St. Paul is located north of Salem, Oregon. It is one mile northwest of the Willamette River and about one and a half miles north-northwest of the spot where the Yamhill River empties into the Willamette. Nearby communities are Dayton, about four miles northwest, and St. Louis, about six miles to the southeast.
In 1813, the Northwest Fur Company established the Willamette Trading Post about three miles north of present-day St. Paul. In 1821, the Northwest Fur company became part of the larger Hudson's Bay Company (HBC).
In 1826, the HBC established a ferry crossing the Willamette River. It ran from a point about two miles northwest of present-day St. Paul to a point directly across the river and about a mile below where the Yamhill River empties into the Willamette. The Indians had used the crossing point because the river was narrow during the summertime, and there was a wide gravel bench.
In 1829, some of the retired French Canadian employees of the HBC asked to settle their families in the present-day St. Paul area. The HBC policy was that their employees were to go back to the place where they were hired; they were not to put down roots. Dr. John McLoughlin, HBC Chief Factor, negotiated to have this rule set aside, and settlement began on the prairie.
The prairie where the French-Canadian retirees settled was set in a prehistoric lake bed with deep rich soil. For centuries, the Indians burned it in order to keep it open as a range for game. Etienne Lucier is generally considered to be the first farmer on the Prairie and in Oregon. His farm was about three and a half miles north of St. Paul.
The earliest farmsteads lay along the bottomlands. Later settlers spread inland to St. Louis and Gervais, but the greatest concentration clustered around St. Paul on the old brigade trail over the Chehalem Mountains to Fort Vancouver.
The French Canadians, with their native wives and mixed-blood children, were Catholic. They formed a prairie island in the midst of vast forests and tried to recreate the culture as they remembered it from their youth in Canada. They danced and fiddled and sang, raced their ponies, and kept a big pot of pea soup simmering on the hearth. Families were wedded in a web of intermarriages and unity within the Church.
The French Canadian era lasted about 20 years before waves of American covered wagon pioneers entered the Prairie. Most of the settlers were Catholic, and the Prairie community remains firm with a common bond within the Catholic Church.
St. Paul Church
The settlers petitioned the Bishop Provencher in Quebec for a priest—several times. When Fathers F. N. Blanchet and Modeste Demers arrived in the territory in late 1838, a log church was ready for them at St. Paul. The first mass was offered on 6 January 1839. The log church was replaced by a brick building in 1846.
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St. Paul Mission Historical Society
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