The first settler in the Upper Nehalem Valley area was Clark Parker who chopped his way into the area and homesteaded in 1874. His Homestead was on the East side of the Nehalem River (Riverview). He came in from the Washington County side. He was followed in 1875 by the Van Blaricom's who homesteaded along Rock Creek in the what is now the main part of town.
Other historic names in the community followed soon thereafter including, Spencer, Mellinger, Pringle, Weed and Cherrington.
The first road out of the upper valley to the North was opened with volunteer labor apparently in 1879. It reached the Nehalem Valley at Pittsburg which is located at the confluence of the Nehalem with the 'East Fork'. It was a dirt wagon road and is known today as the 'St. Helens-Pittsburg'. Hardship did not go away with the opening of the road however. In January of 1880 a violent windstorm closed all roads into the valley by toppling trees. The wind was followed by extraordinary snow and the area was reportedly isolated for months.
Weekly mail service between St. Helens and Vernonia began shortly after the road was opened and by 1891 was said to have grown to 3 times a week. Bill Pringle, who told of running freight between the places, spoke of leaving Vernonia early in the day with a wagon of produce for shipment to St. Helens, getting it unloaded and reloaded for a return trip before turning in for the night in the St. Helens area.
While it was June of 1894 that provided the 'record' flood on the Columbia River, it was the next year that was the challenge for Vernonia. Bunker Hill saw 5 feet of snow and in January of 1895 the first great flood swamped Vernonia to a level not surpassed until the great flood of February 8, 1996 over a century later.
Vernonia's heyday began in the 1920's when it was the site of the Oregon-American Sawmill, billed at the time as the largest in the world, which was fed by logging railroads in all directions, but alas, by the early 1950's the virgin timber was gone and so was the mill. The timber has grown back, but there is no mill in Vernonia now. The company came in from the South and brought a lot of Southern folks with them. This explains why the plat of the Oregon-American Subdivision features streets named after States in the old Confederacy.
It is reported that some southern traditions also came to town which included the establishment of a 'black section' of town which was down by river behind what is now the Vernonia High School. The mill is said to have kept this part of the mill town 'segregated' by not allowing any of the buildings in that area to be painted or whitewashed. This area is all long gone now.
West Oregon Electric's headquarters is located in Vernonia and it is the only incorporated city served by West Oregon. Near Vernonia, you may also find the North West Astronomy Group facility at Vernonia Peak interesting.
Vernonia was ultimately named for the daughter of one of the original settlers, Ozias Cherrington who moved there in 1876. Her name was Vernona. She was born March 30, 1868 in Ohio and later moved to Virginia. She never came to Oregon. The political voting precinct was called Auburn for many years, but finally renamed to Vernonia to avoid confusion. The Vernonia post office was established Jan 11, 1878 with David F. Baker as its first postmaster.
At Spring Hill, Nova Scotia , April 28, 1836, R. W. NcNutt made his debut upon the stage of life, and throughout the years following that time he has been a prominent actor in the affairs naturally occurring in the career of every man. On December 14, 1867, he came to Oregon, and on the 10th of April, 1887, he arrived at the mouth of Rock creek, in the Nehalem valley.
After hunting around through the natural surroundings for several days he concluded that the mouth of Rock creek was the hub of this fine rich county of valleys, and he told O. N. Prather, his guide, that right there would be one of the most flourishing towns in Oregon. Mr. McNutt, with his youngest son, Carroll, went to work.
He hired eight men that knew how to handle the ax and saw, and while the trees and brush were being mowed down, some of the settlers came down to learn the cause of such unusual noise in the heretofore quiet forest. We here quote Mr. McNutt's own words:
"And when we began to let the light in on Uncle Frank Baker, he felt sure that it would let the afternoon sun in on him and burn him out; but after he got used to the noise he felt easier. I began the erection of a store at once, and at the same time ordered two loads of goods from the Cornelius store, and before I could get the roof on the house the goods came and I had to pile them away in a corner and began weighing and selling them out to the delighted mountaineers. I then got a few men together and threw a huge cedar tree across the then raging Rock creek and hewed one side of it on which to make a foot bridge, which we hoisted above high water and put a railing on, and that was the beginning of improvements.
One day, while Uncle Joe Van Blaricom and I were sunning ourselves on the hill back of my store, I proposed to lay out a few blocks and lots on his land and a part of mine that I had bought from him, and he laughed at me and began to spin some of his highly interesting soldier and hunting yarns, and forgot that I had mentioned anything about laying out the foundation for a large city. It was some time before he could make up his mind to it, but finally he consented and John Campbell was called down and perfected a plan and had about 100 lots laid out. The next thing was, we had nowhere to lay our heads or any place for strangers to stop, so I built a small hotel that was well patronized ever after. Now came the tug of war, for the new city wasn't christened. I wanted to call it Alpa, but Uncle Joe was too strong for me, 'For,' said he, 'the post office here was named for a little girl by the name of Vernonia Cherrington, and the name has gone out that way.' So we named the future city Vernonia."
Although Mr. McNutt's new city is still small, all great cities were small once, and time alone can develop Vernonia to large proportions. The citizens of the future city will bless the day that its two founders sunned themselves back of the store.
Nehalem Journal of 1890
published in Vernonia.
In the past few decades Vernonia has under gone quite a face-lift through the leadership of the City and the help of many volunteers. Our revitalized downtown, our extensive park system (including a public summer swimming hole and a full-service RV park), the new City Hall and Library buildings, the Banks-Vernonia Linear Park trail, Vernonia Lake (a very popular fishing spot), the beautiful Scout Cabin, and the Vernonia Pioneer Museum have all instilled Vernonia with strong sense of community pride. The new education facility, Learning Center, Senior Center and the burgeoning Art Community further contribute to an even better quality of life for all.
Vernonia offers all of the essential services and a variety of businesses that supply the usual requirements of the citizens, along with many unique shops for the discerning customer. We also have a dedicated and visionary city government and city staff that is working hard to serve the community and prepare Vernonia for the future.