Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Old-timers reminisce on their first Pendleton Christmas

On December 23, 1903, East Oregonian editor Bert Huffman interviewed three longtime Pendleton residents and asked them to relate memories from the first Christmas they spent in Pendleton. Their accounts span just 10 years, but Pendleton grew ten-fold in that short amount of time.

Lot Livermore, Pendleton’s postmaster in 1903, was the town’s oldest continuous resident, arriving in Pendleton in 1869. Livermore recalled that sometime before his arrival in Pendleton the old Goodwin hotel was built, and it was from this point that the city was laid out. The Hotel Pendleton was later built on the site of the Goodwin, and the post office was originally located next to the hotel. Livermore was paid $15 a year, and had to get up twice a night to deliver and receive the mail, which was delivered by stagecoaches.

Livermore said his first Christmas in Pendleton was nothing special. Each family (there were 50 people living in Pendleton in 1869) held their own private celebration, and, while their dinner was a little better than usual, the day “passed off with the sameness of the rest of the year” — no big rush at the store, and nothing to denote the arrival of the holidays.

Veteran miller W.S. Byers came to Pendleton in the fall of 1874 to make arrangements to put up a flour mill, though he didn’t arrive in Pendleton to start work until almost Christmas of that year. Byers said when he first arrived in Pendleton the road where Court street now runs was a ravine 16 feet deep, which had to be filled in before the lumber and other building materials for the mill could be delivered. He next visited his property on Christmas Eve 1874, and spent Christmas Day overseeing the progress of the mill’s construction. It snowed hard that day, and by the time he was ready to return to Walla Walla, where he owned another mill, the snow was two feet deep and Byers had to borrow a sleigh and team for the drive home.

Byers said on that day he stood at the mill property and counted just 50 roofs in the direction of what is now the business section of Pendleton (which included the barns).

Another old-timer, Jesse Failing, recounted his first Christmas memory, from 1879. Failing came to Pendleton from Umatilla, where he had owned a hotel. About 100 families lived in Pendleton at the time, and the entire business section of Pendleton was in the block occupied by the Hotel Pendleton and Lot Livermore’s post office.

On Christmas Eve of that year, Failing said the town of about 500 people gathered at the Sanford hotel for a dance and sheet-and-pillow case party. The house was so crowded there was no room to dance. Everyone at the party, young and old, wore a pillow case over their heads, with the corners stuffed out to make horns, and the party lasted until dawn. Christmas Day 1879, Failing recalled, was a rather quiet affair.

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