Park History

History of the Ellmaker Oak

Ellmaker house with Grandma oakBy Megan J. Clark, May 2013

The Ellmaker Oak in the Ellmaker Grove on the Zumwalt Donation Land Claim is estimated to be between 300-400 years old. It started growing near Coyote Creek when the Kalapuya people lived in the area. Levi Wesley Zumwalt and Mary Malinda Zumwalt obtained a Donation Land Claim (DLC) for the property in around 1852. Enos and Elizabeth Fisher Ellmaker originally proved up on their DLC at the nearby Franklin Tavern and post office where Enos was postmaster. He named it Franklin, Oregon. But they needed a place that afforded good feed for their cattle over the winter. The Zumwalt DLC was perfect for that since the bottom land by Coyote Creek stayed green all year long. They also wanted to acquire nearby land for their children, and they could at this site. When they moved up in 1857, Enos and Elizabeth bought the Zumwalt DLC and moved their family to the Coyote Creek/Long Tom bottom land, now known as Zumwalt Park.

Enos and Elizabeth Ellmaker came to Oregon from Jefferson County Iowa in 1853. They brought a heavy load of iron with them, for Enos was a blacksmith and trained his sons for that work as well. His sister, Eliza Ann came with them. She married Augustus L. Humphrey two years after her arrival in Oregon and they operated a store in the Veneta area on his DLC.

Young Ellmaker ladyTheir brother, Reuben, stayed in Iowa. His letters to them are published by the Lane County Historical Society, along with Enos’s journal entries from the trail, rewritten by his youngest son, Amos. Called “The Ellmaker Narrative” it tells the story of Enos laying the first Tulit, edge railing in Pennsylvania and constructing locks on the Potomac River. Also of interest is the story of the three siblings’ journey in 1838 after settling their father’s estate in Earl Township, Pennsylvania, to pioneer in the wilds of Iowa. It also tells of their ancestors emigrating from Germany to Pennsylvania in 1726.

Crossing the Plains in 1853 was an arduous trip with five children. Byron was 12, Alce Ann 8, Melinda 6, Mary Jane 3, and Amos was an infant of seven months. (Levi Robb, my great-grandfather, was born two years after they settled in Franklin.) They managed to get through only losing two oxen. Elizabeth wasn’t able to keep nursing her son on the crossing. The cow’s milk dried up as well, so Amos drank coffee with the men. It was boiled, which protected him from cholera. He continued to drink coffee the rest of his life, 12 to 14 cups a day, and it wasn’t weak either. As an adult, Uncle Amos’s complexion was tan. He always said it was because of all the coffee he drank. Well, the coffee finally got him! He died at 92 from the dropsy, (nowadays known as edema due to congestive heart failure).

Tollman studio photo - Eugene, OregonIn the next generation, Levi Robb built a house for his bride, Frances Almeda Ellmaker, known as Mede (pronounced “Meady”). It was right next to the Ellmaker Oak tree in 1881, on the south side. In 1886, Amos built a house and a smithy for himself at the Ellmaker Ranch next door, situated at the end of what is now called Marina Road (off Ellmaker Road). The double row of maple trees led between the two, and to the Elmira Road at the end of Jeans Road. We always called it the “Maple Row” when I was a child. It was planted by Enos, Elizabeth and their children.

As we know, the ancient north/south trail was wide as it moved along the valley. This was to accommodate travelers with herds of cattle so that they could bed down away from each other without mixing up their herds. The trail went right past the Ellmaker houses so that travelers could stop at a smithy.

Byron, also a blacksmith, was Postmaster at Duckworth Landing. He changed the name to Elmira, named after Elmira, California, a place he admired when he went to the goldfields as a young man. Byron was a hard-working man. He would move into a house, fix it up, then sell it at a profit and move again. At the same time he was a farmer, blacksmith, and would construct houses for other people. Byron’s first wife was Martha Ann Sanders, who bore him four sons and three daughters. After Martha’s death, Byron married Arminda Adele Chastain. She bore three daughters.

Melinda and Mary Jane married the Hemenway brothers, Ansel and Volney, whose father was a physician in Goshen. Alce Ann married Richard Jones, one of the three hired hands who had traveled with the family from Iowa on the Oregon Trail. They had a ranch at the site of the former Central School.

