Umatilla County History

Umatilla County was created on September 27, 1862, out of a portion of Wasco County. Umatilla is an Indian term meaning "rippling water" or "water rippling over sand" and has provided the name both for the county and its major river. Adjustments were made to the
county's boundaries following the creation of Grant, Morrow, Union, and Wallowa Counties. The county contains 3,231 square miles and is bounded by the Columbia River on the north, Morrow County on the west, Grant County on the south, and Union and Wallowa Counties on the east.

The legislative act that created Umatilla County designated Marshall Station as the temporary county seat. Umatilla City was chosen the county seat in an 1865 election. Population shifted to the north and east parts of the county due to the opening of the Pendleton area to wheat production. A subsequent election in 1868 resulted in the selection of Pendleton as the new county seat, supplanting both Marshall Station and Umatilla City.

The first courthouse was completed in 1866 in Umatilla City. The next courthouse, and the first built in Pendleton, was a wooden, two-story structure completed in 1869. In 1889 a three-story brick courthouse and jail was erected. A fourth courthouse was built on the site of the old courthouse in 1956 and is still in use today.

The government of Umatilla County consisted originally of a county judge, two county commissioners, clerk, and sheriff. The offices of treasurer, assessor, coroner, and superintendent of schools were added a short time after formation of the county. The county judge position was abolished and a third commissioner was added in 1975.

Umatilla County is represented by Senate District 29; and Representative Districts 57 and 58; and the Second Congressional District. The first census of the Umatilla County in 1870 counted 2,916 inhabitants. The population has increased steadily with a 1997 census figure of 65,500 representing an increase of 10.6% over 1990.

The Umatilla Indian Reservation was established by the Treaty of Walla Walla in 1855. It became an 800 square mile home for the Umatillas, Walla Wallas, and Cayuse tribes and is located immediately southeast of Pendleton. The Umatilla Confederated Tribes have 1,400 enrolled members.

Lewis and Clark and pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail passed through the area. The gold rush of 1862 brought miners and stock raisers to the mountains and grasslands of Umatilla County. The county expanded after the coming of the railroad in 1881 and the area was open to the development of dry land wheat farming. The fertile land of Umatilla County gives a strongly agricultural base to the county's economy. Fruit, grain, timber, cattle, and sheep are important agricultural products. Recreation, primarily in the Blue Mountains, and tourism, most notably for the annual Pendleton Round-Up rodeo, are also important to the local economy.

Clock Tower

The "Old Courthouse Clock", now the object of a major restoration effort, was "born" on August 6th, 1889, at the Seth Thomas Company factory in Thomaston, Connecticut. The Umatilla County Courthouse Clock Restoration Committee has worked diligently to restore the clock and to house it in a new clock tower on the northwest corner of Courthouse Block in Pendleton. They decided to have the old clock in fine running condition and atop its new tower in time to properly celebrate its 100th birthday in the fall of 1989.

When the 1888 Umatilla County Courthouse was torn down in 1954 to make way for the present building, the 4-faced clock was salvaged by a crane from its fancy French tower. The County donated the clock to the City of Pendleton, if they would install the old timepiece in a tower to be built atop City Hall. For whatever reasons, no doubt financial in nature, the City never made the necessary modifications to City Hall to accommodate the clock. So it sat in a warehouse at the City Shops, for nearly thirty years.

Roy Thurman, an employee of the County Road Department, had been keeping an eye on the clock all this time, having helped take it down from the old Courthouse. Seeing that it was being vandalized, especially the bell, and worried that it might just end up in the dump during some house-cleaning project, Roy "rescued" it once again. This time it came back to County property, finding a new home in the Road Department shops where Roy could make sure it was safe. With his retirement not too many years away, Roy approached the County Commissioners in early 1987, and the East Oregonian ran a news feature about the clock on the 31st of January. Roy told one and all that "I’d like to see it restored before I retire because when I’m gone some scrap dealer will probably get it." He hoped that the Commissioners would agree with him that the old clock was worthy of restoration. They did, and they proceeded to form a Clock Restoration Committee to oversee restoration and re-housing of the clock. This group has been in action since May 28th, 1987.

So why is this old clock so important? Well, it is a part of Umatilla County’s heritage, the last major remnant of a beautiful old courthouse that symbolized the growth and prosperity of the 1880’s. Also, it is a living example of the still workable technology of a past era, now long ago eclipsed by electronics and today’s "digital computer age." Truly it is a special cultural symbol selected by our grandparents to pass on to us, and which we can now share with our children and grandchildren and pass on to theirs.

The story of the old courthouse and clock is, as one would expect, colorful and interesting. However, since this is the story of the clock, not the courthouse, we will only digress a bit to relate some pertinent facts. Umatilla County’s first "golden era" began appropriately, in 1862, with a Gold Rush to the newly-discovered mines of Baker County and the Boise Basin in Idaho. As with most gold rushes, the intense activity lasted for only a few years, and with its demise, the foundling County entered on a phase of quiet, but steady agricultural growth based on raising horses, cattle and sheep. Then in the mid-1870’s, it was discovered that wheat, the staff of life, could be grown on the dry, rolling plains of the county, and quite successfully at that. Then too, there were plans for a northern transcontinental railroad, including one route that would pass right through the county, following the general route of the Oregon Trail. These and other factors added together to create a "land rush" into the northern and eastern parts of the county that reminded one of Oklahoma. Within a few short years, much of this rich wheat-growing district was homesteaded. At the same time, the sheep industry was rapidly expanding in the mountains and dry rangelands. When the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company arrived in 1881, the county boomed: its second "golden era," this time based on grain and wool.

