William Ross

Fannie and William Ross

Columbia County Bank Building

William Ross Family 1903

Second residence of William Ross family at 170 Columbia Blvd.

Inside Columbia County Bank. Left: A. L. Stone Right: William Ross

William Ross & Family

The author of this document was Cecil Ross' father-in-law, Reverend Archibald G. Baker The following in an excerpt from an extensive family history he prepared. You can view the original here.

William Ross and family arrived in Portland somewhere about the first of August, 1905, and immediately took temporary quarters in the southwest portion of the city near the corner of Park and Columbia. This put them within easy reach of their first interest upon arrival, namely the Lewis and Clark Exposition located to the northwest of the city.

In the year 1906, St. Helens was still very much a frontier town numbering about 1,000 population, located about a third of the way between Portland and Astoria. In 1898, a railway line had been extended from Portland to Astoria because in those days the roads were in such poor condition that people had to rely mainly upon the river steamers to transport them up or down the Columbia. Mr. Carlson was one of the first to buy a Ford, and when he tried to make the journey from Gresham to St. Helens, it took him well on to a full day, The general character of the place was determined mainly by the fact that it was hemmed in by the river on one side and mountainous forests on the other and that it was underlain by granite rock of excellent quality. In other words it was a center of the lumber industry, or the fishing industry, of a limited amount of farming, and of the rock industry. The quarrying of this blue granite rock was one of the chief sources of income. This industry was carried on by "blockmakers" from the Isle of Mann who were experienced in the shaping of rock by hand. This blue granite was cut into building blocks of which the local Court House the bank, and many Portland buildings were constructed. They were also used in the paving of the Portland streets in earlier days, some of which are still in use, as for example, Water Street on the east side of the river. Besides the regularly established residents, the town was made up also of a considerable number of transient laborers who came and went with the fluctuating demand for labor. The fluctuation added little to the moral stability of the population.

It was here then that Mr. Ross settled and almost immediate took the lead in founding the Columbia County Bank, of which he continued as president till the day of his death. His management of this bank during the ten years of his administration gives us an insight into some of the salient qualities of he character. He did not plunge hastily into this new venture upon arriving in Oregon, but took time to survey the field. He was quick to grasp the need of a bank in a long stretch of territory reaching all the way from Portland to Astoria, with its lumbering, fishing quarrying and a certain amount of farming. An once the bank was founded, he was not afraid to introduce innovations in banking procedure which attracted public attention and increased the confidence of the people in their new enterprise.

The orthodox banker of that day was a man difficult to approach. He shut himself off in a special office behind closed doors and could be reached only through a secretary. Mr. Ross, on the other hand, placed his desk in a corner of the bank, open to the gaze of everyone where he was easily approachable by any who might wish to consult him. In order to cultivate the confidence and friendship of the people, he frequently ran the following motto in the local paper: "Talk to Ross." As a result people came into the bank to talk with him as a confidential friend as well as a professional banker. Needless to say his business prospered under such a policy.

A few year later we are given another illustration of his knowledge of human nature and of his confidence in the loyalty of his customers. At this time a financial panic had broken over the country, and runs were being made on banks which threatened disaster. In order to check the rush at least temporarily and give banks time to consolidate their assets, the State of Oregon proclaimed a moratorium which allowed the banks to close their doors for 24 hours. However, Mr. Ross did not close his bank. Instead he threw his doors wide open, and poured his gold out on the counter in full view with the result that when people came in intended to close their accounts many of them felt reassured as to the solvency of the institution and either failed to withdraw their money or returned to deposit it again. It turned out that The Columbia County Bank and one other in Portland were the only ones in the state that gave such a demonstration of their financial strength; and from then on the bank grew in business and in the confidence of the public.

After Mr. Ross' death in 1916, the bank continued under other management until the great national depression of the early thirties when it was compelled to close its doors.

Shortly after their arrival in St. Helens, some members of the family began to go their own way. Harold, who was then seventeen years old, remained in Portland to complete his last two year in Washington High School. On September 15, 1906, Amy left the family fireside to marry Albert L. Stone and establish a home of her own. The young man was a buyer for the Columbia River Packers Association and as he had a boat at his disposal many an evening was spent on the river by the Rosses and their friends. On occasion they would land somewhere on the banks and barbecue their dinner. Later on Mr. Stone left this business and entered the bank as cashier. Here he remained till 1919, when because of declining health, he had to get out doors and take a less exacting job. He died suddenly in 1921. Two years later Amy married Mr. T. H. Knutson. After coming West, grandma Partridge was only a part time member of the Ross family, spending certain months each year with here other daughter, Minnie, in Seattle. Thus for this time being the family was reduced to father, mother and Cecil.

