Black pioneer Reuben Shipley’s farmland donation in 1861 to establish Mount Union Cemetery near Philomath will be the subject of a new Oregon State Historical Marker to be erected along Main Street, possibly in the vicinity of Newton Creek Park.
The Baha’i Faith in Corvallis and the NAACP Corvallis/Albany branch recommended the creation of the marker to the Oregon Travel Experience. The marker will share details about the lives of former slaves Reuben and Mary Jane Shipley, who were a part of the old Plymouth community east of Philomath and with their children, were at the time the only Black residents in Benton County.
According to Roger Blaine, who is heading up the project, the Oregon Travel Experience and the Oregon Department of Transportation approved the placement of the marker. The Philomath Park Advisory Board learned about plans for the marker at its April 8 meeting with City Manager Chris Workman and Blaine filling in the details.
According to online information published by the Oregon Travel Information Council, the markers are “designed to encourage motorists to stop and explore the state’s diverse regional history, culture and geology.”
Blaine attended the board meeting looking for input but did say that ODOT wanted the marker to be placed close to the highway, which is Main Street within the city limits.
“The preference for the state is to have it in a popular location to gain traffic,” Blaine said. “These kinds of things attract people who are interested in history from other parts of the state and having it accessible to Main Street is a big part of the process.”
The marker would include a map with information to direct visitors to the cemetery.
Blaine said the city would not be responsible in any way for the marker.
“The state has responsibility for its design, construction and placement, and ultimately, its maintenance in the future,” he said.
Mount Union Cemetery is located just outside the city limits in an area north of the intersection where Bellfountain Road, Plymouth Drive, Mount Union Avenue and Southwood Drive meet.
Shipley divided 2 acres from the northwest corner of his 80-acre farm and donated the land for the cemetery, which was created on May 11, 1861, one month after the Civil War started. According to the Mount Union Cemetery’s historical section on its website, Shipley took the action under the condition that Black individuals could be buried on the grounds.
Mount Union Cemetery — named as such to show unity with the anti-slavery Northern forces during the Civil War — was also unofficially known for many years as Newton Cemetery. The Newton family owned land north and west of the cemetery and many members of that family were interred on the grounds.
Twelve years after the land donation, Shipley died in 1873 and was buried at the cemetery under the name of Reuben Ficklin. His wife remarried, lived many more years and was also buried at Mount Union.
The cemetery grew in size to 6.7 acres in later years after owners of what had been the Shipley property sold more land to the Mount Union Cemetery Association.
Following a brief discussion, the Park Advisory Board unanimously gave the project and its location a thumbs up with the matter to be forwarded to the City Council. Blaine had been seeking permission for the marker to be placed on city property.
“We’ll work on the exact location but right now, it’s just conceptual for it to be in that area,” Workman said.
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