History of the Land
Oregon’s Indigenous Peoples
For thousands of years prior to European settlement, the Kalapuya people stewarded and lived seasonally here in the Oak savanna of what we now call the Waldo Hills, east of present day Salem. They were one of many tribes and bands throughout present day Oregon, where over 100 languages were spoken. The Kalapuya utilized hundreds of plants throughout the Willamette valley for food, medicine, clothing, and housing, their hands shaping the landscape. Much has changed in the regional ecology and waterways in the last two hundred years through modern agriculture and forest management practices. Here are a few online resources for learning more about the life-ways and history of Oregon’s Indigenous people:
Pacific Northwest tribal history from anthropologist Dr. David Lewis. A huge amount of content as articles, video, radio, etc.
From the Confederated Tribes of Siletz: Our History
From the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs: History
Ralph and Mary Geer arrived in the Willamette Valley in 1847 and began to establish their 640 acre homestead early in 1848. Theirs became the second registered homestead in Oregon. From their success selling newly grafted apple and pear trees, the farmhouse was finished in 1851 and is, to date, the oldest farmhouse in the state of Oregon with an original family member still living on the property.
The farm became an important nursery in the region, supporting the rise of the fruit industry in the Willamette Valley. Some heritage trees from that time still remain, 24 of which were recently recognized by the Oregon Heritage Tree Program. In addition to its significance in early Oregon agriculture, there were a number of interesting and influential Geers or relatives, a few of which are named here.
The farm was home to:
LB Geer, state commissioner of lands in 1900
Pearl Geer, former president of the American Secular Union, co-founder of the Liberal University and later a nationally recognized actor of stage and film
Theodore Thurston Geer (T.T. Geer), first native born governor of Oregon
Musa Geer, first woman to climb Mt. Jefferson and among a small group of female American entrepreneurs at the time
Homer Davenport, who became a well-known political cartoonist, was responsible for the first direct importation of Bedouin horses to the Unites States and wrote the book "The Country Boy" which imparts his life growing up in the Waldo Hills and Silverton, OR.
These were people who, by pursuing their dreams helped shape our nation. They pioneered the nursery industry, short horn cattle, hops, flax, and merino sheep in the Willamette Valley. Ralph Geer helped bring the first railroad into the valley and meetings were held in the Geer farmhouse that brought about the formation of the Oregon Republican Party in the 1850's, the party that stood against slavery. The Willard women's Club met for the first time in the kitchen of the farm house in 1913 - and continued to use it as one of its gathering places until 2008.
Today, with two buildings on the National Register of Historic Places and an Oregon Heritage Orchard on the site, GeerCrest has passed to the fifth generation, Jim and Erika Toler, who are focused on preserving this cultural resource for future generations. They also wish to preserve and pass on something else. In our rush to embrace a better future, they believe we have lost something of our past, our connectedness to the land, family, and place.
In time, we will expand our online resources on regional Indigenous, Geer, and pioneer history; work is being done to make the extensive Geer archives more accessible to the public through digital means and physical exhibits. Keep in touch and let us know if you have resources or expertise to share.