A Brief History of Mt. David
Mt. David, known affectionately to most as "the Hill," has a long and varied history spanning thousands of years of human influence. First, of course, came the Native Americans. They established villages on Mt. David and in the surrounding area near the waterways, living harmoniously with wildlife and, later, with the white settlers, who arrived about 1847. The Kalapuya held sacred a large rock outcropping on Mt. David, to which they came twice or more yearly (and still come) to perform ceremonies of their Creation Story. Sheepherders and farmers arrived somewhat after the mid -1850's, and were still on the mountain as late as the 1940's.
Two McFarland brothers from Missouri were the first of the pioneers to settle on Mt. David, in 1850. They wished to build on high ground in their new home, having experienced flooding along the Missouri River. David McFarland, an early descendent of the McFarland brothers, proved to be a significant person in Cottage Grove's history. He donated land for the local Catholic Church (now the Cottage Grove museum), established a family cemetery on Mt. David, and had several homes, one of which still exists at the corner of Birch and River Rd. The cemetery is now owned by the Cottage Grove Historical Society, which is in the process of restoring it. In addition to the McFarland family, several Kalapuya Indians are buried there, who were trusted and loyal employees of the family.
As the small twin towns of Cottage Grove and Lemati grew in the late 1800's (they eventually merged), businesses were established and circuses and other celebrations began to be held. A band of gypsies arrived every year to entertain during this era, and they camped on the Veatch land on Mt. David. The Indians, though diminishing in number, got along well with the whites. Children from both groups played together happily on Mt. David, hunting, sliding down the slopes, and participating in games; Indian and white adults held picnics, walks, and other recreational activities. One white resident of the town, G. E. Finnerty, remarked that he spent most of his boyhood in an Indian village. Modern-day children and adults alike still enjoy hiking, sledding, games, and solitude on "the Hill."
Around 1890, a public well in Cottage Grove was condemned, and private wells began to disappear. Two prominent citizens, R. M. Veatch and G. H. Stone, erected a reservoir on Mt. David; wooden pipes were laid and hydrants built. Water began to flow down to the town from Bennett Creek in 1892. This water was invaluable to the City, as well may be imagined, not only to drink but also to fight fires. A family of less than six persons in a single private residence was charged $1.50 per month.
In 1923, one Reverend Olsen came to town with a convincing story that oil lay beneath Mt. David's slopes.
He bilked locals of many thousands of dollars, then skipped town without producing one drop of oil. The 100-foot-tall derrick stood until 1933, when it fell with a crash heard for miles. The spot where this all took place is still visible on top of Mt. David. Recently, a core plug from this well was found and now resides in the Cottage Grove Museum. The twenties also saw the rising popularity of motorcycle hill climbing on Mt. David's east face, which has a grade of 80%. These annual contests were sponsored by the Eugene Motorcycle Association. In 1926, there were 40 entrants who attracted a crowd of 6,000 persons.
A woman who lived in Cottage Grove from 1936 to 1954 summed it up when she wrote from her new home in Palmer, Alaska that Mt. David is indeed a "wondrous place." Others have noted its role as the City's "playground," and "place of cultural and historical interest." It certainly is all of this, and more. It truly holds a very special place in the hearts of Cottage Grove citizens.
- By Celia Scott