R.L Farmer Hardware Compnay

R.L. Farmer Hardware Store at the NE corner of Court and Commercial Streets in downtown Salem. Photos from Willamette Heritage Center Collections. Left is 1982.001.0007 and right is 1982.001.0004.

One hundred years ago the northeast corner of Court and Commercial Streets in downtown Salem was the home of the Ray L. Farmer Hardware Company, and, according to a handwritten note on a photograph in the Willamette Heritage Center collections, it was about to undergo a major renovation.


Today it is the home of the Academy of Hair design,[2] with its modern curved edge and sleek fenestration.  This building, a postwar addition, replaced an impressive brick structure that had served as a hardware and implement store since 1865.  First as the Smith and Wade Company, and later as the R. M. Wade and then Wade, Pearce & Company, the stores sold everything from Studebaker wagons to nuts and bolts. [3]

Ray L. Farmer was born in Ohio in August of 1859.[4]  By age 21, he had made his way to Salem where he worked for and lived with “stove and tinman” J.W. Crawford as a “tinner.”[5]  This experience would serve him well.  Three years later, Farmer began working for the R.M. Wade Company.  In a few short years, he had made his way up the ranks, serving as secretary and eventually vice president of the company.[6]

When George Pearce, the President of Wade, Pearce & Company decided to retire in 1912, the business was split between its vice president, Farmer, and its secretary (and George’s younger brother) Lot Pearce.  Farmer remained in the original location retaining the hardware end of the business, which he operated under the title Ray L. Famer, Hardware.  Lot took over the implements and machinery end of the business and moved three doors down on Commercial Street (to the North) and opened Lot L. Pearce and Sons.[7]

The earliest photo of the Ray L. Farmer Hardware Company found in the WHC’s collections (1982.001.0007) shows Ray L. Farmer at the far right of the image with his son Clifford next to him.  All three of Ray’s sons would work for the family business.[8]  The photo also has a handwritten inscription that reads: “Farmer Store before renovated, 1913” suggesting that very soon after the ownership change, Farmer completed renovations to the storefront.  A later picture (probably  taken in  the 1920s or 1930s judging from the length of the woman’s hemline) shown to the right above, shows changes to the façade, including a new overhang and an changes in the fenestration.[9]

Also attached to the photo is a newspaper clipping which makes note of another feat of Ray Famer, being one of the first men to summit Mount Jefferson.  According to a letter to the editor of the Oregonian from sent August 22, 1900, Farmer’s former employer George J. Pearce claims Farmer and fellow Salemite E.C Cross were the first to make it to the top of the Mountain in 1888. According to Pearce, the expedition was not planned.  Pearce along with Cross, Farmer and another Salem businessman Edward Weller had gone to the Cascades for a summer fishing and hunting trip.  Sometime during the trip Farmer, Cross and Pearce decided to make an attempt the climb.  As Pearce describes it: “We had no ropes, alpenstocks or ice axes, and we left our coats and vests at the Camp.  We carried hunting Knives and two guns, but left the guns at the Timber Line.  We estimated the distance from our camp tot the base of the Pinnacle as about three miles, and it took us just five hours of steady work to reach that point.  We found a bottle there containing the names of former visitors and added our names to the register.” The party left Weller at the camp to care for the horses they had brought.  Pearce took one look at the ascent and decided to wait for his friends to return, killing time by rolling rocks off the edge of a ridge.  The other two made the summit, a feat Pearce ascribes to very good fortune of there being little snow at the time.[10]

Ray L. Farmer died in 1934, but sons Clifford and Ivan continued running the family business at the same location until 1939, when it was moved to 123 S. Commercial St.[11]  By 1949, Clifford and his wife Edna moved the business out to Silverton Road.[12]  Clifford died in June of 1953 and his wife Edna operated it after his death until about 1954.[13]

[1] Note reads: “Farmer Store Before renovated 1913.”  Found on Photo 1982.001.0007.

[2] As of 2013.  Note that the address listed for the company, 204 Commercial Street, no longer exists in the tax rolls.  The property is now taxed under the address: 305-321 Court ST NE.  The 1895-1915 Sanbourn Fire Insurance map confirms the location of the previous address.

[3] Westenhouse, Sybil.  “Wade – Pearce And Company.”  Historic Marion, Volume 37, No. 4 Winter 1999, pp 4-5.

[4] 1900 Federal Census, 1910 Federal Census, 1920 Federal Census, 1930 Federal Census.

[5] 1880 US Federal Census.

[6] Westenhouse, 4.  1893 Polk’s City Directory.  Note that the 1895 Census done in Marion County lists Ray as a clerk.

[7] Westenhouse, 5.  1913 Polk’s City Directory.   Sanborn Fire Insurance Map (1895-1915).

[8] There is a little bit of confusion here.  The 1900 Federal Census lists Ray’s Wife Clara as having bore three sons, three of them still living at the time of the Census.  She is enumerated with her husband that year showing sons Ivan L. age 12, Lloyd C. age 10 and Clifford E. age 9.  By the 1910 Federal Census, the family is listed with three sons: Ivan age 22, Ralph age 22 and Clifford age 19.  Assuming Ralph/Lloyd are one in the same, all three worked for their father at either R.M. Wade’s or Ray L. Farmer Hardware.

[9] Later picture is WHC 1981.001.0004.  Woman standing under overhang has a hemline coming to mid-calf, suggesting a much later date than 1913.  The store is located at the 204 Commercial street building, so it must have been taken before 1939.

[10] The entire editorial is reproduced in the Marion County History, Volume 9 1965-1968 pp 12-14.

[11] 1939 Polk’s City Directory; 1940-1941 City Directory.

[12] Polk’s City Directory,1951.

[13] Oregon Death Index lists Clifford’s death on June 1, 1953.  Widowed Edna appears in the 1953-1954 City Directory, listed as the proprietor of the Ray L. Farmer Hardware Company.  She does not appear in the 1955 city directory.