 Pendleton, the new county seat, centrally-located, and astride the new railroad, boomed as well, becoming the trade and service center for Umatilla County. With all this growth in population and economic activity, County government soon outgrew the little, two-story frame courthouse built in 1869 in the square in downtown Pendleton. So, in February 1888, the County Judge T.J. Lucy, and Commissioners Clark Walters and John Luhrs decided to build a new courthouse and jail. They held a design competition for the new building, and devised a unique scheme of financing its estimated cost of $70,000. The Court decided to sell the courthouse block, lucratively located in the midst of the downtown commercial district, and construct the new courthouse on a former school site four blocks to the east. You see, the taxpayers of Umatilla County were mainly young farmers and businessmen just getting started and therefore not willing or able to pay for the much-needed new building. So these were the circumstances surrounding construction of the 1888 Courthouse, which included a clock.

No doubt feeling that this raw, new corner of the Western world, was in desperate need of some real, civilizing culture, Dr. Fred W. Vincent, a prominent County physician, lobbied the County Court long and hard to include a clock and clock tower in the plans for the "new" county courthouse. In later interviews he claimed inspiration for this idea from a clock tower at the University of Michigan campus. Accordingly, architect George W. Babcock of Walla Walla, included a central clock tower and three smaller surrounding towers in his ornate and competition winning design. The architecture was highest Victorian in the elegant style of the French 2nd Empire. A photo of the courthouse under construction clearly shows the high, steep Mansard roof atop the tower, and the arched dormers with their big black "eyes", the future homes of the four faces of the Seth Thomas clock.

The clockworks were to be housed just below, in a large square room lighted by four pairs of tall windows. Louvers above the clock faces would let the sound of the bell carry out wide and far to help keep the citizenry on time. A lacy wrought iron fence and tall flagpole crowned the tower.

The courthouse construction began in July of 1888, under the direction of contractor E.R. Parks of Pendleton, and with the hands of a team of French masons who stayed to become part of the community. In April, 1889, the County ordered a clock from the Seth Thomas office in San Francisco. It was to be a model #17 tower clock, developed by A.S. Hotchkiss, a Seth Thomas design engineer. The clock would have four dials and a bell that was to be rung to mark the hour. The faces were 6 feet in diameters consisting of a large sheet of zinc-backed glass, with gilded numerals and a hole bored in the middle for the gilded, cedar hands. The faces were lighted from behind at night. The bases of all the numerals pointed toward the center, so the hours from 4 to 8 were actually read upside down. Another curiosity is that the numeral 4 was shown as four I’s instead of today’s normal use of a I and a V. This was for visual, aesthetic balance with the VIII on the other side of the dial.


The openings for design illustrated above should be made in the multiple of six inches. The frame, numerals and minute marks are made of iron or bronze. The dial is divided into sections, which are rebated in the back to received the glass. The glass is held in place with brass clamps. The joints of the frame arc fastened together with iron bolts and filled with lead, making the dial, when installed, absolutely watertight.

The clock mechanism itself consisted of a cast-iron, brass and machined steel "engine" that was situated one-story below the dials. A drive shaft extended up to a set of gears atop a small derrick-like frame. Smaller shafts extended out from the gears through the hole in the middle of each face to drive the minute and hour hands.

On page 30 of the 1890 Seth Thomas catalogue, "THE CLOCK IN - Court House, Pendleton, Oregon" was included in the list of the company’s varied clock installations around the nation, and indeed the world. Other Seth Thomas clocks, but different models, were installed in the clock towers of nearby Baker City Hall and Baker County Courthouse, as well as the Wasco County Courthouse at The Dalles.

The bell Seth Thomas provided weighs 1000 lbs (half a ton) and was cast by the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland, being charged out in June, 1889. The bell was rung mechanically, powered by 1200 pounds of weights dangling at the end of 70 feet of cable. The weights and cable that ran the time-keeping mechanism were of much more modest dimensions, weighing only 170 lbs. The clock was designed to be wound twice a week, a procedure that took about ten minutes. The drums for the bell and timing cable were part of the clock engine, and from them the weights hung down in a shaft through the middle of the courthouse.

The fabrication of the clock in Thomaston, Connecticut, was completed on August 6th, 1889, as engraved on a brass plate on the clock. The company’s records indicate it was shipped out by rail on August 13th, to a W. Wilkinson, arriving on the Northern Pacific Railroad. William Wilkinson was a watch and clock maker and repairer with a shop on Main Street in Pendleton. The clock cost $884.10, roughly 1% the total cost of the new courthouse, which when furnished, ended up costing nearly $100,000. The original "1 % for art" program!

