by Charlene Simpson
Eugene Register-Guard columnist Bob Welch was asked: “Is Goodpasture Island north of Valley River Center an island and, if so, was it named because it was ‘good pasture’ for animals?”
Welch’s answer was: “No and no. There was such an Island, before flood-control dams were built in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s on the upper reaches of the Willamette River.
Before then, the river would flood its banks in the winter, turning the area that’s now Marist High and the ex-Big K store into what was called Goodpasture Island (Welch, 2003).”
Before Euro-American settlement the landscape of present day Eugene and surrounding area was managed to support the needs of the Kalapuya Indians. The Upper Willamette Valley had been home to native peoples for thousands of years; the most recent inhabitants collectively called Kalapuya. Populations were decimated by disease introduced by early settlers (Robertson posted with permission by Matthews, 2002).
The Kalapuya used fire to maintain open space for hunting game and harvesting camas bulbs. The level areas were treeless prairies; the hills mostly grassy slopes. Only along sloughs and river courses were there dense forests (Alverson, 2000). Early federal land surveys from 1851-1853 provide a good description of the pre-settlement landscape (Lawrence and Bettman, 1982).
The Willamette River followed a different course than it does today. In the vicinity of Goodpasture Island it followed a channel now occupied by Delta Highway about a half-mile east of its present one (Surveyor General’s Office, Surveys 1851-1853). Debrick Slough occupies a portion of the old channel. Periodic floods were responsible for heavy silt, sand and gravel deposits.
Goodpasture Island is named for Alexander Goodpasture, who came to Oregon on a wagon train in 1853, and for his son Thurston who was born in 1855 on his father’s land claim 3 miles north of Eugene. Part of the claim is known as Goodpasture Island (McKenzie River Reflections, 1988 and Survey General’s Office, 1860).
Shortly after Alexander Goodpasture’s death in 1862 his widow, Elizabeth Moss Goodpasture, married Jacob Gillespie, a prominent Lane County pioneer. Rev. Gillespie’s acreage was near where Willagillespie Elementary School is now located (J. Gillespie, 2016). Alexander Goodpasture, Elizabeth Goodpasture Gillespie and Jacob Gillespie are buried in the family cemetery on Gillespie Butte (Eugene Daily Guard, 1898 and Find A Grave: Gillespie Cemetery).
From the mid-1840’s to the present Lane County farmers tilled the rich soil in the Willamette flood plain. Farmland was particularly fertile between the Ferry Street Bridge area and the River Road/Santa Clara areas. By 1940 there were over 5,000 acres of irrigated fields in these areas (Lane County Review Board, 2003).
Many farmers marketed fruit, vegetables and nuts from stalls on their farms and at the indoor Producers’ Public Market in town. Others sold produce to the Eugene Fruit Growers cannery (later Agripac) (Lane County Review Board, 2003).
However, it was impractical to invest in structures that would be damaged by floodwater prior to the Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration built dams of the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. Major floods probably occurred at least once a decade (Alverson, 2000). Floods in 1943 and 1964 inundated the Island. Storms in November/December 1996 were every bit as large as those that triggered extensive flooding in earlier years, but upriver dams held and Eugene survived surface flooding with less damage than most of the county, state and northwest (Stormwater Connections, 1997).
Following World War II Eugene entered a period of rapid growth. Agricultural land was converted to residential subdivisions and commercial and industrial centers. Small farmers were particularly vulnerable to development pressures. A victim of the times, the Producers’ Market closed in 1959.
Gravel Miners and Road Builders
During the 1950’s much of the old Willamette River channel was cleared of forest for gravel extraction, leaving behind pits we now know as the Delta Ponds. The gravel was used to build a network of Lane County roads including Delta Highway in 1964. During the same era, Beltline Highway (now Randy Papé Beltline) was constructed across the north end of Goodpasture Island with a cloverleaf intersection placed in the middle of the old river channel (Lane County Review Board, 2003).
With flood protection and access roads in place, Goodpasture Island was open to development.
Development of the Island was not without controversy. Planners heard testimony from those who wished to preserve the rural character of the area as well as from those who argued that commercial use should be permitted (Tims, 1967).
In 1970 University of Oregon urban planning students in the School of Architecture and Allied Arts conducted a two-month study of Goodpasture Island. They recommended that no heavy industrial development should be permitted on the Island (Eugene Register-Guard, 1970).
Marist Catholic High School broke ground May 23, 1967 on 30 acres of farmland along the banks of the Willamette River. Valley River Center, heralded as the largest shopping mall between Portland and San Francisco, opened in 1969. Valley River Inn, with 257 guest rooms and 15,000 square feet of meeting rooms, was built along the Willamette River in 1973.
In October 1978 a Eugene hearings official reviewed a development plan calling for construction of some 2,560 living units, including apartments, a church complex, a retirement center and a village center with a restaurant and a canoe marina on a 183-acre site. The property was bounded by Beltline Highway, Delta Highway, Goodpasture Island Road and the Willamette River. The city planning staff recommended approval of the PUD (planned unit development) request with 21 conditions governing development of the site (Nelson, 1978).
