Original Brush College Schoolhouse built in 1860.  Photo courtesy of Salem-Keizer School District.

Original Brush College Schoolhouse built in 1860.
Photo courtesy of Salem-Keizer School District.

In the past few weeks this question has come up several times here at the Willamette Heritage Center from people within our community and a person living out of state. The latest phone call came from a gentleman living in Minnesota. According to a self-published book containing the genealogy of his wife’s family, Asahel Bush founded a city and college named after himself, “Bush College” somewhere in the vicinity of Salem, Oregon. Our gentleman caller’s question? Where exactly was the college located in Salem and when was it founded.

We all recognize the name of Asahel Bush, prominent editor and publisher of the Oregon Statesman during the second half of the 19th century and partner with W. S. Ladd in the Salem Ladd & Bush Bank. Bush house in Salem is listed in the National Register and a central feature of Bush Pasture Park. But a Bush College? Let’s turn first to the book Oregon Geographic Names.

The name Bush was indeed a geographic location named after Asahel Bush, but for a station on the Burlington Northern line in north Salem. It is not affiliated with a college or institution of learning. A quick perusal of maps from that time period confirm this information and its location. The only “college” or institution of higher learning in Salem at that time period was Willamette University. It was not founded or named for Mr. Bush though he did serve in the first group of trustees when the university was incorporated in 1852-53.

Now using the same source, Oregon Geographic Names, we look for the name Brush College. Across the river, located in the southeastern part of the Eola Hills, was indeed a small community with a school and church named Brush College. Further research indicates that in 1860, a 25 x 30 foot schoolhouse was built by the growing community. It was named for its location among thick brush and trees and because some of the original students were of an advanced age, often due to the farm work that took precedence over attending school. The original schoolhouse was later torn down and a new one built in 1909, just east of the original location. In 1912 an addition including another classroom and basement was added to the north side of the school, a section of which still exists today.

Further information about the original settlement of Brush College can be found in a Oregon Statesman article by Mrs. W. N. Crawford dated October 8, 1931.

Residents of Brush College Take Keen Interest in Events of Area; Several Organizations Are Active

Brush College, one of the sightly spots of the Willamette valley, is situated in the northeastern part of Polk county three and a half miles north of Salem and is a thriving and progressive community. The school district was organized in 1860.

Named by Funsters In a spirit of fun and derision the new one-room school house which was surrounded by trees and brush was “dubbed” Brush College by the three Gibson brother. Breeze, Dorr and Cass and the late John and Byron Harritt and the name still clings to the district.

History of School Land for the school site was donated by David Pettyman and was part of the O. C. Hasford land claim. Lumber for building was hauled from a sawmill at Eola by Adam Hamilton and Jesse Harritt and the building was constructed by donation of labor. The first teacher was M. Williams. The district now has a modern two-room school building which is the only center for community recreation.

Clubs are Active A Parent-Teachers association was organized March 14, 1914, but in 1920 was changed to the Brush College Community club. It is incorporated and holds title to six acres of land east of the school house deeded to the club for a community picnic ground by Mrs. Cornelia Harritt, widow of Byron Harritt.

Start Grange ’20 The Brush College helpers was organized in 1912 by Mrs. C. A. Park and Mrs. Charles H. Smith. This organization is for the women of the community, holding meetings twice a month and doing welfare work. The Brush College grange was organized January 24, 1920.

Record of Church The Brush College Sunday school was organized April 14, 1910, has never missed a Sunday and is self supporting. The Sunday school paid for one acre of ground at the Children’s Farm Home near Corvallis and has taken an active part in many missionary enterprises. Boys and girls of Brush College are active in 4-H club work and are well organized with competent leaders. The one big event of the year is the annual homecoming picnic in June which is held at the community picnic grounds, with between 100 and 200 present.

Some Homesteaders The first homesteads were settled here in 1849 by O. C. Hasford, R. W. Hamilton, Jesse Harritt, E. T. Hasford, Francis Moffitt, A. S. Hamilton, John Martin and Lewis Parkhurst while in 1850 the families of Horace Rice, Robert Godfrey, E. V. Gholsen and J. C. Chitwood filed upon homesteads. The occupation of the first generation of settlers was general farming, but now fruit and berries are grown extensively.