A Brief History of Keizer
Written by ~ Keizer resident Ann Lossner
Keizer's first settlers began to arrive in the 1840's. By the mid-1850's 18 families had laid claim to 7,655 acres. Members of two families, the Keizurs and Pughs, had the largest total holdings; 2,415 and 1,912 acres respectively.
The community took the name of Thomas Dove Keizur, patriarch of the family which came to Oregon with the Applegate wagon train in the fall of 1843. From the time the Keizurs arrived in the United States, in the 18th century, they used 15 different versions of their family name. Most of those settling in this area spelled it "Keizur".
The names of the original settlers were Keizur (three families), Pugh (four families), Zieber, Spong, Purdy, Smart, Ford, Claggett, Fisher, Force, Stephens, Penter and Smith. In the Clear Lake area, holders of the donation land claims were George Lesley and Jeremiah Stevenson. Claims of Zieber and Smith included land in both communities.
It was the Alvis Smith's who started Keizer's only cemetery. Originally, known as the Smith graveyard, it is now called the Claggett Cemetery.
The first school was on the Claggett farm at the intersection of Wheatland and River Roads. Hugh McNary, son-in-law of Charles Claggett, and father of Judge John McNary and Senator Charles, and eight other children, was an early teacher there. He also held church services in the school.
When a new one-room school was built in 1878 on the 1 1/2 acres at Keizer corners donated by John and Sally Pugh, Nina, daughter of Hugh and Margaret Claggett McNary, was the first teacher.
One of the worst floods ever to hit the Willamette Valley was devastating to the farmers of the Keizer Bottom in 1861. Home, barns, furnishings, farming implements, cattle and poultry were lost when waters came as far east as the Keizer School and also isolated the community from Salem to the south. Claggett Creek, then unnamed, flooded the lowlands now occupied by Claggett park and closed the road to the east.
During the ensuing years, Keizer farmers built their homes on higher ground. The oldest home still standing is the John Pugh house built in 1875 above Claggett Creek, which high water would swell to the proportions of a river.
It was the frequent flooding of the Willamette River which hampered development of the Keizer area. In 1917, more than 70 years after the first settlement, there were fewer than 70 families in the entire area, most were on higher elevations of Chemawa Road, near the Oregon Electric tracks and off what is now Verda Lane.
Developers generally steered away from the Keizer area, especially after the 1943 flood, which was one of major proportions and enable a Coast Guard cutter to float onto the Rehfuss farm on Cherry Avenue through the draw where the Keizer Elks' clubhouse is situated. There were more major floods in 1945, 1946 and 1948.
However, the dams being constructed on the Willamette and its tributaries began to regulate the river to the extent that development began in earnest in the 1950's.
During the decade the seeds were sown for a small town. City phones replaced the country line and a volunteer fire department was formed. River Road was realigned and paved. A doctor, a dentist, an optometrist and a drug store moved to Keizer. The growing business community organized first as the Commercial Club and then the Keizer Merchants. Lynn Martin expanded the budding Keizer News.
To facilitate further expansion of the Keizer School, the Grange Hall was moved from its location on River Road to Chemawa Road and the Keizer School became the largest grade school in Marion County. Then Cummings School was built to relieve the spirit prevailed. The merchants sponsored the popular Keizer Days parade and a Kids' Parade long after the demise of the Cherry festival in Salem. There was every imaginable activity for youngsters; garden and service clubs for adults and churches of practically every denomination.
By 1960 there were over 5,000 people. Three schools were built to accommodate existing and projected enrollment. First came Kennedy grade school in 1964, then McNary High School in 1965. It housed the Whiteaker Junior High until that school was built in 1968. McNary's football field was seeded and the cinder track completed, when after 16 flood-free years, the Willamette River went on a rampage in December 1964 and January 1965. Washer, dryers, TV sets, furniture and parts of houses washed onto the track and the low areas of the school grounds---virtually a modern replay of the flood of 1861.
During the next decade the population doubled to 11,405 with orchards and berry fields sprouting houses. Many Keizer residents treasure a full-grown fruit or nut tree in their yards.
Another 7,000 people located in the Keizer area by 1980 and old-timers looked on sadly as landmarks disappeared. The Cummings maple tree, whose trunk was six feet in diameter, was felled to permit construction of Shoreline Drive. It had once shaded the home of the pioneer John Keizer and his family.
As the need became apparent for city services, such as street lights, water or police protection, Keizer citizens voted to finance them.
Many times the City of Salem tried to annex the growing community adjacent to its city limits. In 1964 a number of Keizer residents, chiefly V.E.Smithley, E.T. Riley and Robert Stutzman, tried to convince the people of Keizer that it would be cheaper and better to form their own city. The effort failed.
To the north of Keizer, the heart of the Clear Lake community was the church, school, fire station and country store, clustered at the intersection of Clear Lake and Wheatland Road. It was a close-knit farming community with productive orchards, hop yards and berry fields. However, developer built homes on Jays Drive and Barbara Way to the north, along the bluff above Mission Bottom and north and east of Claggett Cemetery.
When the Oregon Legislature made it possible for communities of 20,000 or more to incorporate, many Keizer citizens worked hard to get an incorporation measure on the ballot. They believed that it was Keizer's last chance to retain its own identity.
A number of Clear Lake's home owners, faced with drainage problems, joined in the effort and in November outvoted the farmers. On November 2, 1982 Clear Lake joined Keizer to become the new city of Keizer.