attending the next day. After our interview she gave us a tour of her home showing us her quilts, pictures of beautifully made wedding dresses she had made for her daughters and a niece, Christmas tree skirts she was currently working on for gifts and pictures she has displayed throughout her home of her large and wonderful family. In her family room she has displayed several paintings, one done by her long-time friend, Margaret Gibbs, who lived in a house near the Frank Estate in the years Mildred lived in Garden Home. The day I went back to drop off our first draft of her interview she was finishing up a large batch of fudge and had plans to attend a FIFTY-FIVE AND ALIVE CLASS with her 69 year old daughter, Judith Ann. This class is offered to drivers over 55 years of age and which allows them to receive a discount on their car insurance.
Mildred recalls other residents who lived in the area: Glen and Aileen Singletary, Lois May, Margaret and Bob Gibbs, Lois and Darwin Day, and Mrs. O’Dell the egg lady. Roy and Mina Ernstrom bought the William’s Feed Store where Scotty’s Tavern now stands. A man with a wooden leg had a shoe store near or in the Upchurch Store. The Days lived across Oleson Rd. at 7645, just south of the gas station. Their youngest son, Bob, later bought the duplex that sits between his former childhood home and the station and now lives there. Mildred and Leland Fryer were an early “hippy type” family (they had a son named Mark and daughter Martine ) who also lived in the community. The Fryers were instrumental in starting the cooperative cannery, which was later bought by the Whitneys. Dr. C.E. Mason, who lived in Raleigh Hills, was the doctor who was called by those living in Garden Home when there was a medical problem. Dr. Mason made house calls. Melba and Ernie Cook were also very active in the community. Melba and Mildred led Campfire groups.
The Hills lived in a house south on Oleson Rd. Their property adjoined the Johnson’s. The Hills had no heirs. The Dicksons also lived here a number of years. Theirs was the blue house three houses south from the current apartments. Various neighborhood disagreements occurred over surveyor lines and old deeds. The Partlows lived in a two-story house with columns north off of 78th. Mr. Partlow coached at Lincoln High School in Portland.
Periodically Mildred’s mother, who had had a stroke, would visit, staying with the family for a while. It was during one of these stays that a fire occurred destroying the house. Mildred’s mother did not survive the fire. At the time Mildred had taken her daughter and was attending a meeting at the school that was being held to determine if a kindergarten could be developed for the younger children in the neighborhood. Her friend Melba Cook was also at the meeting that day. As a result of that tragedy a committee of neighborhood men, including Austin, organized to establish what would later become the Tualatin Valley Fire Department but which operated initially as a local volunteer Fire Department. A volunteer ambulance that served the community was stationed in Multnomah and a fee for membership guaranteed a ride to the hospital when a medical emergency occurred. The Hickmans and Ole Oleson helped start the volunteer ambulance service.
After the fire the Stevens family first lived in part of the Upchurch’s store and then built onto the Stevens’ unattached garage that had escaped the fire. The garage was later expanded into a new home for them.
[Editor’s note: September 2017, Rosella Nebert Grafton writes us from Astoria:
My 7th and 8th grade class at Garden Home School faced the intersection. We all stood at the windows and watched the Steven’s house burn. (1940s) The Johnson’s garage building, on the SW corner housed a fire-fighting trailer on our end of this garage. Some men raced to the trailer and opened the door. Stacks of newspapers were piled in front of the trailer and they were unable to get it out in time.
Austin worked at a variety of jobs over the years: picking feathers from turkeys in a Feed Store in McMinnville, as a feed packer earning $1.00 an hour, as a Union Secretary-Treasurer for the Grain Millers, as an organizer and International Secretary for the Teamsters and finally for Hoffman Construction as they built the St. Vincent’s Hospital on Barnes Road in Washington County.
At various times, Mildred and Austin supplemented their income by raising puppies, rabbits and chickens. A relative sold the rabbits for them at the Yamhill Market in Portland. It was during this period, one night when Austin was away on a job, that some of the hound dogs got loose and dug under the fence of the chicken coop. The chickens, terrified, all fled to the other end of the fenced area piling upon one another smothering those on the bottom. Faced with losing the income from the dead chickens, Mildred enlisted the help of neighbors to first scald the chickens in boiling water, than pluck them free of feathers. In the middle of the night they woke Roy Floyd, who owned the Fuel and Ice business in Garden Home and he provided enough ice for them to keep the chickens from spoiling until they could be sold. The chickens ended up being sold to the Tillicum Tavern that is still in operation as a restaurant in the same location on Bertha-Beaverton Highway.
Besides raising the Stevens’ children, puppies, rabbits and chickens, Mildred did childcare for local families, and worked for a while at the Cannery then operated by Mark and Leona Whitney. She then went on to work for the bank and in the main office of the Fred Meyer Stores. She retired in 1982. It also seems that she was quite active over the years sewing for others in Garden Home, especially the teen-age girls. She continued to be active in Garden Home affairs even after moving to her present home in Aloha.