There seems to have been some controversy about financing the purchase of the clock, as noted in a poem entitled "The County Clock," which appeared in the July 16th, 1891, issue of the Pendleton Tribune. The author of the poem, which appears in its entirety as an appendix to this history, implies that certain Pendleton citizens had agreed to help pay for the clock. However, after it was purchased and installed, a written agreement that set out these arrangements came up missing. In the end the taxpayers bore the full cost, and left the author wondering "But what’s its use to farmers having it up there?" He concluded "Yet oft they think of the big clock, of pledges made and broke, which on the farmers no benefit did the taxes yoke." Hopefully, further research can be conducted to enlighten we moderns on this curious episode.

The clock apparently functioned well. However, it was not without tribulations. The Seth Thomas records show that two new dials were shipped out on November 17, 1897. Evidently the great fire that consumed the neighboring Byers Mill that year also blew out two of the clock faces. The new dials were sturdier affairs, with cast-iron frames to hold and support milk-glass panels. The cast-iron frames fit together in a sort of puzzle to form two rings with the numerals, in Roman type, extending between. Then, some fifty years later, another fire at the rebuilt mill threatened the old courthouse, and this time blew out three of the faces. This time they were replaced with much inferior plywood versions, but at least one cast-iron and glass dial remained to provide a pattern for modern reconstruction of the other three. Toward its later days, the clock evidently developed a mind of its own with regard to what time it actually was. Reliable witnesses recall that each face told a slightly different time, a fact put to good use as an alibi for tardy jurors.

But the greatest threat to the 1888 Courthouse and its clock proved not to be the great and fiery accidents next door, but the march of "progress." The 1950’s brought new prosperity to Umatilla County, and with that prosperity came a growth in government as well. New county office facilities were needed, as was a sanitary, modern jail. A new courthouse had been proposed and even designed as early as 1938, and levies had been approved in 1945 and 1948, so by the 50’s the needs had reached a critical point. In that era of "out with the old, in with the new", it was decided to rebuild right on the site of the old courthouse, in spite of suggestions to retain the old building as an "Eastern Oregon State Museum". Public opinion seems to have been divided, but apparently a majority felt that the old should be removed. And so it was. In 1953, the Building Committee officially decided on locating the new courthouse on the site of the old. They selected the firm of Roald, Schmeer, and Harrington of Portland, to design the new building. This firm had just finished the Harney and Hood River County courthouses, so were familiar with Eastern Oregon.

In November 1954, demolition of the 1888 Courthouse began. At the suggestion of Ray Gilham, the building committee decided to save the clock. On the 17th, the old clock was carefully removed from the tower by crane. Lee Drake, who had been the caretaker of the clock since restoring it following the Byers Mill incident, supervised the whole process and was pleased that nothing was damaged. Through the efforts of Judge James Sturgis, a new home was found for the clock, or so it was thought at the time.

It was reported that the City of Pendleton had accepted the clock and would install it atop City Hall the following year. Since some construction would be necessary, it would be stored in the meantime.

Razing of the solid brick walls continued, and soon the site was ready for construction of the current Umatilla County Courthouse, which was completed in 1955. Meanwhile, the clock sat in storage, awaiting its new home. It sat there a long time. It now has found that new home at last, to again serve the community of Umatilla County, an operating artifact of our rich and lively history.

Steve Randolph, Secretary
Umatilla County Courthouse Clock Restoration Committee
30 October 1987 (revised 1 September 1989)


Searcey, Mildred; WE REMEMBER; East Oregonian Publishing Company, Pendleton, Oregon, 1973.

EAST OREGONIAN; issues of 16 September 1938, 5 April 1947, 29 March 1949, 29 July 1954, 31 July 1954, 17 November 1954, 29 November 1954, Anniversary Edition, 31 January 1987.


Letter from American Clock and Watch Museum, Bristol, Connecticut, dated 17 September 1987, Chris H. Bailey, former Managing Director; detailing records of the former Seth Thomas Company, of Thomaston, Connecticut.

Letter from Ray Gilham, dated 30 August 1989. 1890 Umatilla County Directory Conversation with Andrew DuBoise, Queensbury, New York.

SPECIAL THANKS TO: The Late Mildred Searcey and the Pendleton Public Library

OLD COURTHOUSE 1888-1954 THE COUNTY CLOCK Pendleton Tribune Thursday, July 16, 1891

"Wife, I’m going to the city tomorrow to take a load of wheat,
And if you’ll go along there’s room upon the seat;
So in the morning early while breakfast you’re getting,
I’ll have the load already so there’ll be no fretting.

I’ll have the mares all curried down and fed their oats and hay,
For you know it’ll take us the better part of the day.
Yes, I’ll drive the two gray mares, you know they’re true and stout,
For the road is rough and hilly all along the route.

Wife, put on your very best, that grand old silken gown,
The one that you were married in, the best there was in town;
For when we’ve sold the load of wheat and bought our every want,
It’s then around the city we’ll take a little jaunt.

