Not long after I moved to Lake Oswego, people familiar with the history of the town asked me if I was related to early pioneers, the Prosser family. I am not, but sharing the same last name naturally made me curious about them.
Henry and Mary Prosser came to the Oswego area in 1852-53 with their three children: William, Esther, and George W. from Illinois where the 1850 Federal Census reported them living. Their youngest son, George W. was born on December 20, 1847 in Iowa. (Some sources say George was born in 1846, but his headstone and three Federal censuses say 1847.)
The family reportedly arrived in Clackamas County on June 25, 1853. Henry and Mary Prosser took out a Donation Land Claim (a precursor of the Homestead Act) of 320 acres on what is now Iron Mountain. They built a house and farmed the land. At some point, Henry abandoned his wife and son and disappeared. Mary filed for divorce, but court records indicate that Mary was blamed for her husband’s desertion. It was unlikely that the divorce would have been granted until Frances Tryon (widow of Dr. Socrates Tryon) and others testified on her behalf. The court not only granted Mary’s divorce, but it also gave her sole title to the Prosser land.
Iron was discovered on the Prosser Donation Land Claim in 1861. It is not known who discovered the iron ore on the property. Mary Prosser leased the ore bed to the Oregon Iron Company, and they paid her for the value of the ore they extracted. This mine became a major supplier of iron ore to the iron furnace located in present day George Rogers Park on the Willamette River. Mary operated a boarding house for the Oregon Iron Company from 1867 to 1869 when the furnace closed. Mary sold the Donation Land Claim and the iron mine to a group of eastern investors represented by the Hawley, Dodd, & Co. in 1872. The marshy area at the foot of Iron Mountain where the Oswego Hunt Club is now located was once known as Prosser’s swale. Mary Prosser died September 22, 1873 and is buried in the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery.
The 1870 Federal Census lists George’s occupation as Laborer. That would change not long thereafter. Sometime around 1871 to1873, George married Lucy E. Bullock, daughter of early pioneers Jesse and Nancy Bullock. The Bullocks owned a Donation Land Claim which stretched from the present day Oswego Pioneer Cemetery and the Municipal Golf course over to near the present day Christie School. George and Lucy had three daughters, all of whom died before their third year.
George opened Prosser’s Store in Old Town Oswego at 205 Durham Place (now Durham St.) very close to the Odd Fellows Hall which stands to this day. George was very active in the Odd Fellows and helped to build the Oddfellows Hall. George was also very supportive of Odd Fellows members and helped to arrange funerals for members and their families. His interest in helping grieving families may have been as the result of the loss of his three young daughters.
In 1880, George was elected to the Oregon House of Representatives on the Republican ticket. He only served one term, but was apparently well respected and considered a progressive legislator. In 1881, Jesse Bullock, with the help of his son-in-law, George Prosser set aside five acres of Bullock’s land for what became the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery and the Sacred Heart Cemetery. George Prosser laid out the Pioneer cemetery plat. Jesse and George operated the cemetery until 1892 when they turned it over to the Oregon Iron and Steel Company to use as a burial ground for their employees and community members.
Lucy Bullock Prosser died in 1887 at the age of 36. George married Gerhardina “Dena” Brownleewe in 1888. Their daughter, Sylver, was born in 1890 followed by a son, George T., in 1891, and second daughter, Dena, in1893. Unfortunately, son George T. died in 1894, followed by his mother, Dena, in 1895.
The second photograph below shows the funeral procession for Dena Prosser on Durham St. in Old Town. The procession consisted of some 400 people which provides some evidence for the regard the townspeople held for the Prosser Family.
George married his third wife, Susan (Susie) in 1896, In that year, George built the family a new house on Furnace St. Furnace St, had become the preferred residential area for the managerial class and many prominent families were located there. That year, he also moved his store from Old Town to New Town (present day First Addition).
