Thursday, October 25, 2012

Notes on the Gaiety Hill Name and Significant Families

One of the minor mysteries of Salem is the origin of "Gaiety Hill." The Gaiety Hill Bush's Pasture Park Historic District (126pp pdf) goes on and on, Gaiety Hill this and Gaiety Hill that. But it never says how it got the name!

Nobody seems to know.  Writing over at SHINE, principally about the Smith-Fry house of 1859, Virginia Green says the neighborhood "gained a new name, Gaiety Hill" in 1909, but not how or why. In her note on 1907 she observes it had been known as Rattlesnake hill. Elsewhere in many other sources, Fry Hill rattles around. 

ES Glover's Birdseye Map of Salem, 1876
Library of Congress (Click to Enlarge)
The origins of Gaiety Hill are so unclear, that we - and several others in conversation and email - have wondered if it was just made up in the 20th century as a way to "romance" a micro-neighborhood that wanted a more elegant or sexy identity. What do you think of when you hear "Gaiety Hill"?  Gay 90s and parties of course!

Gaiety Hill in Willamette Farmer, July 1875
It turns out to have a history clearly sign-posted, if not perhaps very well documented.  We still aren't sure about its origin, but it appears to go back at least as far as the middle 1870s - several decades earlier than 1909.  And far from alluding to scandal, or having an unexpected or counter-intuitive association, it appears to mean exactly what it looks like. 

Piety Hill in Willamette Farmer, May 1874
It may well have arisen, as some have conjectured, in tandem with (and perhaps opposition to) the Piety Hill neighborhood. One was sober and upright, the other gay and rakeish? Outside of this, the story may not be all that exciting.

A snapshot of Salem society
A social history of Gaiety Hill is beyond our scope just now, but some definite details can be sketched out.   The neighborhood name appears most often in what we might call "society" notes - and in the early 1900s appears regularly on the named society page. Here is an early society note from June, 1888:
Party on Gaiety Hill.
Last evening, Miss Edith Hughes entertained a number of friends at the residence of her father, John Hughes, on Gaiety Hill, in honor of Misses Clara and Agnes Earhart, of Portland, who are visiting in this city.  Dancing was the order of the evening, and an excellent time is reported.
Two of the three families most often named in regards to Gaiety Hill are mentioned here.  On the map at top you can see the location of the Hughes residence and the Edes residence.  John Hughes had married Emma Pringle, and the family was of some standing.  Daughter Lulu married into the Bush family.

Hair, Lime, Artists' Materials
The Hughes home stood where the Jarman house is today and was demolished for its construction.  Green suggests an Italianate home was built there in 1907, but if so, it replaced a residence already there.  Polk Directories show John Hughes at the corner of Oak and High from at least 1893 and continuing through the address change - from 47 High Street to 567 High Street.  Sanborn maps also show the house in 1895.  The 1905 birdseye map also shows a four-square Italianate in the right location. We are doubtful that a new house was built in 1907, and suspect rather that the address change of 1904/5 is causing confusion.

Hughes' obituary has perhaps a clue about gaiety and piety: "He was not a member of any church, but his sympathies were with Methodism, and he had always affiliated with the First M. E. church in this city, being one of its staunchest supporters."  Dancing, it should be noted, may still have been problematic for regular Methodists!

Edes (Smith-Fry) House, Marion & Linn County Atlas, 1878
The Edes house still stands, fortunately.  It is now known as the Smith-Fry house. About it the National Register nomination says:
The Smith-Fry House, on the top of Gaiety Hill, was built in 1859. It is the earliest constructed building in the historic district. This house, originally in the rural gothic style, is one of the oldest houses on its original site within the Salem city plat. The house was built by Joseph Showalter Smith, who lived in the house from 1860 to 1868. Smith was a lawyer who became president of the Willamette Woolen Mill in 1865. Smith was also one of the incorporators of the Oregon Central Railroad (1867), which was a contender for the grant to construct a railroad to San Francisco. This house at the top of Gaiety Hill was a center of capital city politics and social life for many years. After Smith, the house belonged to Lafayette Grover, a Congressman, Governor of Oregon (1870-77), and U.S. Senator (1877-83). Other owners include George Edes, Sheriff, County Clerk and Mayor; and Daniel Fry, Secretary of the State Board of Control during the Great Depression and early war years. Gaiety Hill has also been called Fry Hill and Edes Hill because of owners of this property.
Others at the party include members of the Dalrymple, Albert, Westacott, and McNary families.  Myra Albert became Myra Albert Wiggins, and for a brief period around 1905 even lived in the Smith-Fry house with her husband Frederick Arthur Wiggins!