The day that we were married you looked so bright and merry,
And so you’ve always looked so happy and so cheery,
I know that I ye often been quite snappish and so cross,
And wondered how that you kept your beauty and such gloss.

Father, not cross and snappish in all your life,
I’ve been a happy woman ever since I’ve been your wife.
We’ve never had word though married forty year;
I’ve never had occasion to shed a single tear.

Let’s see; ‘tis five long years since to the city I went,
For the butter and eggs with you I have always sent,
Yes, father, I’ll go with you and have a pleasant ride,
Enjoying the scenes and sights in sitting by your side.

And we’ll take the butter, I’ve a hundred pound or more;
And eggs there’s fifty dozen, they’ll help us at the store.
Then when we’ve done our trading we’ll go to see the sights,
for you know I never saw the great electric lights.

You say the city’s grown, that there’s houses grand and neat,
A brand new court house, too, built at the county seat’
And that upon the roof two iron women stand,
Proclaiming liberty and justice to all within the land.

You say upon the roof there is a great high steeple
From it the time of day is seen by all the people.
You say the steeple upon the roof is called by all a tower,
And that inside a great big clock that strikes every hour.

You say there are little towers, one over each big door,
A big bell in one which weighs a thousand pounds or more;
And for this clock and bell which has cost so much, you say
The county paid it all, though others promised some to pay.

But when the clock was up and running all right,
The paper that they had signed could not be brought to light;
And the people in their taxes paid the full amount,
And the signers of the paper were glad on that account.

Yet the city gets the praise as enterprising folk,
But they never paid a cent and think it quite a joke.
Now the county owns the clock and keeps it in repair,
But what’s the use to farmers in having it up there?

The morning came, ‘twas bright and fair; they had a pleasant ride;
The good old farmer happy was, his wife was by his side.
They saw the sights - court house, iron women, towers and clock.
The electric lights, bridges, and many fine new blocks.

Then home they went, with ideas new, with farmer’s life content,
The happiest life is a farmer’s life, in joy and peace well spent;
Yet oft they think of the big clock, of pledges made and broke,
Which on the farmers no benefit did the taxes yoke.

From WE REMEMBER, by Mildred Searcey.


It is reported that clocks mounted in towers and public buildings were among the very first mechanical clocks ever built. The first authenticated clock in the modern sense, was built in 1360 by Henry de Vick for King Charles V of France. This was definitely a tower clock, and is now mounted in the Palais de Justice in Paris. Many early clocks had no faces, but only rang out the hours on bells, so one can see a close connection between bell towers and tower clocks. In 1685, the pendulum was introduced, vastly improving accuracy, and in 1851, an improved escapement was invented by E.B. Denison and put into general use in tower clocks. This again improved timekeeping. From 1400 until the early 20th century, tower clocks became increasingly popular, until most communities possessed at least one such clock, often called "the town clock" and generally located in church steeples or town halls.

The first recorded account of a tower clock installation in the United States was in the church ("Meeting House") in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1704. By 1750, only a few tower clocks existed, in Newbury, Massachusetts, New Haven and Norwich, Connecticut, and at the Dutch Reformed Church in Schenectedy, New York. By the mid-1800’s American companies, among them Seth Thomas, were manufacturing tower clocks, and during the Victorian era they became very popular in America. In our region, several tower clock installations were made around the turn-of-the-century, including Baker City Hall, Whitman College, and the Morrow County Courthouse.

The cutaway drawing of a typical tower clock installation was provided by the Seth Thomas Company. This shows the clock "engine" sitting one floor below the faces, with the bell mounted above in a room with louvered openings to let the sound out. The weights are suspended on pulleys and run down the inside of the tower. They drive the timing and bell-striking mechanisms in the clock engine. The engine, in turn, transmits this power to a central gear cluster that drives the motion gears which make the hands on the faces go around and to the hammer which strikes the hours on the bell. A drawing is also provided of the Model 17 clock engine. It was noted that a good tower clock should be accurate to within 5 to 6 seconds per week, at least when new!

Source of information above and for more detailed explanations of clocks in general and tower clocks in particular: "Time and Timekeepers", by Willis I. Milham, 1923, McMillan & Co., New York, reprinted in 1975 by Michael W. Daggett, Portland, Oregon.

No. 17, 8 Day, Strike. Width, 53 inches; Depth, 39 inches; Height, 65 inches. Pendulum, 8 feet ; Pendulum, Ball, 200 lbs.
Made also with 14 foot Pendulum and 300 lb. Ball. For one Dial up to 11 feet, or four Dials at 9 feet or less. For Bell up to 3.500 lbs. Weighs, boxed, about 2,800 lbs. Drawing of clock engine.


The name ‘‘Seth Thomas" is one of the most—respected by clock collectors around the world. Seth Thomas founded a clock-manufacturing company in Plymouth Hollow, Connecticut, that is representative of the best of American industry. Design, engineering and craftsmanship were superb, and the company was also known for its generous assistance with the installation and timing of its large public clocks. But large clocks were only part of the Seth Thomas line, which ranged from pocket watches, through mantle clocks, to "grandfather" and ship clocks, and also included fancy marble and brass designs. Tower clocks were introduced by the company about 1869, and were sold around the world. The Model 17 clock purchased by the Umatilla County Court in 1889 was one of several models of tower clocks then in production.

