IV. EDUCATIONAL WORK Oregon City College and University
Scarcely had the pioneer Baptists located in Oregon until they began to turn their attention to the cause of Education. Not only the common school but also schools of a higher order received their earnest consideration. As soon as Rev. Hezekiah Johnson finished his meeting house at Oregon City, he started a school in it, putting his niece in charge. This was the Oregon City college in embryo. When Rev. Ezra Fisher came back from California in 1849 and went to teaching there, it began to develop more fully. Then Brethren began to talk of future possibilities. The direct movement for the Oregon City College was commenced in 1849. Dr. John McLaughlin, the proprietor of Oregon City, who was ever ready to assist in any good work, gave a building site, and in 1852, through the exertions of Revs. Fisher and Johnson, a subscription of about $4000 was secured in labor, material, and money, and a building, 34 x 60 feet, three stories high, was enclosed, and partly finished. A few rough desks and blackboards, and a stove or two constituted the furniture and apparatus. Meanwhile, Rev. Ezra Fisher, Rev. H. Johnson, J. R. Robb, and Joseph Jeffries, (Methodist), bought a land claim of about 600 acres, in equal shares, near Oregon City, for $5000. They gave the college a strip, 57 by 160 rods in size, and divided the balance into five equal parts, each taking a part, and giving the fifth part to the one who would live on the land and secure a title under the "donation law." Brother Fisher obtained a patent from the Government, and made the deeds according to contract. A college was to be commenced on the site within ten years; but no building was ever begun on the land. Brother Fisher taught two years in the Baptist church, and in 1851, the A. B. H. M. Society of New York sent out Rev. George C. Chandler and James S. Read to take charge of the school in a building begun at Oregon City, but the prospects not justifying both to remain, Brother Read went into the Missionary work. In 1852, at Brother Chandler's request, the A. B. H. M. Society sent out Brother J. D. Post to take his place as teacher.
The brethren worked hard for the school. A preliminary meeting was held at the Willamette Association in 1851, at which Deacon James S. Holman was Chairman, and Rev. R. Cheadle, Clerk; and in 1852 was organized the Oregon Baptist Education Society, with Rev. H. Johnson, President; D. T. Lenox, Vice President; G. P. Newell, Secretary; and Rev. George C. Chandler, Treasurer. In 1853 this society made efforts to secure funds to finish the building, but not meeting with success renewed the effort in 1854. At this time they highly approved the plan of raising means to aid all suitable, pious young men in obtaining an education, preparatory to preaching the gospel. They also recommended the churches to take a decided interest in this matter, by bringing out young men to study for the ministry. The college struggled on, and nominally existed for several years, but its history is practically concluded. Neither the historic data, nor the Archives of Oregon show that it was ever legally incorporated. But in January, 1856, 23 Trustees obtained a charter for the "Oregon City University," and "all the rights, credits, and property of the Oregon City College merged in that." Brother Post taught awhile and then started a private school. This ended the life of the college. An occasional term of private teaching was afterwards taught by different parties, but the denomination did nothing. Brother W. C. Johnson. in charge of the property, occasionally rented the building, or its rooms, but much of the time it was unoccupied. Finally, it having become old and dilapidated, and the idle and vicious boys making it a nightly resort, about 1874 he had it torn down. On June 16, 1888, a quorum of the Board of Trustees authorized the sale of the property, and in accordance with their instructions, the Baptist College at Oregon City, sent to the Baptist College at McMinnville, as a parting legacy, and a token of affiliation, a large hand bell, used 30 years before to call the youth to school, and two books which had been presented to the College library at Oregon City by Rev. R. S. Cone. But this was not all that the old College gave to the new one at McMinnville; for $1000 of the building fund had been raised from the sale of the old campus. This is the last of the first efforts of the early Baptist pioneers for a college; and the end of the Oregon City University.
If we look back to the circumstances of this effort; if we consider that when the first Educational meeting was called, all the Baptists north of California, as far as reported, were only 140; and that at no time during this period did they exceed 1000, even with 20 per cent of these scattered and unassociated; it would seem the extreme of folly to even think of such an undertaking! Yet they put over $4000 into the enterprise! Their success was most wonderful! But it showed the spirit, devotion, and energy of the noble little band of Baptists who first planted their banners on this coast! It is doubtful if a grander example of determined effort can be shown in all the annals of Baptist history.