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Evacuate the Area: Emergency Housing Surveys in Oregon

The Red Cross was at the top of the list of organizations and agencies needed to "insure successful operation" of Oregon's elaborate evacuation plan. (Image source: 3)

The Red Cross was at the top of the list of organizations and agencies needed to "insure successful operation" of Oregon's elaborate statewide evacuation plan. (Image source: 1)

"Our Darkest Hour of Peril"
Evacuation plans were part of the worst case scenario of enemy invasion. Many people didn't really want to even contemplate the possibility, but officials knew that it would be irresponsible to fail to plan for the possibility. Of course, the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor brought the danger into fuller focus for many Oregonians. Reflecting the fact that the Pacific Coast states were declared to be part of a military theatre of operations, military authorities required each state to develop detailed plans and submit them for approval.

Overall state evacuation plans
Oregon's evacuation plan contemplated the removal of all civilians from the state who were not considered to be essential to the defense of the area. It covered a range from "the new-born infant to the helpless aged," including planning for their transportation, health, medical care, hospitalization, food, registration, and final resettlement.

If an enemy attack came, Marion County civilian defense officials wanted to be able to evacuate people from the affected area to emergency housing. (Folder 2, Box 34, Defense Council Records, OSA)

If an enemy attack came, Marion County civilian defense officials wanted to be able to evacuate people from the affected area to emergency housing. A survey following Pearl Harbor looked for available housing across the county. (Folder 2, Box 34, Defense Council Records, OSA)

The plan anticipated three phases: the initial phase covered a war incident that caused damage to a limited area. For this situation, the few affected people could be cared for at a local evacuation assembly center. The secondary phase foresaw the need to move a larger population after a widespread invasion. This phase would require military approval to begin the evacuation and would involve coordination with the Red Cross as well as with numerous government agencies related to transportation, medical services, health, public welfare, police, and other areas of jurisdiction. A third phase predicted a voluntary movement of much of the population to inland states. (view PDF-40 pages)(1)

Emergency housing surveys ordered
The attack on Pearl Harbor triggered an urgent effort in Marion County to identify emergency housing for evacuees in the event of an attack by Japanese forces in the area. Local civilian defense officials reasoned that if one community or town were hit by an air raid, its residents could move temporarily to another community. So, on December 7, 1941, as Oregonians were absorbing the news of the devastating bombing of Oahu, the new chairman of the Marion County Housing Committee was hard at work composing letters to civilian defense workers around the county. He called for surveys of all available emergency housing...

"just as our hour of darkest peril seems nearest at hand...."(2)

Two volunteers drove past this old school house near Woodburn and received offers for housing in shacks and barns that may not have looked much better. (Photo no. 4165 courtesy of Salem Public Library)

Marion County civilian defense volunteers fanned out across the county searching for potential housing in case of emergency. Two volunteers drove past this old school house near Woodburn and received offers for housing in shacks and barns that may not have looked much better. (Photo no. 4165 courtesy of Salem Public Library)

Accommodations offered in private homes
The new chairman, Don Madison, asked for lists of both private and public buildings that were available throughout the county as well as the number of evacuees that each could accommodate. Building examples included private homes, hotels, apartments, warehouses, armories, factories, government buildings, and convalescent homes. Workers fanned out across the county, often going door-to-door to survey residents. Mrs Blaine McCord and Mrs. Ray Glatt drew the assignment of heading west along the Woodburn-St. Paul Road. Stopping at each farm house along the way, they made notations about the housing capacity of each. For example, they noted that Mrs. J.C. Claiborne had "no room - small house" while Bart Lavier could house two evacuees and also had a barn with hay in it, presumably suitable for sleeping on in an emergency. Anthony Sule's house had "no room (wife is blind)" while Mary Jobst's home also had "no room (mental case)." Many residents, it seems, were looking out for family first. Thus, Lee Muck of Gervais was planning on taking in two relatives while Fred Warner was "reserving room for 3 Portland relatives" and thus had no room for other potential evacuees.(3)

Some residents surveyed in private homes had problems of their own but were willing to help anyway. A. Engelhardt of the Gervais area was described as being "very old" but was willing to take in an evacuee. Charles Lackey apparently suffered from housekeeping problems - "dirty" - but volunteered to host six evacuees while the widow Margaret Shafer would host two. W.C. Rogers was down on his luck but still wanted to contribute. His house had burned down and he was living in a woodshed but yet he offered his barn to provide emergency housing. Despite the hardship it would cause in their homes, several of people were willing to provide housing to a large number of evacuees. F.E. Wehrman and Mrs. Harold Sargent each offered room for ten people while Blain McCord (husband to one of the housing surveyors) and Harris Nelson would put out the welcome mats for 12 people each. For others, the hardship probably would have been for the evacuees. C. I. Kropf offered to put up a small family in a tiny shack while E.S. Hayes would open up his "onion house."(4)