Amy Ross Stone Knutson

Harold Ross

The first home they lived in was located on the present site of the Veazie-Gray building about a block northwest of the Courthouse. It was an old frame building, equipped with kerosene lamps and outside plumbing. While living here, Cecil's father bought him a angora goat as a pet; and we see something of the early condition of the town from the fact that he used to pasture it on a vacant lot which today has become the Courthouse Plaza.

Next, they rented a new house which uncle Ed had just built. This was equipped with electric lights, a fully furnished bathroom and other modern improvements. This located on block west of the Congregational church. Between the church and house was a convenient pond of water. Even at this early age young Cecil could not resist the attraction of water, and each day he would rush home from school to ride about on a crude little raft which he himself made. (However he soon graduated from the innocent little pond to the river which was another matter.) It was while living in this house that his father gave him a mustang pony to ride about the town. This he kept in his uncle's barn just north of the church. About this time a new sidewalk was laid in front of the Courthouse. Of course, the boys were quick to take advantage of this civic improvement and soon turned it into a skating rink, much to the inconvenience of the adult population. About this time Cecil, the nine years old, and his mother travelled back to Chicago to be present at the graduation of his half-brother, L. G. Ross, from the Medical School; and then to visit friends and relatives in Wisconsin.

The most serious narrow escape that befell the family was reported as follows:

"St. Helens, June 15, 1909. While William Ross, president of the Columbia County Bank, and his family were driving yesterday, they met with a serious accident on a bridge two and half miles west of St. Helens. In the buggy were Mr. and Mrs. Ross, their eleven your old son Cecil, and a niece. They had crossed the bridge which is over a gulch when the horse became frightened. Mr. Ross was holding the little girl and could not control the horse which backed half way across the bridge and off one side, where the railing had previously been broken and not replaced, as the bridge is to be taken out and a fill made. They fell twenty-six feet. The horse was instantly killed and the buggy demolished, but the occupants escaped serious injury. Mr. and Mrs. Ross were badly bruised and suffered from the shock. But the children were not hurt and ran to the nearest house for assistance after the the accident. Mr. and Mrs. Ross were caught under the body of the horse. The fact that it never moved after they struck doubtless saved them from more serious injury. The neck of the horse was broken, evidently by striking the bridge in tis fall."

Up to the present time only two of the Ross brothers were residents of S. Helens - Edwin Ross, the physician and William Ross the banker. But in the year 1910 the size of the Ross "clan" was doubled. E. Adin Ross followed his brothers to the West, and opened up a furniture business which prospered under his management. Meanwhile, Cecil's half-brother, Levi Gilbert Ross, had completed his medical training, and after serving as company doctor for a contracting firm at Copperfield in Eastern Oregon, he too decided to settle in St. Helens. For the next six years the town felt the influence of all four of the Rosses, each in his own way.

Mr. Ross was more than just a professional banker. He was also a civic minded man, interested in everything that contributed to the good of the community. He served as president of the Commercial Club, and as a member of the Town Council for a number of years. An interesting little sidelight is thrown on the pioneer conditions of the town by an incident which occurred during his tenure of office. In those days many of the inhabitants owned cows which were permitted to roam wherever the might please--down the streets and over the sidewalks-with all the inevitable consequences to pedestrians. At last conditions became unbearable and protests were made to the town council to have them banished. So the local paper, the St. Helens Mist, published an article urging the council to remove the nuisance. But it so happened that every member of the council himself had a cow. In fact it was called "The Ant-Cow Council" for they were thought to be opposed to the removal of the cows. However, to the credit of the city fathers it should be said that they sacrificed their own private interests to the good of the community, and the cattle were provided with pasture elsewhere.

He evidently was a man of good social qualities and enjoyed close fraternal relationships with a wide circle of the preeminent men of the locality. As such, he was a valued member of the Masonic Order, the I.O.O.F, and the Modern Woodmen of the World.

Mr. Ross evidently was a father who believed in being a chum to his son. Having been brought up on the farm, he never lost his love for horses, and whenever occasion permitted he would take time off to come to Portland and take in the horse races out on the Rose City race track. On these trips Cecil accompanied him.

Every spring and summer Mr. Dillard, a neighbor, would take Cecil and his boys on fishing expeditions back in the hills beyond Yankton where trout fishing was good. They would load their camping outfit on a couple of burrows and spend days in the woods. At the time uncle Ed had a ranch about six or seven miles out in the country between Yankton and Trenholm where he and the family spent most of the summers. Both uncle Ed and aunt Tillie were sociable people, and aunt Tillie loved to get up big meals and have plenty of people about. This proved to be a regular rendezvous for both old and young, and many a picnic was held on uncle Ed's farm.

Cecil's father was blessed with an alert mind. He was interested not only in the affairs of his own town, but also in the economic and cultural advancement of the nation as a whole. Consequently the great expositions of his time had a strong attraction for him. Even as early as 1893 he and his part visited the Columbia Exposition in Chicago. As we have already seen, one of the attractions which led him to move West when he did was the fact that the Lewis and Clark Exposition was being held in Portland that year. In 1909 they visited the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, and six years later the great Exposition in San Francisco. Something more than a mere desire to travel lay behind these expensive journeys.