On May 9, 1900, The Oregonian carried an article about George Prosser, who was “as usual” the first man to travel the Mt. Hood road after the winter break. Accompanied by his wife, Susie (who was not recognized as the first woman of the season to travel the road that year), they left the Oregonian Building at 6th and Alder in downtown Portland at 4:40 a.m. on May 6 on bicycles and arrived at “the cabin” on Mt. Hood at 6 p.m. that evening, a trip of some 60 miles. (“The cabin” is not identified, but a memoir written by Esther (Kelly) Watson contained in “Off to Mt. Hood,” by Ivan M. Woolley, M.D. stated that the Prossers had a one-room cabin in Government Camp. The memoir also states that the Prossers — George, Susie, Sylver, and Dena — used to bicycle up from Portland to visit the cabin, including pushing their bicycles the last 10 miles uphill from the Toll Gate.) The news article states that this May 1900 excursion was a full 2 months earlier than the prior year, when George (no mention of Susie) joined a party of men who went up to the mountain on July 3 “to give the illumination intended as a part of the celebration.” This is apparently a reference to the custom back in the late 1800s and early 1900s for a group of hikers to go up to Mt. Hood to build a bonfire at Illumination Rock (hence the name), The bonfire was lit in the evening on July 4th, and it could be seen from Portland. In fairness to the Oregonian, the news article does praise Susie Prosser: “The achievement of Mrs. Prosser is one a man might well cherish as an athletic performance.” Too bad the reporter did not know that the daughters also made this trip regularly, if not on May 6.
According to The Oregonian in an article on January 7, 1910, the Oswego Post Office was robbed by a man posing as an “Inspector” on December 29, 1909. The “Inspector” made off with $402.25 (nearly $8,000 in 2020). Following that, Postmaster George Prosser received a letter from the thief dated January 2, 1910 from San Francisco. The taunting letter started out, “Dear Prossy, Just a line or two to let you know that I arrived safely, after a nice trip down on the “Shasta Limited” at your expense. I had a nice upper berth and slept well…” The letter goes on to state, “I have just drunk your health in a bottle of Mum’s Extra Dry, at $7.50 (nearly $200 in 2020.)” The letter came with a clipping about the robbery from the San Francisco paper with a hand-written note on the bottom, “Oh, but you were easy.” The thief was never caught or identified.
The 1910 Federal Census lists George’s occupation as Postmaster, wife Susan as Seamstress, Daughter Sylver as Stenographer, and daughter Dena as Deputy Postmaster. Both Sylver and Dena married and had families of their own. George Prosser died February 7, 1917, and the Prosser name in Oswego history passed with him. He is buried in the Oswego Pioneer Cemetery with his second family and near his first family and his mother.
All communities have a rich and varied past. All of them also have had a succession of citizens that have helped the community to grow and prosper. Some communities survive. Others do not. Successful communities owe a lot to the past, and it is important to remember that past. Sometimes, remnants of that past survive into the modern age and it is important to preserve and protect those remnants to help us to remember where we came from. That is what the Lake Oswego Preservation Society is all about. There is not much left to remember the Prossers by: a closed mine, some stones in a graveyard, and an Odd Fellows Hall now converted into apartments. But the past is still there, and with the help of the Lake Oswego Preservation Society and dedicated volunteers and property owners, we will continue to honor our past.
- Lake Oswego Public Library Historical Photograph Collection and the Clackamas County Historical Society
- Mary Prosser Headstone, Craig Prosser
- 1850, 1860, 1870,1880,1900, and 1910 Federal Censuses
- AccessGeneology — A contemporaneous Biographical Sketch of George Prosser
- Iron, Wood, & Water by Ann Fulton 2002
- Lake Oswego Vignettes, Illiterate Cows to College-Educated Cabbages by Marylou Colver 2012
- Lake Oswego Review, April 16, 2016, “Oswego Pioneer Cemetery Links LO to Its Past”
- Off to Mt. Hood, by Ivan M. Woolley, M.D.
- Oswego Pioneer Cemetery Headstones
- The Oregonian, 5/9/1900, “To Mt, Hood on Wheels”
- The Oregonian, 2/7/1910, “Burglar Writes of Joy”
- The Oregonian, 2/8/1917 George W. Prosser Mortuary Notice
- The Oregonian, 2/18/1917, George Prosser Obituary
Special thanks to Susanna Kuo for sharing research on the Prosser family that she, Erin O’Rourke-Meadors, and Richard Santee had put together. Susanna is also a great researcher and editor. I appreciate her help and advice very much.
Special thanks also to Dan Meeker, an old friend, who found the information about the Prosser Cabin in Government Camp for me.