Seth Thomas was born 19 August 1785 in Woolcott, Connecticut. From a family of small businessmen and farmers, he inherited the honest, hard-working demeanor typical of New England. After serving apprenticeship as a carpenter, he became involved in clock making in 1807, at age 22. In 1813, he bought his own clock factory, and founded his own company, which in 1853 became the Seth Thomas Clock Company, a joint stock corporation. He first manufactured clocks with brass movements., At a bout this time spring driven clocks were also introduced.

In January 1859, at the age of 73, Seth Thomas died, but his son became President of the Company, and the family remained in leadership roles until 1932. This represented a family company history of 119 years. In 1931, the Company became a division of General Time Instruments Corporation, and in 1970, General Time became a division of Talley Industries. In 1982, the plant at Thomaston, Connecticut, was closed, and the operations were moved to Georgia. Thomaston was the old Plymouth Hollow, which the townspeople renamed in 1865 in honor of the marl who had made their town the center of a world-renowned industry. The Umatilla County Court ordered a Model #17 tower clock from the Seth Thomas Company in April of 1889, through the San Francisco office of the company. According to a silver plate on the side of the clock, it was completed at Thomaston on the 6th of August 1889. The name A.S. Hotchkiss, which is also shown on the plate and on the timing dial, refers to the company’s design engineer, responsible for all the tower clockwork designs. The purchase price at that time was $884.10. Today, according to knowledgeable sources, the clock, even before it was restored, is worth about $70,000. That’s quite a rate of return on the investment!

Source: "Seth Thomas Clock & Movements: A Guide to Identification and Prices", by Tran Duy Ly, Arlington Book Company, 1985.


On the 27th of September, 1862, the Legislature of the 3-year old State of Oregon carved out Baker and Umatilla Counties from Wasco County, which at that time encompassed all of Oregon east of the Cascades. This was in response to the "gold rush" to the Powder River and North Fork John Day mining districts and the associated growth in settlement in northeastern Oregon. However, at that time, there were no "towns", as such, in the area of the new Umatilla County, which included all of what is now Morrow County, the north half of Grant County, and a part of Gilliam County. There were mining camps on the upper John Day and trading posts along the roads from the Columbia River to the mines, in particular at Upper Umatilla, Grande Ronde Landing, and at Ireland’s, which later developed into the towns of Pendleton, Irrigon, and Milton, respectively. The legislature selected Marshall’s Station in the Upper Umatilla district, located approximately ¼ mile west of Eastern Oregon Correctional Institute, as the interim County seat.

The governing body of the newly-created county took awhile to get organized, and it was not until the 6th of April 1863, that the first term of the County Court was held, Judge Jasper W. Johnson presiding. The County Court sessions were held upstairs in the roadhouse and trading post of Swift & Martin’s, who had bought out Marshall. There was also a blacksmith shop, stage station, and post office at this little settlement on the north bank of the Umatilla River, which by 1865 was crossed at this point by a bridge.

The first minutes in County Commissioners Journal "A" are dated 27 May 1863, and indicate that the first item of business was the letting of a contract to build a 12’ x 20’, two-room, log jail with clapboard or shingle roof. At the second session, on July 7th, the first liquor licenses were issued for the Meacham Brothers, 4 Mile House (north of Hermiston), and two saloons each in Umatilla Landing and Lower Umatilla, which was the Meadows area west of Echo and Stanfield.

By 1864, the location of the county seat had become an issue, particularly since Umatilla Landing, founded only the year before, had grown to a sizable town of some 1000-1500 permanent inhabitants, and many more during the winter months. In June of 1864, new officers were elected, with R.B. Morford presiding as County Judge. At the July 8th session, former Judge Johnson requested the County Court to formally select a site for county buildings at "the county seat", namely Swift & Martin’s Station, which was now being touted as a new town site called "Middleton". However, the new Court tabled the issue as they were in the process of counting the "write-in" comments many folks had included on their June ballots. Commissioner Ninevah Ford protested this action, however, noting that the county seat location issue had never been officially presented on the ballots for a vote of the people.

In January 1865, the town of Middleton was formally platted by Welcome Mitchell, one of the new County Commissioners, as surveyed by Capt. D.P. Thompson, U.S. Deputy Surveyor. Rueben Baskett, the County Clerk, taking matters into his own hands, bought Lot 2 in Block 7 of the new town site, and built a house to serve his residence and as the County Clerk's Office as well. This site was located only two lots west of the hotel where the County Court met, and was situated on the south side of the Oregon Trail, which passed through the middle of town. On February 6, 1865, the County Court paid Baskett $403.50 for the County Clerk’s Office and property. Thus the first "courthouse" of Umatilla County was the upstairs of Swift & Martin’s Hotel and the home of Rueben Baskett, County Clerk, next door, all located in what is now a grove of trees on the north bank of an old oxbow of the Umatilla River west of Pendleton.

