Newberg History

Newberg Historic Home Tour and Garden Party

Yamhill County Enrichment Society

Yamhill County Enrichment Society

Yamhill County’s Most Interesting City

By George Edmonston Jr. – Newberg Historical Society

One hundred years ago, folks living in and around Newberg referred to this section of Yamhill County as the “Grubby End.” Simply put, the soil wasn’t as good for farming as, say, over around Lafayette or McMinnville or across the Willamette River in French Prairie.

At least that was the perception. The fact that Newberg was the last major settlement in the entire northern Willamette Valley to incorporate–the year was 1889–seemed to bear this out. The towns of Lafayette and Yamhill date to 1843. Amity dates to 1849, Dayton to 1850, McMinnville to 1876, Sheridan to 1880.

A town with a future

But the perception was wrong, as those who moved here soon found out. By the turn of the century, the “Grubby End” had become a badge of honor, sustained by the knowledge that the settlers had taken a piece of ground many thought was second-rate and turned it into a first-rate place to live and conduct business, a place to raise a family, a town that had respect…and a future.

Prior to Oregon’s statehood, Indian tribes and bands lived throughout the Willamette Valley for centuries. Within the Newberg area, the most prominent of these were the Yamhelas of the Kalapuya tribe.

Settlement of the Oregon Country

It was to this area, to the Chehalem Valley and a spot about four miles west of Newberg, that Tennessean Ewing Young built a house in 1834. Into this grassy wilderness, dotted with oak, Douglas fir and surrounded by treeless hills, Young became the first non-native settler in history to make his home on the west side of the Willamette River in Oregon’s lush Willamette Valley.

Young built the first grist mill in the Willamette Valley, the first lumber mill, and the first still for making whiskey, much to the chagrin of his Methodist missionary neighbors living to the south in what would one day be the city of Salem.  He was also the Valley’s first cattle baron. In short, settlement of the Oregon Country by European-Americans begins here in Newberg.

In 1869, Newberg was given its name by its first postmaster, Sebastian Brutscher, who named the town after his Bavarian hometown of Newburgh.

Friends (Quaker) Influence

By the 1880s, the Newberg area had become heavily influenced by the Friends (Quaker) Church. This was after William Hobson, a zealous Quaker minister from Iowa, visited Oregon. He attracted a sizable number of followers to the valley, mainly from Indiana and Iowa. In 1885, the Quakers started Friends Pacific Academy, now George Fox University. They, more than any other group of settlers, did more to take a collection of farmsteads and transform them into a town.

Across Hess Creek just to the east of downtown is Friends Cemetery, the final resting place of George Mitchell, the man who shot and killed Edmund Creffield, the most famous American religious cult leader of the early 20th century. Next door, the Fernwood Cemetery is the final resting place of many of Newberg’s most significant pioneers and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

From peaches to nuts to grapes, an agrarian heritage

It was once reported that England’s Queen Elizabeth would eat peaches grown only in the orchards of Springbrook, a long-ago thriving agricultural community just to the northeast of downtown and now a neighborhood undergoing a remarkable transformation under the vision of A-dec co-owner Joan Austin, Newberg’s most successful businesswoman.

Due to the many hazelnut (filbert) orchards in the valley, Newberg proudly calls itself the “hazelnut capitol of the world.” As nut and berry fields are replanted with wine grapes, Newberg has begun to pride itself as the gateway city to the finest pinot noir grapes and wine in the world.

Portfolio of achievement

Newberg in the last 50 years has become one of Oregon’s most dynamic small cities, with a portfolio of achievement virtually unrivaled by any community of the same size in the Pacific Northwest.

  • Newberg is the only city or town in the Northwest to have produced a president of the United States, Herbert Hoover.
  • Newberg is the home of A-dec, the world’s largest manufacturer of dental equipment. Co-owner Ken Austin was Oregon State University’s first Benny Beaver, the school’s famous student mascot and a national college sports icon.
  • The co-inventor of the artificial heart valve was from here, Miles Lowell Edwards, the same man who invented the first gasoline pumps that allowed airplanes to fly at high altitude.
  • Alex Schomburg moved to Newberg from New York City in the 1950s and stayed until he passed away in 1998. A legendary comic book cover illustrator, he created images for Captain America, the Human Torch and other icon characters of the genre. Said Marvel Comics’ Editor-in-Chief Stan Lee of Schomburg:  “Alex Schomburg was to comic books what Norman Rockwell was to The Saturday Evening Post. When it came to illustrating covers, there simply was no one else in Alex’s league.”
  • Except for Dayton, Newberg has more sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places than any other city or town in Yamhill County.
  • Oregon’s next-to-last surviving Civil War veteran was a long-time resident and passed away here in 1943.

A championship history

Major league baseball legend Billy Sullivan, catcher for the 1906 world champion Chicago White Sox, retired and died here. He raised a son in Newberg who also went on to a career in the big leagues. Pat Casey, coach of the two-time NCAA Div. I baseball national champions at Oregon State University, grew up in Newberg and won seven conference titles as coach at George Fox University. Newberg’s teams have their own history of success. George Fox has won NCAA Div. III national titles in women’s basketball and baseball. Newberg High has won multiple state titles in wrestling and water polo.

Downtown: the historic heart of Newberg

Learn more about the history of Newberg’s historic downtown.

Take a walk through time

To help you experience the history of our town, we’ve created a walking tour of downtown Newberg.