The name is familiar to Salem residents today, but the town is long gone.

      The Eola Inn on Highway 22 in West Salem is the best mark today of where this town was.  But 146 yers ago, things looked much different.

     Perhaps because he had been a sailor, Isaac Brown knew what water could do.  When his ship ran aground on Sand Island in January 1853, he decided he had  had enough of the sea.  So he bought one of the wrecked ship's small boats and rowed himself up the Columbia River and down the Willamette.  Something about a spot on the river a few miles to the west of Salem caught his eye. 

     So he built himself a cabin on what would come to be known as Brown's Island (which is an actual island only in the winter).  Knowing full well what water can do, he built his cabin on stilts 8 feet high, and also built himself a sturdy boat in which to ride out the floods he expected.

     Brown's new home wasn't the first in the area.  Not far from his stilted cabin was the little town of Cincinnati, whose founding is creditd to Joshua "Sheep" Shaw.  Shaw earned his nickname because he drove a flock of sheep all the way along the Oregon Trail in 1844.

     His sheep, the first to arrive in Oregon by the overland route, turned out to be far more hearty travlers than the other animals in his wagon train and better at travel than some of the people.  Shaw settled himself and his sheep along the river west of Salem and soon named the spot after his former Ohio home.

    He wasn't alone with his animals for long.  Others found the land inviting and the economic uses of Rickreall Creek irresistible.  The town of Cincinnati, located on the territorial road from West Linn to the Umpqua, was platted in 1849.

     That year, William Duran settled near Shaw and decided to start a real estate promotion.  In the Oregon Spectator for Sept. 12, 1850, he offered lots for sale, expounding the resources of water, timber and rock.

     The year 1851 was a big one for the little settlement. J.B.V. Butler arrived and opened a store, the Post Office was established (with Joshua Shaw as postmaster), and Captian A.S. Murray managed to navigate his small steamboat (the Washington) up Rickreall Creek to the town.

     Cincinnati housed its most famous citizen in 1853, though it didn't know it at the time.  Abigail Janet Scott, later Abigall Scott Duniway, taught school at Cincinnati in that year.  Only 18 years old duringher year in Cincinnati, she was to become not only a leading writer and feminist, but also one of the primary forces in the national wormen's suffrage movement.

     Cincinnati was officially surveyed by T.H. Hutchinson in 1855.  When that survey was filed, the name of the town was formally chaanged to Eola (as is reflected in the change of the Post Office designation in 1856).

     There is some dispute as to the source of the name "Eola."  Some residents said it was named in honor of Lindsay Robbins, a local musician who was fond of the Eolian harp.  Others claimed it is a corruption of "Aeolus."

     Aeolus was the Greek god of the wind after whom the harp was named.

     The town thrived.  The petition for a city charter, filed with the Territorial Legislature on Jan. 17, 1856, set up a governing structure large enough for a genuine metropolis.  The people of Eola had grand plans for its future.

     A story persists to this day that Eola was seriously considered as the capital of Oregon, with some sources claiming it failed to gain that honor by only two votes.  Historians, including Ben Maxwell, who wrote a short history of the area in 1965, say there is no historical evidence for this claim.

     And Isaac Brown?  He earned himself the nickname of "Whiskey" Brown, the reputation of a first-class cusser, and the distinction of shooting his muzzle-loader at boys stealing melons from his farm.

     But he was right about water.  The demise of Eola proved to be the Willamette River and Rickreall Creek.

     There is some confusion as to just when it happened, but either in the devastating flood of 1861 or as a result of another flood in 1881, both the river and the creek changed their courses.  (Claims that this occurred in the 1890 flood are refuted by the fact that the shift in channels is reflected on maps made in 1882).

     The flood wiped out many buildings (and businesses) in Eola and put part of the land in Marion County (it had once been totally in Polk County).  It also permanently changed the fortunes of Eola, which never recovered.  Indeed a story in a Jan. 7, 1893 Salem newspaper quoted by Maxwell stated that the roads in Eola were then so bad that chickens got stuck in the mud while trying to cross the street.

  The Post Office was discontinued in 1901.  A 1918 photograph of Eola Store shows a derelict building best suited to a ghost town.

     The availability of a good road to Salem doomed what was left of the town's business district, which disappeared entirely.


Abigail Scott Duniway