On the 3rd of April 1865, the minutes first clearly indicate that "the County Court of Umatilla County met at Umatilla City." They had rented space for this purpose, and the next day they requested that proposals be submitted for "the selection of house and offices." On April 7th, lots 4 and 7 of Block the Umatilla Town site were purchased from B.R. Biddle for $2100. This second "courthouse" for Umatilla County was undoubtedly a storefront or hotel building, and it faced directly out onto Front Street, the bustling Columbia River waterfront area. On the 8th of April, the Court disposed of the old Clerk’s Office at Middleton to Archie Vermason, who ran the saloon there.

Umatilla City’s boom times lasted but 5 years. Her function as transshipment point for the Boise and Baker mining districts began to dwindle as early as 1866, and by 1868, the extension of the transcontinental railroad into Nevada, seriously undermined this trade. With loss of trade came loss of population. Meanwhile, settlement had progressed rapidly in the central and eastern parts of the county, and residents there resented the long distances they had to travel to conduct official business. So, advocates for relocating the County Seat effectively petitioned the State Legislature, which on 13 October 1868, passed an Act authorizing a vote on the location of the County Seat at the November 3rd election. The choice would be between Umatilla City, and "Upper Umatilla, some where between the mouth of Wild Horse and Birch Creeks."

The vote was cast, 394 for Upper Umatilla, 345 for Umatilla City. Therefore, the County Court, on November 16th appointed a committee of J .S. Vinson, James Thompson, and Samuel Johnson to locate and name the exact site for the new County Seat. They met on the 23rd at Swift & Martin’s Station, and on the 24th, accepted the offer of Moses E. and Aura Goodwin for the donation of a site for the courthouse at Goodwin’s Station. This trading post, also occupied by Lot Livermore’s Hotel, was a rival to Swift & Martin’s, and was located on what is now the southwest corner of S. Main Street and S.W. Byers. Goodwin had obtained a license from the County in 1866 to build a toll bridge at what is now the Main Street bridge. He relocated his trading post there from a site near the 10th Street bridge where he had settled two years prior. Evidently, Goodwin provided effective competition for Swift & Martin’s, and it was said that he actually diverted most of the traffic to his place.

Accordingly, Goodwin filed a plat for the new town, on December 18th, and accepted the committee’s recommendation that the town be named "Pendleton" in honor of George Hunt Pendleton, of Ohio, a national leader of the Democratic Party. During the winter, the Goodwins paid for the construction of a 2-story courthouse on the Courthouse Square they had donated in the middle of the new town. On April 7th, 1869, the County Court accepted the deed for the property, which had been signed on December 1st, 1868, and ordered the County Officials to move their offices. The next day, April 8th of 1869, the Umatilla County Court convened at the new town of Pendleton, Oregon. The 3rd Courthouse of Umatilla County was thus established, in a new town that was created to be a centrally located county seat, at the direction of the voters.

However, the citizens of Umatilla City were not going to let the county seat get away from them without a fight. The very first business that the relocated Circuit Court took up at their 3rd of May, 1869, session was a suit by David Simpson and others to prevent the removal of the county seat. This case went clear to the Oregon Supreme Court and involved the ablest attorneys from Portland and Walla Walla. At contest was the indebtedness the County would incur over the $5000 limitation in the Oregon Constitution, as well as the vagueness of the language stating where the alternate county seat site would be located. The Supreme Court sustained the ruling of Judge Wilson, and the county seat remained at the new town of Pendleton.

An oft-quoted story relates that Pendleton "stole" the County records from Umatilla City. The late Mrs. Oscar F. Thompson, wife of the Sheriff at that time, related a slightly different story. She reported that one evening, three representatives of the new town brought teams and wagons to Umatilla City to move the County records. They stayed at her home, spent the rest of the night, rising at 3 o’clock the next morning. She cooked them breakfast, and with the help of her husband, they loaded the safes on the wagons and took the records back to Pendleton. However, there was yet no suitable building for the courthouse, so citizens of Umatilla City obtained an injunction for the records to be returned. Soon, she recalled, a proper courthouse was built and the records were moved once again.

The fact that Pendleton used to have a Courthouse Square, right on Main Street between S.E. Court and Dorian streets, comes as a big surprise to many folks. The photographs of the late 1800’s reveal that it was a lovely place indeed; with picket fence all around, shade trees on all sides, and a bandstand in the northwest corner; providing a proper town square for citizens to gather. However, the Courthouse itself was far from suitable for the rapidly-growing county. Vivid recollections note that jurors were confined overnight in the hot, upstairs Court Room, forced to sleep on hard benches placed in a sea of sawdust. Nevertheless, the building functioned for 20 years, together with the jailhouse that was built behind.

The 4th Courthouse, built during 1888-89 is recounted elsewhere in this booklet, as was the novel funding mechanism for its construction. It was in that effort to save the taxpayers money that Pendleton lost its original downtown green space. In the long run, was it worth the "savings"? In any case, the 1889 Courthouse was a dandy, fully embellished in the height of Victorian fashion. But, progress dictated that in time its useful life also was surpassed. So, in 1955, Umatilla County occupied its 5th Courthouse, built on the same site as the 4th and now in 1989, joined by an elegant clock tower to house the 100-year old clock that formerly graced the high tower of its predecessor.