There is a record of a special apple, a Priestly, which was brought with Elias and Mary Magdalena Bremer Oelmacher, Enos’s great-great grandparents, from Germany to Earl Township, Pennsylvania in 1726. When Enos, Eliza and Reuben emigrated to the Iowa Territory in 1838, they took grafts of their trees with them. When Enos, Elizabeth and Eliza emigrated to the Oregon Territory in 1853, they prevailed upon Reuben, who stayed behind, to mail them grafts of the fruit trees. Sadly, having traveled all the way from Germany, Pennsylvania, Iowa to Oregon, there is no longer any trace of these fruit trees since Zumwalt Park was established on the family land in the 1960’s. People vandalized the fruit, so the park managers cut down the trees.

Levi Robb Ellmaker and Mede had three children, Jewel Miriam, Reuel Clair, and Ulysses Winfield. Levi died in 1889. Jewel had a fever and was teething. In her delirium she bit her father. He died of lockjaw, and Mede was a widow. Jewel was never told of this. Interestingly, this was not the first time that this had happened to Mede. When she was 16, her father, Lee Marion Baker, was bitten by her two year-old sister, Ida, who had scarlet fever. He died the next day and Ida died two days later. They are buried at the Inman Cemetery along with his wife, Mary Frances Gross Baker. Life without penicillin was treacherous.

Enos, Elizabeth and Amos helped Mede and the children along, but she needed to go to town to make a living. She worked at University Tailors for many years. Ulysses and Reuel delivered the paper for the entire Eugene City. They also worked in the lumber camps at very early ages.

When they came of age to marry, Reuel married Elizabeth Shoup and they opened two restaurants downtown, the Owl, and the White Lunch, which also cooked soup for the jail in big iron pots. Ulysses moved out to Oak Meadow Farm (the current Zumwalt Park site) with his mother, Mede, and proceeded to set up a herd. He taught at the Ellmaker School in 1910-1911, on the edge of the property bordering Jeans Road. He married Ruth LeVan, and they started married life in the house that Levi built next to the Ellmaker Oak Tree. In 1915, their daughter, Elaine, my mother, was born there, as were her father Ulysses, Uncle Reuel, and Aunt Jewel the generation before.

When my mother was six years old, they moved to town and rented the farm out so that she could attend better schools. When she graduated from college in 1938, they returned to Uncle Amos’s part of the Ellmaker Ranch, (the southern part, at the end of what is now Marina Road).

The following section tells you what my Grandma Ruth wrote about the lake being put in. It is excerpted from her journal which I will be publishing under the name “Tales Beneath the Lake”.

“The Army Engineers began to buy up the land in 1941 and they came in here and told us we had two hours to make up our minds if we wanted to sell or not. If we didn’t sell, they would take it to court and condemn it. We sold it at about $25.00 an acre. That year our oats crop went 75 bushels to the acre (the whole field). Our neighbor had 25 bushels to the acre and got $80.00 an acre for his. They told us we just moved out here, so we could get a good price for land, but we never thought of a lake ever being here.

“The first year of the lake, it was terrible, so much rotting vegetation and the slime would dry up and you could pick it up like a bed sheet. We were sick over it, but after the first year it began getting better and water plants began to take over.

“We built a raft to go fishing from, and people would beg for it so we would make another and some more people would come along and take it so Ulysses went to buying boats and repairing them. He began negotiations for permission to rent boats. The Army Engineers began to fight us and tell us this lake would never be for recreation. Finally we and others began to put out petitions for us in Elmira, Veneta, Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Eugene. Some places they had petitions from the ceiling to the floor. Finally an Army Corps of Engineers friend of ours said, “They said, we give up, we will let them have it,” and began to make a contract.

Ellmaker dock - elaine with crewEllmaker Dock

“We put in stationary docks with boat slips, and floating docks that were sturdy and good. We had boat races, ski races and different shows here and hundreds of cars and people. We had a handy boat launch at the end of our road. We had a store and I served lunches, hard candy, gum, ice cream. On big days, the Medo-Land and Nehi soda pop trucks would stand by and I would need about five helpers. On just ordinary days, I needed about two extra. We were very busy, since we were the only boat rental, or place where they could get any lunch.

“When we started in, we needed a place for picnickers. Uncle’s grapevine wasn’t doing well, so we put in an arbor about 45′ x 50′ and put the vines on it and they grew like mad. We had about ten or twelve tables, put in a stone fireplace with a good top, and a drinking fountain. We had it made, and everyone was crazy about it.”

Ruth LeVan Ellmaker

Early days of fern ridge Zumwalt Park dock panorama