Vernonia Friendship Jamboree – the First Three Years
When Vernonia’s lumber mill closed in 1957, city leaders decided to change the identity of Vernonia from a mill town to a “Friendship Town.” The three day Fourth of July celebration was newly named the Vernonia Friendship Jamboree. In May, committee members distributed 10,300 wooden nickels to advertise the event that included speeches, a horse show by the Ridge Riders, fireworks provided by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and concessions.
In 1958 the Vernonia Friendship Jamboree name was formerly adopted for the July 4th and 5th celebration. During the planning stages that winter, differences of opinion among committee members led to an editorial by Vernonia Eagle publisher, Walter Kamholz, to ask everyone to pull together to make the event a success. The wooden nickel tradition continued; the 1958 nickel bore an image of the Shay locomotive and citizens were asked to distribute the coins wherever they went. New events were added and the resulting celebration was a success. In addition to the fireworks, parade and Ridge Riders horse show, the Second Annual Jamboree had a golf tournament, an art show, a rock and gem display, a country store that sold local products and crafts, window displays in downtown businesses, and a Jamboree court of six princesses from whom a queen was selected.
1959 was the year of the Oregon Centennial, and towns across the state were encouraged to host their own centennial celebrations. The statewide planners encouraged participants in all local celebrations to wear pioneer clothing and for the men to grow beards. The Friendship Jamboree that year was changed to a one day event on July 18 to separate it from the July Fourth holiday and to make it Vernonia’s Centennial festival. Instead of high school-aged princesses, that year a Centennial Court was formed with women nominated by local organizations including the women’s lodges, the Grange, and P.E.O. Nominees had to have lived in the Upper Nehalem Valley for at least fifty years.
A special “Pony Express” horse relay was set up across the state. Vernonia sent a letter to Salem inviting Oregon’s Governor Mark Hatfield to crown the Centennial Queen. Members of the Ridge Riders relayed the letter in three mile legs from Vernonia to Buxton where the Washington County Sheriff’s posse took the mail further along the route. Unfortunately, the governor’s schedule did not permit that visit.
There were once again differences of opinion on the types of events that should be included and at first not enough citizens showed up at the planning committee meetings. Once again, however, enough Vernonians came together to produce a successful Centennial Jamboree. The parade, chaired by Jim Johns, had over fifty entries and several thousand people watched the parade. For the first time, a logging competition, chaired by Don Webb, was featured along with the Ridge Riders show, class reunions, window displays, concessions, a beard contest, and golf, horseshoe and square dance tournaments.
As we look forward to the 57th Vernonia Friendship Jamboree, let’s take a moment to applaud all the volunteers then and now who have given countless hours to continue this celebration.
From Virgil Powell’s Diary
Virgil Powell was a long-time resident who had a farm in the Upper Nehalem Valley between Natal and Pittsburg. Each year from 1906 until 1955, he kept a regular diary of his activities. Because his diaries ended before the Jamboree was begun, below are a few entries from mid-July of 1915. The entry for July 20th is likely the reason that the Powells didn’t travel for the Fourth of July that year:
Friday, July 16: Went over and cut some grass around the house and was up to Pittsburg where automobile was stuck in forenoon. Rained pretty hard all forenoon but fair in afternoon.
Saturday, July 17: Went up to Vernonia 7:30 A.M. and returned 11 A.M. Cloudy in forenoon but bright and nice in afternoon. Worked at cleaning out the well back of Elliott barn in afternoon.
Tuesday, July 20: Dr. Smith arrived 2:30 A.M. Baby boy arrived 10 A.M. Hauled hay in afternoon. Awful hot all day.
Wednesday, July 21: Hauled hay on Elliott place most all day. Raked and shocked the cheat hay. Terrible hot all day.
The Vernonia Pioneer Museum is located at 511 E. Bridge Street and is open from 1 to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays (excluding holidays) all year. From June through mid-September, the museum is also open on Fridays from 1 – 4 pm. There is no charge for admission but donations are always welcome. Become a member of the museum for an annual $5 fee to receive the periodic newsletter, and if you are a Facebook user, check out the new Vernonia Pioneer Museum page created by Bill Langmaid. The museum volunteers are always pleased to enlist additional volunteers to help hold the museum open and assist in other ways. Please stop by and let one of the volunteers know of your interest in helping out.