Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Scappoose Library - Fabulous Opal Whiteley

My mother, Yvonne Olsen Barker, loved the book Opal by Opal Whiteley. She left two copies of the book in her large collection of books. The one I kept for myself is a 1976 edition arranged and adapted by Jane Boulton, with 181 pages. The cost of the book was $2.95 after being reduced from $6.95, probably found in a used book store. On the inside front page she left this inscription:

"This book reminds me so much of how your great grandmother was as a child from the stories she told me. I have this same book in my library so I thought you might enjoy reading this one.
Yvonne Olsen Barker 6/5/93."

My grandmother, Zella Straw Olsen was my inspiration for doing genealogy at a young age. She had at least sixteen great grandchildren, descended from her three sons. Her mother died when she was four and she lived on a farm in the country. The life there was carefree in her younger years and even after she went to school as a young girl. She wrote a history of her life which is a family treasure. In about 1920 she left Iowa with her Uncle Herb and Aunt Rose Tidd and came to live in Oregon with her Uncle Wesley and Aunt Jane Tidd Hosmer. She was well educated and loved to read. In 1926 she married Carl Ivan Olsen a Norwegian who had moved to Sherwood, Oregon where her cousin lived. They bought a home in Linnton, Oregon and raised their three sons on a hill overlooking the Willamette River. The boys were just as free spirited as she was.

Now back to the book Opal. Recently I have been involved in creating an inventory of the Watts Book collection that was originally in the Watts house. They were moved there following a fire in the Watts/Price store. The books were kept on the second floor of the store since the inception of the library in 1929. The founders of the library were Rose Watts, Caroline Doris and Lena Berg. The books were saved from the fire by people going into the building, upstairs and throwing the books out the windows to people waiting below. A few of the books still show singe marks.

After the fire the books were moved to the home of J.G. and Rose Watts, where they stayed for almost thirty years. They were in the front parlor, entryway, lining the hallways and even in the basement. In 1958 the building of a new space for the library in a city building was in progress. Rose helped to place the corner stone with a sealed box of items of interest. Three months later Rose passed away, having dedicated most of her life to a love of books and learning.

Within the collection is a copy of the book Opal by Opal Whiteley published in 1986 (originally in 1920), with 183 pages. There is also a copy of a companion book, Fabulous Opal Whiteley, by Elbert Bede an Oregon reporter, published in 1954, with 181 pages. The purpose of the second book is to examine the veracity of the information about the life of Opal Whiteley. For all that is written she was an amazing person who grew up near Cottage Grove, Oregon and became a world wide recognized author. Having read the second book I now plan to re-read the book Opal. She is an unsolved mystery with an amazing tale to tell.

The rest of the Watts collection is just as amazing. Of the 4,000 to 5,000 books thought to be in the collection when it was moved from the house in 1959 by the local high school students assisting, the collection now consists of about 400 to 500 books. While some have been dispersed amongst the current library collection, some are being reserved for a special collection of Oregon and the Pacific Northwest books to be placed in a special area of the library.  The key interest for now is discovering the books with inscriptions of Watts family members, friends and community donations.

The Scappoose Historical Society is interested in building a collection of such books that might be held by family or individuals within the area. This is a fantastic group to work with and I am very happy to be working with them on genealogy projects. Many serendipity moments occur as we process the collections of many years. Visitors are welcome. There are upcoming wine tasting parties and teas being planned for this spring. The website provides easy access for more information:

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