Jones Advertising, 1890
The other name that appears often in pieces about Gaiety Hill is Jones, and the Jones mansion.   George H. Jones was an early merchant and developer.  From his obituary:
Mr. Jones came to Oregon first in 1852, following the weary trail across the plains, as did many others at that time. He returned to the East via the Isthmus of Panama in 1854, but again in 1855 came back to Oregon and formed a partnership with the late Hon. E. N. Cooke, they having for eight or ten years the principal merchandising business of Salem in what was known as the Headquarters building, which then stood on the present site of Ladd & Bush’s bank, on the corner of State and Commercial streets. They furnished a great deal of merchandise and other supplies to the soldiers during the Indian war of 1855, part of which was never paid for. Mr. Jones opened a financial agency upstairs in the same building and dealt heavily in government script. Mr. Jones also brought a large drove of cattle through from California in the early days, and had a hard time getting through Southern Oregon.... He was married five times, and his fifth wife survives him.
Jones was a son-in-law of David Leslie, and the according to the Historic District nomination, the "George H. Jones Addition or Subdivision, located west of the Bush property [was] part of the original David Leslie DLC... [and] platted in 1865."

Many toilets were becoming!
On Oak between Liberty and Commercial, basically where the library is today, the Jones mansion appears to be the grandest house on Gaiety Hill, and you can see it dominates a whole block on the map in 1876.  There is in a couple of places some ambiguous question whether it burned down and was rebuilt.  But this is not clear, and the house appears also on the 1905 birdseye map, equally dominating and grand.

In December of 1874, the Willamette Farmer described "A Social Event" at the Jones' on "Gaity Hill":
One of the most hospitable mansions in Salem is the house of the seven gables, on the hill across South Mill Creek...It was really a dress parade of Salem gallantry and beauty, and many toilets, without being extravagant or too fashionable for real taste, were quite elegant and becoming. The evening passed away without restraint.
Sounds like a party!

Finally, in one tantalizing hint, the obituary notices for Harriet Clarke, wife of S.A. Clarke mention that "For years she was the life and ornament of society in Salem, and their pleasant home was a synonym for hospitality and gave the name to the hid [?] that it now bears." This should probably read "gave the name to the hill that it now bears."  S. A. Clark was many things, railroad shareholder and organizer, editor and owner of the Statesman between 1869-72, fruit farmer, and author.  During his time at the Statesman and at least until Harriet died in 1890, he maintained a house on Commercial and Oak, kitty-corner to the Jones mansion.  It is possible that the Clarkes house was named Gaiety and also contributed to the naming.  (Clarke also seems to have lived in Portland, Washington DC, and maintained a house on the Candalaria Fruit Farm.)

One reason that Gaiety Hill's origin may have been lost is that the Civic Center took out the center of the district.  But even by 1926 the Sanborn map shows the Clarke and Jones houses gone, and the Hughes house would disappear just a couple of years later for the Jarman house.  While today we might think of Gaiety Hill as centered on the intersection of Oak and High, the site of the Jarman, Pearce, and Smith-Fry houses, in the late 19th century its center seems to be a couple blocks west, on Commercial, where the Jones and Clarke houses were.   We will have to learn more about when the Jones mansion was demolished, apparently in the 19-teens or twenties.

And while we would not want to read too much into the obituaries of Hughes and Jones, it is interesting that one was not a member of a church, the other was married five times.   It is plausible to look for more evidence that those who lived on the hill may not have been especially reverent and enjoyed lifestyles that may indeed have posed a contrast with those who wished to live nearer the churches in Salem!  That the 1874 Jones party went off "without restraint," hints at this also, as does what may be an allusion to Nathaniel Hawthorne's book

It is an interesting question how Salem's prominent and rising families sorted themselves, some to Piety Hill, some to Gaiety Hill, and some perhaps to other neighborhoods.  For example, Jones' partner Cooke built on Piety Hill.  Does this say anything about Cooke and Jones?

In the end we were all ready for a revisionist history of Gaiety Hill with scandal and vice, but it looks like everyday social climbing with just a touch of the rake.


  1. Added a couple of links: A picture of the Hughes house and an interior of the Hughes grocery.

  2. Note that the Smith-Fry house is now for sale!

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