The Oswego Heritage Council has unveiled a dramatic new exhibit that highlights the many women who made up some of the community's earliest settlers.
The exhibit includes pictures and documents from the collections of 16 different pioneer families who built the early town of Oswego from the ground up. An entire wall of images tells the story of the women who helped to raise families, build households and manage homesteads in the early days of the community.
OHC Executive Director Nancy Niland and Mark Browne, a member of the organization's board of directors, built the exhibit with the help of Carissa Barrett, a Lake Oswego Public Library reference librarian, who digitized and collated each piece so that it could be accessed from the internet.
"These settlers who came to the area — pretty much the last of their descendants are in town and for the most part have moved out of the town, so i think it's important to capture these images and document these people's stories," Barrett says. "We've been able to talk to the grandchildren and great grandchildren of some of these people from the early 1900s. This is a part of Lake Oswego's history that is starting to fade away, and we don't want that to happen.
"The more folks we can find and talk with to gather materials from," she adds, "the better we'll be able to keep alive this picture of where our community came from."
According to Browne, some of the biggest contributions to the exhibit came from some of Oswego's earliest families, such as the Durhams and Bryants, who literally carved the town out of rugged wilderness in the late 1800s. There are also materials from later families, such as the Pollards and Monroes — a second and third generation of settlers who picked up where the original families left off.
Browne says he joined the Oswego Heritage Council after several years of volunteerism at a museum of natural history and paleontology in his native San Diego. After moving to Lake Oswego almost two years ago, he decided he wanted to get involved with building a picture of the area's historical roots.
"(Nancy) took me downstairs and we saw this vault full of boxes, piled floor to ceiling with donations people had been giving to the Heritage House over the years," Browne says. "Nancy said, 'Stick your hands out, grab a box and make this better.' So I did. It's a living project. It will never stop."
Two aspects of the project are particularly exciting for Barrett. The first is the opportunity to digitally catalog the entire collection — a massive undertaking that will allow the public to browse the photos and documents at their leisure. The second is that the exhibit highlights the women who are often forgotten in the big picture of Oregon's early settlers.
"As Mark and Nancy unearthed everything in the vault of this building, they kept coming across more and more stories of how resilient these women were who traveled on wagon trains and were living here in completely bare, very modest living situations, having kids and managing households — the sort of things that aren't necessarily expected nor documented," Barrett says. "You'll often read about the men, but with these letters and documents, we see women had a significant part to play in the day to day operations."
IF YOU GO
What: "Creating Community: Oswego Women"
Where: Oswego Heritage House, 398 Tenth St., Lake Oswego
When: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.