Phoenix Historical Museum Collections

The Phoenix Historical Society has a rich collection of photographs, artifacts, and textual materials documenting the Phoenix community and many are on display in the Museum. Some displays change or are modified when items are donated or loaned to the Museum. Among the permanent outside displays is a horse drawn spray rig once used in the Phoenix orchards, an early 19th century jail, and beams salvaged from the Colver House when it burned. Also in the collection are many photographs of notable residents and historic Phoenix homes and a growing collection of images that represent Phoenix Rising. Here are just a few of the primary collections displayed in the Museum. Photographs and many documents have been digitized thanks to a 2021 ARPA grant administered by the State Library of Oregon and a 2022 Oregon Heritage grant.

Index of scanned photographs (.pdf) [use zoom to expand view]

Index of scanned photographs (.xlsx) [view only]

Phoenix History

Old Phoenix

The Phoenix area was settled in about 1851 by brothers Hiram and Samuel Colver. Samuel Colver laid out the town in 1854. Early residents included Milton Lindley, who operated a sawmill that provided timbers in 1854 for a blockhouse as well as a flouring mill owned by Sylvester M. Wait. For a time, the settlement was known locally as Gasburg after a talkative employee in the kitchen serving the mill hands. Wait, who was an agent for the Phoenix Insurance Company of Hartford, Connecticut, assigned the official name Phoenix, to the community and in 1857, to its post office.

A blurry photo of Phoenix Oregon as a pioneer town

Modern Phoenix

During the 20th century, Phoenix continued to grow. The rich land along Bear Creek suited acres of pear and peach orchards that provided employment and in the 1920s, Bert Stancliffe built a packing house that later became a fruit packing collective named Associated Fruit, packing under the Pear-o-Dise label. When I5, the superhighway connecting Mexico to Canada, was completed, Old Highway 99 was re-developed as a two lane road serving the core of Phoenix business interest. In the 1970s, some pear orchards were pulled and wine grapes planted. Phoenix and all of Southern Oregon became more diverse as new residents from California as well as from Mexico and other countries settled and called Phoenix home. Two recent additions to the online collection is a 1951 Phoenix Oregon City Directory and Telephone Book and a 1989 Talent Phoenix Oregon City Directory.

A current aerial photo of Phoenix Oregon

Phoenix Rising

The Almeda Fire destroyed much of Talent and Phoenix along the I5 and Highway 99 corridor in September 2020. In the face of disaster, the town worked together to become stronger and even more resilient, and with federal and county support, the community re-housed and fed and cared for the many who were affected by the fire. Today, Phoenix is rebuilding. Agriculture continues to change and now there are fewer orchards, more vineyards and wineries and sometimes cannabis fields. Small businesses, light manufacturing and restaurants line Old Highway 99 and Phoenix is more than 16% Latinx. The town is a vibrant, multicultural community.

An in-construction house beside a pile of burnt metal and wood that has been cleared

The People of Phoenix

A black and white photo of a man with a mustache wearing a suit

Milo Caton was born in New York in 1827 and came to Jackson County Oregon around 1853.  He lived here for several years and during that time served as constable as well as fought in the Indian Wars of 1853-1854.  Following this he fought in the Mexican Wars. From 1861-1865, Caton served as Captain in the War of the Rebellion where he enlisted in Ohio and raised a company of men to go with him.  He fought in many battles before being captured at the battle of Chickamauga and was held prisoner in Andersonville.   Following the war, Caton returned to Jackson County, Oregon and raised a family.  He lived in Jacksonville and Phoenix and is buried in the Jacksonville Cemetery.

A black and white photo of a man with a white beard and a serious face

Samuel Colver and his wife Hulda are considered the founders of Phoenix. Sam Colver and his brother Hiram brought their families west in 1850 and in 1851, took up Donation Land Claims along Bear Creek in what is now Phoenix, Oregon. In 1854, Colver built a large, centrally located home which stood until 2008 when it was destroyed by fire. Well known for its tall white columns, the home served as a meeting place, school, and refuge for the settlers during the Indian wars. Over the years, Colver sold parcels of his land and the settlement of Phoenix was started. He also sold property to the Trustees to start the Phoenix Pioneer Cemetery in 1874. Sam Colver was a good debater and was always ready to express his opinions on any subject; he was an early abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights, and a prohibitionist. He was always ready to defend his beliefs at all times and against all comers. Among his various businesses, he bought and sold numerous horses. It was on one of these business trips to Klamath Falls that Samuel lost his life in Klamath Lake.