Officials conducted a careful survey of the Silverton business district in search of emergency housing space. (Scenic image no. marD0005, OSA)

Officials conducted a careful survey of the Silverton business district in search of emergency housing space. (Scenic image no. marD0005, OSA)

Space available in larger buildings
Surveyors also canvassed the emergency housing capacity of collective and public buildings. Thus, in Silverton they found that the Calvary Lutheran and the Trinity Lutheran could each house 50 evacuees on cots as well as feed 100 mouths. The Anderson Hotel had six double beds for 12 people while the Silverton Hospital had 24 beds available. Numerous lodges and clubs had space for evacuees. The Woodmen of the World (W.O.W.) Hall had two floors with about 30 feet by 40 feet of space each. With a wide stairway, bathrooms on each floor, heat, and kitchen facilities, it would make a good temporary home for a large number of people. The "Commercial Club Rooms" had similar space but was hampered by a "high narrow stairway." Underutilized schools, such as the Washington Irving School in Silverton, could contribute unused rooms. Warehouses, such as the county-owned Fischer Brick Warehouse, were often large but in many cases lacked "sanitary facilities."(5)

Shown above is the exercise yard at the Oregon State Insane Asylum in about 1905. (Photo no. OSH0023, Oregon State Hospital Records, OSA)

Enlarge image
Civilian defense officials wanted to use various state institutions for housing in the event of an emergency during the war. Shown above is the exercise yard at the Oregon State Insane Asylum in about 1905. (Photo no. OSH0023, Oregon State Hospital Records, OSA)

In the days after Pearl Harbor, Carl Sumner Knopf, president of Willamette University, made a generous offer of space for emergency housing in the event of attack. He ordered workers to "clear a number of vacant rooms that have been used for storage.... However, our staff is small, and we may not be able to get them entirely cleared even by the end of the Christmas holidays." His big offer of space, however, came in the form of Kimball Hall. The university had vacated the hall and had been talking about what to do with it: "There was some thought of making it an emergency dormitory for men until after the war, when we could get materials to build a proper dormitory. Believing that the hall could be an important component of the emergency housing plan, Knopf cautioned that the University did not have the staff or funds to prepare the building for evacuee use but "if your committee could thoroughly clean the building and take care of a few minor roof leaks and heat the unit, I see no reason why the University could not turn it over to you for the duration." Knopf admitted to some embarrassment about the condition of the hall but maintained that with some work the building could contribute to the civilian defense needs of the county:

"Of course, in making this proposal we certainly are not offering you any Biltmore Hotel. We are almost ashamed of the building, and yet, it is a well-built structure. Properly painted, it would not be unattractive. It has much space in it. A good work crew could do much with it in a very short time. I believe it might constitute the largest single unit available in Salem. Would you be interested at all?"(6)

No record of a response from the Marion County Defense Council to Knopf about his offer appears in the records, however, the Salem area was nevertheless able to muster considerable accommodations for emergency housing. While estimates varied, survey officials determined that about 16,500 people could be maintained in state buildings and institutions in the area, including 2,000 each at the Oregon State Penitentiary and Oregon State Hospital and 1,000 each at the Oregon Fairview Home and the State Tuberculosis Hospital. Except during fire season, the Forestry Department could offer housing to 5,000 people while the State Fairgrounds "will accomadate [sic] 5000 for housing and they have available sufficient cafeteria accomadations [sic] to feed that group of people." One estimate concluded that Salem public schools had the ability to house up to 50,000 individuals but another pegged the number at about 10,000. Area churches could add hundreds more. A survey counted space for about 12,000 to 14,000 people in residences in the city, however, officials cautioned that "the caring for evacuees in private homes would entail a great deal of detail and would likely by [be] the last place resorted to."(7)

Notes:
1. "The State of Oregon Basic Plan for Evacuation" Restricted Tentative Draft, June 7, 1943. Folder 14, Box 22, Defense Council Records, OSA.
2. Letter from Don Madison to Tom Allen, December 7, 1941. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA.
3. Emergency Housing Survey List, Woodburn-St. Paul Road, circa December 1941. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA.
4. Ibid.
5. Emergency Housing Survey List, Silverton, circa December 1941. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA.
6. Letter from Carl Sumner Kropf to Leonard Kephart, December 11, 1941. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA.
7. Letter from Mary Schannep to Don Madison, January 23, 1942. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA; Letter from Don Madison to Irl McSherry, July 21, 1942. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA; Letter from Roy H. Mills to Don Madison, July 22, 1942. Folder 52, Box 27, Defense Council Records, OSA.

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