Sources:"Reminisences of Oregon Pioneers", Women’s Pioneer Club of Pendleton, 1937; Articles by Mrs. O.F. Thompson & Col. Raley. "Historic Sketches of Walla Walla, Whitman, Columbia and Garfield Counties, Washington Territory, and Umatilla County, Oregon", FrankT. Gilbert, Portland, Oregon, 1882. Umatilla County Commissioners Journal "A" (1863-66)


A resurgence of interest in the old Courthouse clock followed the publishing of the interview with Roy Thurman in the East Oregonian in January of 1987. Several interested citizens and club representatives contacted the County Board of Commissioners suggesting that the clock be restored and housed appropriately. Therefore, by May, Jeanne Hughes, Bill Hansell, and Glenn Youngman had appointed the "Umatilla County Courthouse Clock Restoration Committee" and had arranged for the Umatilla County Historical Society to act as sponsor. The new Committee first met on Thursday, 28 May 1987, at 7:30 PM in Room 114 of the Courthouse, under the leadership of Rudy Rada, with LaFrance Grubbs appointed as Vice-Chairman, and Steve Randolph, as Secretary. Frances Bartron agreed to serve as Treasurer.

The Committee didn’t waste any time getting started. Advised that the clock was in relatively good condition and that it was most feasible to restore it to working operation, the Committee voted to proceed with restoration of the clock and rehousing it in a new clock tower. That evening they toured the Courthouse grounds and voted to build the new tower on the northwest corner of the block, at the site of the flagpole, on the corner of SE Court and SE 4th. Also, they asked Lynch, Fitzgerald & Associates, of Pendleton, to serve as architects of the project. It was suggested at this meeting that the sale of name-inscribed bricks be a primary fund-raising effort, and a tentative dedication date was selected, 6 August 1989, the 100th birthday of the clock. Thus began a two and one half year project that eventually led to restoration of the clockworks and the construction of a new clock tower on the Courthouse block in Pendleton.

Preliminary Design of Clock tower
Roy Thurman had done a good job as unofficial keeper of the clock, and in spite of its having been stored for 33 years at the City Shops, very few parts were missing. The clock parts were removed from the County Shops to the old Union Pacific depot, the new home of the Historical Society. There, in the old freight room, the clock was reassembled to demonstrate that after all these years, it still could tick!

Meanwhile, Jim Lynch, one of the principals at Lynch, Fitzgerald, sponsored an in-house design competition and presented the results to the Design Sub-committee. They, in turn, brought two different schemes to the full Committee for final choice, one was rectilinear in format, the same as the Courthouse. The second was an open, arched design, to be built in brick, with the clockworks suspended in a glass house at the top of the tower. This design was chosen by the Committee, because it blended with the Courthouse architecture, yet the arches were reminiscent of the Victorian clock tower on the old, 1889 Courthouse. Both designs also called for a courtyard and brick-paved pathway at the base.

The architects then prepared cost estimates, and the actual cost of such a construction project and pathway beneath it were forecast at about $140,000, while the courtyard, sidewalk improvements at the front of the Courthouse, and relandscaping of this corner of the block, brought the total project estimate in at $200,000. This news cast a shadow over the Committee, but soon the members rallied round unanimously voted to proceed. After all, it was discovered that the new Willamette University clock tower in Salem had cost $225,000. However, all agreed to raise funds for only the $140,000 Phase I, the actual clock tower and pathway. Phase II and III might come later or if more than enough money was raised.

With the clock tower design selected and the restoration of the clockworks underway, the Committee turned towards fund-raising efforts. Two major projects were proposed. First, it was decided to market name-inscribed bricks to pave the pathway and courtyard at the base of the tower. The basic brick would cost $25 per name. Second, the Committee began the "sale" of the clock tower legs, for $10,000 each, in $1000 increments. Kickoff of the fund-raising campaign began on 30 November 1987 with a media blitz, and a personal solicitation to some 250 families and businesses. Marsh’s Mens Wear on Main Street in downtown Pendleton, donated space in their storefront for the Committee to use as a sales table for the bricks and promotional items.

Within days, the first major donation was announced, the purchase by Smith Food Sales of an entire clock tower leg. Also sales of bricks went briskly, especially during the holiday season. Many bricks were purchased in memory of persons, as well as for gifts, so memorial and gift cards were produced for use by the purchasers. Mugs with the Committee logo were also for sale, and within months, two additional designs were added. Also, a limited edition porcelain plate, featuring a drawing of the 1889 Courthouse, arrived in late spring 1988. Hats and visors, key rings, and balloons rounded out the assortment of wares available.

On Thursday evening, 2 June 1988, the restored clockworks were unveiled. The dirty, grimy, gray clockworks that the Committee had first witnessed in operation that November evening, had been transformed into the green, black, and polished brass finery of Victorian machinery used for display. So impressed were they with the restored clockworks, that it was agreed to send it around the County that summer for display. Accordingly, the Clock went to Ukiah, won a trophy in Athena’s Caledonian Days parade, attended the County Fair in Hermiston, and was present at several other events. Then it was placed in the Historical Society’s new museum in the old depot, until the new clock tower was ready for it.