Thomas and Amelia Ferns and their children, Mark, William, Lovell, Charles, Jenny, Eliza and Archie, came from Iowa in 1897, and made arrangements to purchase the farm formerly owned by Ebenezer Carter, Amelia’s late grandfather. The land was planted to wheat, the main commercial crop at the time, and a small orchard. To this, the Ferns added large plantings of corn and alfalfa. Two years later, tragedy struck when Thomas’ health deteriorated and he died in March, 1899.     At age 40, Amelia Buckley Ferns found herself a widow with seven children to support and more than 900 acres of farm land to care for. The children ranged in age from 2 to 15. The task Amelia faced wasn’t an easy one.  She had to be sure the farm produced enough each year to support the family and pay the taxes. She traded wheat for flour. There were chickens to feed and cows to milk.  Eight to 10 hogs were butchered and cured every year.  When the orchard boom hit, Amelia planted one of the first commercial orchards in what was by then known as Fern Valley. Life was hard, but through hard work, perseverance, and the help of her children, Amelia managed to raise her family and keep the farm, which was later passed on to her children.

A black and white photo of an elderly couple laughing and smiling for the camera

Bert Stancliffe was born in Phoenix in 1885 and lived to celebrate his 101 birthday. He attended schools in Phoenix and Talent and graduated from Southern Oregon State Normal School in 1906. His father traded a sow and pigs for Bert’s tuition to the Normal School. It was in Phoenix that Stancliffe ran a fruit packing house, Independent Fruit Company, from 1924 through 1940, which later became Associated Fruit Company. He bought and operated a nearby peach orchard from 1941-1964. In 1941 Bert married Kathryn Curren Denzer, second marriages for both. He often said his secret to a long life was having a young wife who was born in 1909. Kathryn graduated from Phoenix High School, attended Southern Oregon Normal School in Ashland and retired after teaching 39 years in Jackson County. She was the first female mayor of Phoenix and served on the city budget committee. Both Kathryn and Bert served on the school board and in several civic groups. Bert served on the Phoenix City Council and managed the Phoenix Cemetery for 40 years. Throughout her life, Kathryn worked on causes to improve the city of Phoenix. She always had her say. The Stancliffes were great supporters of community and high school activities. In the 1990s Kathryn raised funds to help establish the Phoenix Museum which opened in 1999, three years following her death.

A black and white side profile photo of a woman

Marian B. Towne was Oregon’s first woman legislator in 1914. She was born in a mining camp at Sterling Creek outside of Jacksonville, Oregon. The family later moved to Phoenix, where Towne’s father owned and operated a profitable mercantile store. When she finished high school, Towne worked as an assistant to the Jackson County clerk and just two years after women gained the right to vote in Oregon, Towne was elected to the Oregon legislature. During her time in Salem, Towne served on three House committees, enlisted in the Naval Reserve as Chief Yeoman and served in the Navy during World War I. Marian B. Towne was released from activate duty following the war, in 1919.

Henry W. Clayton was born in Muskingum County, Ohio on April 12, 1812. From Ohio he migrated to Van Buren County, Iowa with his first wife. He married Mary Jones on Sept 4, 1840 and in 1853 moved with his family to Oregon, first to Portland and then to Southern Oregon in 1855. Clayton settled in the Bear Creek Valley above Ashland. Mary died April 28, 1860 and Henry on October 20, 1884 after a long illness. Both are interred in the Ashland Cemetery. There were children born of each marriage. [From Southern Oregon Pioneer Association Records, Resolution on Deaths of Members, Vol. 1, p 70-71.]

Henry W. Clayton (1812-1884), his son Nathan Holly Clayton (1849-1914), N.H. Clayton’s wife Malvina (Gore) Clayton (1855-1901), and Nathan and Malvina’s children Lawrence Edgar Clayton (1887-1921) and Vera (Clayton) Skelenger (1893-1949).

Patrick McManus, born in Ireland in 1831, is said to have arrived in Phoenix, Oregon at the age of 23 finding work as a merchant. In 1855, he built a one-story, single dwelling in the classical revival style on Hiram Colver’s property before holding title to the land. He married Laurena J. Hargrove in an 1860 Corvallis, Oregon wedding. McManus received title to his Phoenix home in 1864 and shortly thereafter transferred the deed to Hiram Colver’s widow, Maria Colver. McManus left for Yreka, where he was a merchant and also drove a mail stage between Yreka and Klamath Falls. He perished in a stage accident during one of the runs. Sara Abi Colver Foudrey and Mary D. Farlow sold the home in 1889.   Orrie and Barbara Bateman bought the property in 1976 with the intention of restoring the building. The home is on the National Register of Historic Properties as of 1978 thanks to the work of Barbara Bateman. The home stands today with some modifications and alteration.

School Days in Phoenix, Oregon [Finding Aid]

The Phoenix Historical Society Museum has sought out historical materials related to Phoenix schools and over the years has received numerous donations from alumni. Included in the museum’s collection are annual yearbooks, newspapers, class and individual photos as well as informal photographs. Several school histories are also in the collection.