The Coolidge / McClaine - History Con't

day Silverton.

That little berg was formed in 1846 around a lumber mill started by James Smith and John Barger. It was situated on the creek and sat at the mouth of the canyon. It had no room to expand into a proper town. By the early 1850’s, an increase in population meant a need for more houses, etc and Polly Crandall Coon Price, finding herself a widow with 160 acres of Donation Land Claim, decided to have it surveyed and platted for a town and started selling lots. She is credited with naming the town Silverton because of Silver Creek flowing through it.

Businesses started establishing themselves in the new town and Coolidge, wanting to go where he would get the most business, had his two-story mercantile store moved to the new town site. They put it up on logs and with a team of oxen, rolled it towards Silverton. Since it was the rainy season and the road was muddy, it took six months to complete the move; he continued to do a daily business in dry goods from the first floor and lived on the second.

Jake McClaine was born in Sagamore County, Illinois in 1832. His father died when he was very young and he went to live with Abner Allen, eventually crossing the plains with him. His obituary says he came to Silverton in 1859. His first wife was Sarah Coolidge who died in 1871.

Homer Davenport (1867-1912) who grew up in Silverton and was very fond of both men, wrote in the preface of his book “The Country Boy”, Coolidge and McClaine formed a business partnership that lasted for years and they didn’t even have a bookkeeper. However, in the 1990’s Wells Fargo moved into the building that had been the Coolidge and McClaine Bank and donated a number of ledgers to the museum, so someone was keeping records.

The pair was an odd couple: Coolidge in a suit and McClaine always looking a bit rumpled with one pants leg tucked in his boot and the other hanging out. Coolidge was the consummate businessman, owning properties all over the State, he rarely allowed himself a vacation. Homer remembers the two men riding together for hours and never saying a word. The two men apparently agreed on very little except how to run their business. They got started in their partnership by buying a herd of calves, fattened them up and sold them at a healthy profit. They gave out loans to farmers at 10% interest. They were always fair and honest with each other.

Jake McClaine was remembered for his honesty and generosity. He was a humanitarian. Homer tells about the evening a fierce storm started blowing, he and his father had to round up the cows and get the barn door shut before the wind blew it off. In the dark, a dog ran past them; Jake McClaine’s dog. The dog went everywhere that Jake went and sure enough, in a few minutes he came riding by, on his way up into the hills. That would be the Silverton Hills, towards Silver Falls. He told them that a family named Hultt were all sick with diphtheria, several children had been sick and now the parents were sick as well and he was going up to help. (News of diphtheria, smallpox or cholera meant you were quarantined if you were so unfortunate as to become sick with any one of them.)

Homer and his Dad didn’t expect to see Jake again. He would be riding through a bad storm, having to traverse 15 - 20 miles through heavy timber, in the dark, and then exposing himself to a dreaded disease that was often fatal. That was when Homer learned that his family had also been helped by Jake McClaine when they were quarantined with the equally dreaded smallpox. Jake came down the next morning driving a wagon. He had been too late to help the children. Four of them had died and he was coming down to collect four little coffins.

With humor and affection and respect, Homer tells about Jake never missing a funeral. His house was on the corner of the road leading to the cemetery and if a funeral procession rolled by, he would be there at the head of it. It didn’t matter who it was, rich or poor, Jake would be there. Jake McClaine’s house still stands today on the corner of W. Main and McClaine Streets. His daughter Minnie married one of Silverton’s early 20th Century doctors, Dr. Clarence Keene.

There are 40 acres left of Ai Coolidge’s original land holdings. One of his descendants still owns it, raising hay and cattle in the tradition of her great-grandfather.

The pioneer spirit is embodied in these two men. So much courage, stalwartness, and faith in a little town which would continue to grow and prosper into the 21st Century. All thanks to men like Ai Coolidge and Fielding ‘Jake’ McClaine.

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