Play ball: Lake Oswego to host Oregon's Iron Jubilee
City officials and the Lake Oswego Preservation Society will pay tribute to the area's deep industrial roots on Sept. 9 with a daylong celebration of the 150th anniversary of Oregon's iron industry.
Oregon's Iron Jubilee, which is scheduled from 3-9 p.m. in George Rogers Park, will mark the sesquicentennial of the first iron smelted in Oregon. There'll be vintage baseball, bluegrass music, clogging, a blacksmith demonstration and more.
Organizers have even arranged for horse-drawn wagon rides between the city's historic Iron Furnace and the Preservation Society's new museum on Wilbur Street, which is housed in the last remaining Iron Company Worker's Cottage in Lake Oswego.
"Without the iron industry, we don't know how much Lake Oswego would have developed. There were a lot of little towns along the Willamette that kind of disappeared. They just didn't make it," says Marylou Colver, the Preservation Society's president and founder. "This is why the iron industry is important. They owned thousands of acres of land to mine charcoal for pig iron, kept that land after iron smelting was no longer profitable and created Oswego as we know it today."
In 1867, nearly all the iron used in construction of the burgeoning cities of the Pacific Coast had to be shipped 17,000 miles around the horn of South America. The trip was arduous, expensive and entirely inefficient. But that all changed with the emergence of the Oregon iron industry and the transformation of Oswego from a sleepy pioneer town to a booming industrial epicenter.
Colver says Oregon's Iron Jubilee will shine a light on that transformation by focusing not only on the companies but also on the lifestyles of the people who literally drew the map for what would eventually become Lake Oswego.
Toward that end, the Jubilee has invited the Pioneer Base Ball Club (PBBC) of Portland to play an exhibition match against the Clackamas Base Ball Club during the celebration. The PBBC is a re-creation of the first baseball club in the Pacific Northwest; it was founded in 1866 — just a year before Lake Oswego's Iron Furnace went into operation.
"That isn't necessarily early for the East Coast, but for out west, it is very early," says Blaise Lamphier, vintage baseball enthusiast and PBBC captain. "This is before running water, before electric lights and before indoor plumbing. They had baseball, and they didn't just put a team on the field. They'd host social events as well."
That spirit of civic engagement and outreach unites the PBBC and Oregon's Iron Jubilee in more ways than one.
Baseball caught on quickly following its invention 1839. In 1866, the first game was played in Oregon between the PBBC and the Clackamas Nine in Oregon City. By 1867, there were between 15 and 20 clubs operating in the Portland area.
"(Baseball's influence) grew very quickly," Lamphier says. "I would think that, yes, those iron workers in (Oswego) would have been excited about baseball."
In 1867, word moved very slowly from one end of the country to the other, so clubs in the Portland area were playing by 1864 rules. Fly balls were live after the first bounce, for example, but players didn't use gloves, so catching a hard-hit line drive would have been extremely difficult. Running through first base meant the runner was still live, so if you were to be safe at first, you had to stop on a dime once you hit the bag.
Pitchers threw the ball underhand, and the game was much more geared toward hitting than pitching. Game scores often broke into the double digits, according to Lamphier — sometimes as high as 77-45, the score of the first game played between the PPBC and Clackamas.
Players will don vintage uniforms for the Jubilee game, including tunic-like tops and floppy, short-brimmed hats. The field at George Rogers Park will be set up as close to 1867 specifications as the field allows, meaning foul lines will only run to first and third base; beyond that, foul territory will be marked with a flag.
An interesting facet of 1860s baseball is that the white men who participated — today, any sex or ethnicity is welcomed into the club — had to have been men of some means to have enough leisure time to play baseball. And indeed, some of the Portland club's original nine went on to become integral figures in history.
Joseph Buchtel, one of Oregon's first well-known photographers, served as both Portland Fire Chief and Multnomah County Sheriff. Frank Manley Warren, one of the club's original outfielders, was an accomplished Oregon businessman who eventually died in the 1912 sinking of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean.
The rich history surrounding the team is one of the reasons why club members so enjoy playing for new audiences, Lamphier says, and that will be true when they play at Oregon's Iron Jubilee.
"We've had kids ask for autographs. I had an older woman tear up and tell me her grandfather used to talk about playing the game the way we do, and that she never thought she'd get to see it played this way," Lamphier said. "You don't really know how you influence other people's lives. We think we're just playing a game."
The baseball exhibition is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, and will run for nine full innings. The Clackamas team will be portrayed by players from the Willamette Base Ball Club out of West Linn — friends and fierce rivals of the PPBC, Lamphier says.
For more about Oregon's Iron Jubilee, check out this month's issue of LO Monthly; you'll find it inside today's issue of The Review.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Oregon Iron Jubilee
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 9, from 3-9 p.m.
WHERE: George Rogers Park, 611 S. State St., Lake Oswego
NOTE: The day will include bluegrass music, clogging, food, pioneer baseball, a blacksmith demonstration, horse-drawn wagon rides around the park to the Iron Workers Cottage on Wilbur Street and fireworks.