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Historic court documents found in Astoria Library basement find home in Salem

Territorial court journals rediscovered
By Katie Frankowicz

The Daily Astorian

Published on November 8, 2017 7:33AM

Astoria presented 168-year-old court journals, discovered in the basement of the Astoria Library, to Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer Tuesday. From left, Astoria City Manager Brett Estes, Mayor Arline LaMear, Library Director Jimmy Pearson, City Councilor Cindy Price and Balmer.

City of Astoria

Astoria presented 168-year-old court journals, discovered in the basement of the Astoria Library, to Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer Tuesday. From left, Astoria City Manager Brett Estes, Mayor Arline LaMear, Library Director Jimmy Pearson, City Councilor Cindy Price and Balmer.

The journals recorded court proceedings from before Oregon was a state.

City of Astoria

The journals recorded court proceedings from before Oregon was a state.

The journals were rediscovered by chance.

City of Astoria

The journals were rediscovered by chance.


Two 168-year-old pieces of Oregon’s judicial history have found a home in Salem after being rediscovered by chance in the basement of the Astoria Library.

On Tuesday, Mayor Arline LaMear and others from the city presented two original journals from the Territorial Court of Clatsop County to Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Balmer. The volumes, dating from 1849 to 1853, will now become part of the State of Oregon Law Library’s special collection. It is likely they are the only copies of the court’s proceedings from that time, said Astoria Library Director Jimmy Pearson.

“We are delighted to give these journals to the Oregon Supreme Court for its legal collection, where we know they will be treasured and preserved as part of Oregon’s legal legacy,” LaMear said in a statement.

LaMear, Pearson, City Manager Brett Estes and City Councilor Cindy Price traveled to Salem to present the journals.

Balmer thanked the mayor and citizens of Astoria “for this wonderful gift,” which he called a “remarkable piece of history.”

The journals are the court’s official record of cases from before Oregon became a state, when the region was known as the Oregon Territory. They record a variety of cases, including a family law case appointing a guardian for a “lad.” The territorial judge at the time was Orville C. Pratt, later known for presiding over Oregon’s first death penalty case and for being the sole dissenter of an Oregon Supreme Court decision to locate the territorial capital in Salem rather than Oregon City.

The journals were rediscovered when Pearson took then newly-elected city councilors Bruce Jones and Tom Brownson on a tour of the basement last November and Jones happened to spot the journals. Over the decades, the basement has become a storage facility of sorts for a variety of documents, books, furniture and other historic items. The state’s law library plans to make electronic and bound copies of the court journals for Astoria, and will also make copies available to historians and scholars in Salem. The originals will be preserved in the law library’s collection of historical legal references.

Pearson is glad to have found a home for the journals. As he and his staff, along with local historic preservationist John Goodenberger, sort through the items in the basement, attempting to prepare the space for upcoming renovation work, they are constantly trying to figure out where things should go.

With each item they uncover, Pearson works through a list of questions: What do we have? How can we best preserve it? How can it best be accessed by the public? And, what is the proper location?

For the court journals, he was able to answer all of those questions when Mayor LaMear presented them to the Supreme Court justice.

“For me, I think knowing what they are and how valuable they are to informing the territorial court history for the state, it just felt like the right place for them to be,” he said.





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