In February 1979 the developers (The First Church of the Nazarene and the Goodpasture Island Development Co.) asked the Eugene City Council to set aside three of the conditions imposed by the city’s hearings official:
- That they dedicate a 50-ft. wide strip of property along the Willamette River to the city for use as open space;
- That they pay for construction of riverbank bike and pedestrian paths to link up the city’s existing systems;
- That they seek an agreement with K Mart store for construction of a common intersection to align the store’s entrance with the street into the development.
City councilors unanimously rejected the developers’ appeal (Eugene Register-Guard, 1979).
Island Lakes Condominiums
The original PUD (planned unit development) put forward in 1978 was scaled back. In July 1981 L. Nelson Corporation of Oregon announced the grand opening of Island Lakes Condominiums. An ad ran in the Eugene Register-Guard (1981): “Reserve your Island Lakes Condominium home today!” This was a period of high unemployment and a depressed real estate market. A few units were reserved, but there were no closures (Wright, 2010).
Late 1981 to the middle of 1983 (Wright, 2010) The First Church of the Nazarene and Goodpasture Island Development Co. properties and all assets were foreclosed by note- holder First Interstate Bank. The Bank sold off parcels which became Valley River Village and Valley River Plaza. First Interstate Bank took over ownership of Island Lakes Condominiums and completed construction as required by Oregon statute. The law does not allow a lien-holder to “walk away” from a partially completed project (Wright, 2010).
First Interstate’s primary business was not property development. They managed the property to recoup their investment and get out. Home prices at Island Lakes were lowered and the Bank made loans available to buyers at favorable rates. Professionally decorated models were readied for inspection. Janie Wright and Harlene Carter, sales associates with McPheeters Real Estate, and later Jean Tate Realty, handled sales from an office on the premises (Eugene Register-Guard, 1984 and Janie Wright, 2010). The local economy was turning around and sales were brisk.
First Interstate Bank completed the project. Management of the property was conveyed to the homeowners when the sufficient number of units had been sold as specified by State of Oregon Statute (1983). Homeowners met July 31, 1986 to discuss common concerns preparatory to the transfer (Island Lakes homeowners meeting, 1986). The Association of Homeowners held its first organizational meeting March 31, 1987.
- Alverson, Ed. 2000. “The Changing Natural Environment” in Holt, Kathleen & Cheri Brooks, eds. Eugene 1945-2000: Decisions That Made a Community. The City Club of Eugene. Xlibris Corporation.
- Association of Unit Owners of Island Lakes Condominiums. March 31, 1987. First Organizational Meeting.
- Eugene Daily Guard. May 23, 1898. “Jacob Gillespie, 1809-1898, Cumberland Presbyterian Minister.”
- Eugene Register-Guard. May 11, 1970. “Goodpasture Island Subject of Plans Study.”
- Eugene Register-Guard. February 12, 1979. “Goodpasture appeal rejected.”
- Eugene Register-Guard. July 26, 1981. Classifieds.
- Eugene Register-Guard. June 24, 1984. Classifieds.
- Find a Grave: Gillespie Cemetery website.
- Gillespie, Jan S. May 31, 2016. Personal Communication.
- Island Lakes homeowners meeting. July 31, 1986. Agenda.
- Lane County Review Board. June, 2003. Eugene Modernism 1935-65. City of Eugene Planning and Development Department.
- Lawrence, Henry W., and Ann P. Bettman. 1982. The Green Guide: Eugene’s natural landscape. Eugene Oregon. Published by Ann P. Bettman.
- McKenzie River Reflections. February 5, 1988. “Bit of Family History.”
- Nelson, Don. October 8, 1978. “Hearings official to see new Goodpasture Plan.” Eugene Register-Guard.
- Robertson, Margaret. The Kalapuya of the Upper Willamette Valley. Posted by Kevin Matthews with permission on March 22, 2002. http://www.southeastneighbors.org/notes/1347.html
- State of Oregon, Department of Commerce, Real Estate Division. Rev. November 17, 1983. Condominium Public Report # SD-2884.
- Stormwater Connections. May, 1997. “Eugene’s Rainfall Sets a New Record in 1996.” Stormwater Management Program. City of Eugene Public Works.
- Surveyor General’s Office. 1852 and 1853. Township maps and field notes, Willamette Meridian, Oregon. Originals on file with the Bureau of Land Management. Portland, Oregon.
- Surveyor General’s Office. February 2, 1860. BLM Land Status and Cadastral Records: Alexander Goodpasture’s Donation Land Claim # 78, Township 17S; Range 03 and 04W, Eugene City, Willamette Meridian. View scanned map and notes.
- Tims, Marvin. March 29, 1967. “Fate of Willakenzie Land Use Plan in Hands of Planners: 200 at Jammed Hearing to Air Conflicting Views.” Eugene Register-Guard.
- Welch, Bob. December 20, 2003. “From coyotes to ponds, some head-scratchers.” Eugene Register-Guard.
- Wright, Janie. December 15, 2010. Personal communication.
- Historic Preservation Northwest: Eugene’s River Road (June 2006)