Historic Context Statement:

In 2001, the City developed a Historic Context Statement to document the history of the Philomath area: Historic Context Statement (2001)

Philomath and the Marys River Settlement:

The following brief history was taken from the book Philomath and the Marys River Settlement by Marlene McDonald, copyrighted 2007. 

Philomath and the Marys River Settlement:

Philomath has a unique history. Usually people come together, build a community, and then establish a school. The community called Marys River Settlement first built a school, which was named Philomath, "lover of learning," and in the process created a town, which they incorporated in 1882 and also named Philomath. Philomath's population has remained remarkably stable over the years.

Just five miles away, Marysville (renamed Corvallis) happened in the usual way. On the banks of the Willamette River at the head of navigation, J.C. Avery and William F. Dixon, who had adjoining land claims along the river, platted the town in the winter of 1846-1848, and sold lots for businesses and homes. By 1859 nearly all the land outside of Marysville and west to Marys Peak was settled. However, it was not until 1865 that members of the United Brethren Church in Christ purchased land to establish Philomath College and build a community around the school. After land was set aside for the main building and campus, the surrounding area was platted and sold by the college corporation for homes and businesses as a way to finance the school. And then in 1882, the small community was incorporated.

First Inhabitants of the Marys River Valley:

The settlers did not come into an uninhabited land, although the human population by then was much diminished by several epidemics.

Kalapuyas, hunters and gatherers, occupied the territory. The Kalapuya were not a tribe, but a number of distinct bands that spoke different languages and dialects having similar linguistic roots. They lived in family groups, having semi-permanent cedar longhouses for winter use, breaking into smaller groups from the Coast to the Cascades, that gathered food as it came into season. During this time they needed minimal shelter, sometimes brush huts but perhaps sheltering under the trees or in caves during inclement weather. Small cedar canoes, dugouts, and rafts were used to cross the streams and rivers, usually left for the next people to use. In general, they did not possess horses, instead traveling by foot.

The Chepenefa, the Marys River band, inhabited the valley of the Marys River. The fertile valley, future townsite of Philomath, and the foothills of the Coast Range provided them with a great variety of plant and animal foods. Marys Peak, called Tcha Teemanwi (Place of the Spirits) by them, was their spiritual power place.

The Kalapuya were usually a peaceful people, seldom having difficulty with others. At one time their population was estimated to be 14,000-20,000, but due to several deadly epidemics, they were only a remnant of about 600 in the whole Willamette Valley when the settlers arrived in the 1840s.

While perhaps not unique, volunteerism has from the first been an important part of Philomath, beginning with the settlers who helped the mason fire the bricks for the Philomath College building and then helped build it. They also helped with other construction, built the fence and sidewalk around the campus, and landscaped the grounds with trees brought from their own farms.

Volunteers built the College of Philomath building (all three of them, since two burned) and probably local churches and schools, although this was not recorded.

In more recent years, volunteers built the fire station, the library (which literally took an act of Congress), the Marys River Grange, and many of the athletic facilities at the high school/middle school complex.

Local timbermen financed and built the forestry facilities at the high school and continue to give active support to the program.

Volunteers were responsible for raising the funds to restore the historic college building and for cleaning and furnishing it for its use as a museum. Volunteers are still an integral part of the work at the Museum.

When a need was seen for a medical clinic, a volunteer group formed a non-profit corporation, looked into programs sponsored by the National Health Service Organization, and spearheaded a building fund which resulted in Philomath Family Medicine.

Organizations and individuals volunteer for everything from working in the local schools to building picnic shelters and skateboard ramps in the City Park.

When there is a need, citizens of the community step up and take care of it.

--Marlene McDonald, Philomath and The Marys River Settlement.

Additional Resources:

More of the history of Philomath is available through the Benton County Historical Museum.