William Barlow House

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By Tyler Francke, Contributing Writer

There are countless names and families who stand out in the annals of local history, and who helped found Canby and built it into the community it has become over the past nearly 200 years.

Philander and Anna Lee, whose donation land claim would become the heart of downtown Canby, have obviously earned their place. “Big Jim” Baker, the wild frontiersman who operated a huge ranch in what is now north Canby in the 1830s — and nearly had the honor of having the town named after him — makes for a colorful tale. Kentuckian Champney Pendleton and family were among the earliest known permanent settlers in the Canby area and would make their mark on the town for decades to come.

But perhaps no single person was more instrumental in those very early days than another Kentuckian, Samuel K. Barlow. After all, he built the Barlow Road — the final overland segment of the Oregon Trail — without which, the so-called “A-B-C” sister cities of Aurora, Barlow and Canby may not have developed until decades later, if at all.

Samuel Kimbrough Barlow was a trailblazer in every sense of the word, a tailor by trade and training who lived a colorful life. In August 1827, he was convicted of manslaughter for killing a man with an ax the previous October.

Sentenced to one year of hard labor, his crime was eventually pardoned by the governor of Indiana after scores of people — including the victim’s brother — pleaded on his behalf since he had acted only to protect his wife, Susannah Lee, and their six children: Sarah, James, John, Eliza Jane, Eli, and William.
In 1845, Barlow and his family joined legendary pioneer and statesman Joel Palmer, who would later serve as an Oregon legislator and speaker of the House, in his train of 23 covered wagons bound for Oregon.

Along the way, the 53-year-old made one of the earliest ascents of Mount Hood (though he did not reach the summit), as he and Palmer were scouting for a crossing. On October 7, 1845, Barlow climbed all the way to the 9,000-foot level in order to clear the treeline and find a way off the mountain. The path they ultimately chose would later be known as Barlow Pass.

Nine years later, Barlow, along with five other men led by Thomas J. Dryer, made another attempted ascent of Oregon’s tallest peak which some consider the first summitting of Mount Hood, though the report has been disputed. A later climb by a party led by Henry Pittock in 1857 was far better documented and is generally considered the first “official” ascent to the summit, with Dryer and company’s attempt deemed to have fallen a couple hundred feet short.

At any rate, there is no dispute that the Barlows achieved their goal of reaching and establishing a new home in the Oregon Country, with their party arriving in the burgeoning Oregon City on Christmas night in 1845.

Barlow was appointed justice of the peace for Clackamas County (which was much larger in those days) by acting Governor Kintzing Prichette in 1850 — the same year that he bought a donation land claim from Canadian explorer and fur trader Thomas McKay — who later led a militia company that saw action in the Cayuse War.

The land was eventually sold to Samuel’s son, William, portions of which would eventually form the town of Barlow and the historic William Barlow House. Initially the largest and most prosperous of the “ABC” sister cities, a train station was established in Barlow when the O&C Railroad was built in 1870.

It remained the main stop in the area until the explosion of fertile farmlands in Canby fueled an economic and population boom — necessitating an expanded station to accommodate the crops and cattle being exported down to the Southern Pacific Railroad route.

Barlow’s post office was established in February 1871 and would serve the area more than a hundred years, closing its doors on January 3, 1975. The town was incorporated in 1903 as Barlow, named not after the famous Samuel Barlow, but his son William, who lived there and started a sawmill, a gristmill, the post office, and the Barlow Bank and Land Development Company.

The late 1800s was Barlow’s heyday, as the city was home to more than 40 families and boasted a school, a bank, two churches, two hotels, two general stores, three saloons, a feed store, a livery stable, and a newspaper. Downtown Barlow had wooden sidewalks and white picket fences.

Yet while Canby thrived, thanks to a higher and drier location that was less likely to flood, Barlow stagnated and declined. By the early 20th century, Barlow was little more than a ghost town. It did not start attracting many new residents until after World War II.

William Barlow and his wife, Martha Ann, bought more land and established a large plantation on the rich, moist bottomland that stretches between the Molalla and Pudding rivers. The couple built a Southern-style mansion, which burned down in 1883.

Two years later, he built a grand new home in the Victorian Italianate style, which was popular in the mid-to late 19th century. The house passed to William’s daughter, Mary, in 1896, and it was sold out of the family in 1906. William died at 81 years old in 1904. The Barlow Fountain, built to honor the contributions of William Barlow and his family, was dedicated by Mary Barlow in 1904.

Still standing to this day, having been beautifully restored by the late Virginia L. Miller, who lived there and operated it as a private museum until her passing in 2004, the William Barlow House is the oldest residential structure in the Canby area.

Framed with its iconic twin rows of black walnut trees planted in 1859, the Barlow House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 15, 1977, and remains a prominent landmark of Canby to this day.