Mildred reports that during these years they always had a telephone and that in the early 1940s the train still came through Garden Home and would carry passengers into Portland. The “Blue Bus” came through Garden Home driven by a man know as Bubbles Grail. Local children would often take the bus into Portland on their own with the parents confident that Bubbles would see that the children arrived safely. Youngsters also rode their bikes both to Beaverton and to Multnomah Village on their own or with friends. They often played in the barn at Marugg’s dairy. Throughout this period the local children were free to roam the woods, bike to friends’ homes and pretty much go where they wanted as long as they told their parents where they were going and who they were going with.
Residents did not lock their doors, day or night, and the children and their friends came and went into each other’s homes as if they lived there. By and large the children behaved though Mildred remembers her daughter Judy and a friend being caught throwing an older neighbor’s garden tools down into the opening in the neighbor’s outhouse! When the woman discovered it was “just” two 12 year-old girls instead of some of the older teenagers she had been suspecting, she had a good laugh on herself. Obviously, some behavior was tolerated as harmless in the small community where everyone knew everyone else.
It was a close-knit community. Mildred remembers many afternoons when a neighbor would call and ask what you were fixing for dinner, then invite you to bring it over and add it to what she had prepared. The adults would sit around the table after the meal visiting while the children played outside in the yard. The Stevens family enjoyed hearing music from the neighboring Bartlett home on Sunday evenings when the Bartletts and friends would gather for a songfest. The social life for the Garden Home women revolved around “house parties” such as those given by Tupperware and Guardian Ware, attending monthly programs given by the Extension Service and participating in the Women’s Circle at the Community Methodist Church. Mildred still uses the Guardian Ware pans and remembers how happy she was to get new pans during WWII when it was almost impossible to get anything made of metal. She still meets with the Extension Service Women’s Group that organized during those years.
The centers of the community seemed to have been the church, the school, the stores and the Cannery. The “Red and White” store was owned by the Smiths; the Upchurch store became Throckmortons in the late 1940s and then Lamb’s Thriftway opened in 1957. The Cannery first began as a co-op and later it was purchased by Mark and Leona Whitney. For several summers the ladies of the church made sandwiches which were sold at the Cannery. The money was used to buy an organ for the church.
The pastor of the church was John Wood. The pastor and his wife Mary had 4 or 5 children. At one point Mary became ill for an extended period of time and the women of the church took care of the children until Mary was well enough to do so again. Under Pastor Wood the Church hosted a popular Youth Program including softball games and outings. The community also raised money for tennis courts for the school.
In the early 1940’s the Cannery was built. Originally built as a co-op, it was owned by the members of the community and later bought by the Whitney family who continued to operate it providing a place for families to bring their produce to be canned. Children were often recruited to help with the processing of beans, peaches, or whatever needed canning. Some members of Garden Home still remember as children having to spend time cleaning and snapping the ends off of green beans to prepare them to be canned. It was not a chore much appreciated by a youngster wanting to be doing something more fun! For a while Mildred and her friend, Melba Cook worked in the cannery earning $1. an hour. One day a woman came in and asked if she could have her cherries canned and said, “Would you mark this lot with a ‘W’?” Mrs. Whitney agreed to do so but was curious as to why the woman wanted the cans marked that way. When asked why the woman wanted her cherries marked in this manner she was told that the “W” designated wormy cherries that she wanted to make sure she didn’t serve to company!
Gus Johnson owned the gas station on the southwest corner of the Oleson Rd and Garden Home Rd. intersection where the current Texaco station is. His daughter Dorothy became Miss Oregon in 1955 and then went on to become first runner-up for Miss America. They lived in a nice brick house just south of the station. Both the garage and the house have been torn down and the new Texaco Station now occupies that spot.
After the trains were discontinued, sometime in the 1940’s, Multnomah Boulevard was constructed. It was originally a gravel road. Word went out that the railroad ties, wooden and soaked with creosote, were free to anyone who wanted them and some of the residents collected them and burned them in their wood stoves for heat.
An old recluse, Mr. Weber, lived in a shack down below the cannery. He was generally known throughout the community and the children were told to stay away from him but the kids would sometimes visit him anyway.
During WWII Garden Home observed blackouts as required by Civil Defense orders. On the first night of the blackout, Mildred and Austin made their way to Terwilliger Blvd. to see just what Portland would look like with all the lights blacked out. To do so they had to use the headlights of their car to find their way all the while knowing it was forbidden to do so. It was a little scary thinking they might be caught but they always thought it was worth the effort and danger to see the city all blacked out.
Dorothy McKay helped begin the Extension Group, which helped homemakers develop their skills. This group continues to meet with long-time members enjoying each other and presenting some kind of program each meeting. The Circle group from the Garden Home Methodist Church also continues to meet and enjoy fellowship even though the church is no more. Like many other Garden Home residents, Mildred continues to love and enjoy Garden Home and her old friends.
By Virginia Vanture and Elaine Shreve on December 7, 2009
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