The beauty of the restored clockworks together with the fascination of watching a mechanical clock at work led to the only major design change in the project. In November of 1988, the Committee voted to move the clockworks from the top of the tower to the base, where it could be displayed in a bullet-proof glass or lexan box. This would allow close observation of the workings of a 100-year old mechanical clock.

During the summer of 1988, several new fund-raising efforts were made. The Clock Restoration Auction was held on June 11 and 12, at the old Helen McCune Junior High School in downtown Pendleton. Items from garage sale wares to a weekend for two at the Imperial Hotel in Portland were auctioned off, raising a total of more than $10,000. Also, a special crew of volunteers from Fred Meyer Inc. were flown up from Portland by the company to help with the auction. (Fred Meyer opened a store in Pendleton that summer.) Committee members took tables of wares and brick order forms around to most of the community festivals held in the County that summer and staffed a booth at the County Fair. At the end of the summer a series of four gourmet dinners were prepared, charging $25 per person. Committee members and friends served as staff.

In June 1988, the Pendleton Foundation donated $10,000 for a clock tower leg, thereby putting the Committee past the halfway mark in the fund-raising drive. Then later that year came the biggest donation of all, a $50,000 matching grant from the Fred Meyer Charitable Trust. $25,000 was given outright, while the remaining $25,000 was to be matched by outright funds or donations in kind. Moreover, the Trust wanted to see the entire project built, including the courtyard and re-landscaping, phases which in 1987 the Committee had decided would have to wait. With the improvements around the Courthouse now part of the package, the Umatilla County Board of Commissioners voted to donate $10,000 to the project.

No problem was experienced in meeting the Trust’s $25,000 match as funds continued to come in throughout the fall of 1988 and winter of 1989. In fact, all the legs were "sold" by the fall, so the Committee decided to "sell" the faces of the clock for $3000 each, or in $1000 increments. Brick sales continued to be brisk, averaging over $1000 per month, and increasing during the holidays. January 1st was set as the deadline for brick sales.

When the bids were actually received in February of 1989, they were much higher than anticipated. Though many businesses in town had already donated in-kind services there was not a significant amount of in-kind donations reflected in the bids. Various individuals worked long, hard hours scaling down aspects of the project, working with sub-contractors for reducing bids, etc., and ended up with a contract bid total of $197,000, exclusive of architects fees, costs of restoring the clock, and plaques, which all together resulted in a total project cost of about $235,000.

The Committee took another deep breath, reopened brick sales, scheduled more gourmet dinners, planned a large garage sale, and announced another major donor project. The courtyard was to be provided with 6 benches and another two were proposed on the opposite side of the tower for close viewing of the clockworks. These benches were marketed at $3000 a piece, again in $1000 shares, and by 1 September 1989, all seven of the eight had been "sold" thus topping out the fund-raising program just a little over the revised goal.

Ground-breaking was held at the Courthouse grounds on Tuesday, 25 April 1989, and construction was substantially completed only 3½ months later, in mid-August. The restored clockworks, name-inscribed bricks and landscaping were installed in early September. So, by the dedication day of Sunday, 24 September 1989, the Clock Restoration Project had produced a landmark piece of architecture, housing a valuable, 100-year old restored Seth Thomas clock.

The clockworks, in its glass house at the base of the tower, is driven by 1370 lbs of weights that hang down the side of two of the tower legs and are connected via cable lines and pulleys. The engine, in turn, powers the motion gears that move the minute and hour hands on each face via a complex of gears and drive shaft extending to the top of the tower. The 57’ high tower is crowned with an antique horse and carriage weather vane which symbolizes Frank Frazer and his prize-winning harness racehorse "Chehalis", bred here in Umatilla County. The three new steel clock faces have joined the 1897 original cast-iron face, and the great bronze bell, now cracked, will again ring out the hours. All in all, this tower is a monument to our pioneer ancestors, and to Victorian mechanical design. And yet, its beauty and inspiration are a celebration of today

Clock Restoration Committee Members:Rudy Rada, Chairman LaFrance Grubbs, Vice-Chairman Steve Randolph, Secretary Francis Bartron, Treasurer Eloise Kilby Mike Kilby George Bennett Dr. Louis J.Feves Leah Conner Merledene Harrison Mel Bates Dennis Hachler Bob Hawes Bob Mumm Pauline Gerretson Oliver Sykes Jim Lynch Chuck McCullough Phoebe Sheriff Jeanne Hughes Richard Mayer, Honorary Umatilla County Board of Commissioners Bill Hansell Jeanne Hughes Glenn Youngman Contractor GO Construction, Pendleton, Oregon Architect Jim Lynch Lynch, Fitzgerald & Assoc., Pendleton, Oregon The Committee gratefully acknowledges the many individuals and businesses that contributed their time and materials to the clock restoration project.
Prepared by Umatilla County Planning Department & Printing Department Steve Randolph - Author Julie Alford - Graphics Marguerite Maznaritz - Printing