The struggling Methodist church owed a great deal of its progress to the Ross family. Not only did Mr. Ross serve as treasurer which was quite natural, but he also assumed the responsibilities of janitor for a while, in which job the boys also helped out. It is not often that the banker of the town serves as janitor of a church. Mrs. Ross also was prominent in church work. Cecil has no recollection of her teaching a Sunday School class, but she was active in the Ladies Aid Society and Foreign Missionary Society. In those earlier days, the church could not afford the ministrations of a resident clergyman. The minister came down from Portland for the Sunday services and generally made the Ross household his headquarters.

We now go back to the year 1912 when the Rosses bought the residence of Dr. Cliff, which later became the home of Dr. L. G. This was the third house in which they lived, and with it are associated most of Cecil's memories. It was a two-story building of seven rooms with a stairway leading to a glassed-in tower with a look-out view of the river. The ceilings were high, and a long stairway led up from the front hall. The house was built on a rock knoll, so rocky in fact that the surface had to be blasted off and soil hauled in before a lawn could be planted. One half of the street ran up over the hill to give access to the properties on the upper level, and the other half had be be blasted out to the level of the houses ten or twelve feet below. It did not take long for two or three mischievous boys to grasp the possibilities which this situation afforded. The place soon became notorious. Cecil and the Dillard boys would soak fir cones with water, lie in wait on the upper level until some unsuspecting person came along below and then bombard him from their vantage point. Needless to say, before anyone could climb the bluff the boys had made their get-away.

As we have already seen, Cecil took his first year's schooling in Jamesville, his second year in Gresham, and entered the third grade on coming to St. Helens. After graduation from the grades, he enrolled in the High School. But in the spring of his Sophomore year he got into difficulties with the principal, which led to a change in the future plans for his education. One Saturday afternoon, not having anything better to do, he and another boy got into the gymnasium when the place was supposed to be closed, and began to amuse themselves playing basketball. Evidently they were making quite a commotion, for the principal discovered the intruders. This was taken to be such a serious offense that he straightaway expelled them from the school, which meant the loss of the year's credits. Quite a disturbance was aroused in the town. Some people supported the principal in his ruling while others felt that the discipline was too severe for the offense. The School Board gave the matter consideration and decided not to override the authority of the principal. Fortunately for Cecil, the School Superintendent came to the rescue. He told Cecil to continue his studies at home and, when the time came for the examinations, made arrangement for him to take them in his office rather than in the school. Thus Cecil won credit for the year's work and a certificate was issued to that effect.

Armed with this certificate, he entered the junior year at Washington High School, Portland, that September, which meant that he had to leave home and go to Portland to live. As an added inducement for him to do his best, his father promised that if he graduated with his class he would take him to the San Francisco Fair. In due time Cecil, his mother and father attended the Fair in 1915, making the trip down and back by boat.

That fall he entered as a freshman in the University of Oregon at Eugene and finished the first year, intending to return in the autumn. But the death of his father, October 17, 1916, brought about far reaching changes in Cecil's plans and in the fortunes of the family. Instead of returning to Eugene, he spent the winter in Seattle staying with his aunt Minnie and working several places. Spring found him back in St. Helens again, and on the 17th of April he enlisted in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps which later came to be known as the Air Corps and finally the U.S. Air Force.

Mr. Ross' death was a severe blow to the whole community as is well mirrored in the following tribute which appeared under the title "A Good Citizen gone, Prominent in Financial and Business Circles of City and County"

After an illness of several weeks, W.M. Ross died at his residence here Tuesday afternoon at 2 o'clock. His family was at his beside when the end came. He was conscious until a short time before his death. William Ross was born in Rockton, Illinois, June 18, 1854, and was the son of Levi and Mary Jane Ross. He received his education in the public schools of Brodhead, Wis., and later on served as Superintendent of Schools of Rock County, Wis. for thirteen years. Mr. Ross leaves to mourn his loss his wife, Mrs. Fannie Ross, three sons, L. G. Ross, Harold P. Ross, Cecil J. Ross, and one daughter Mrs. A. L. Stone. He is also survived by three brothers and two sisters, Joseph Ross of Brodhead, Adin and Edwin of St. Helens, and Mrs. Wm. Grimes and Mrs. Charles Synstegard of Wisconsin. Since locating in St. Helens, William Ross has done much toward putting St. Helens where it is today. He served as president of the Commercial Club, councilman, and other positions of trust and importance where he could be of benefit to the community. He was prominent in fraternal circles and was a valued member of the Masonic Order, of the I.O.O.F. and Modern Woodmen lodges. He was one of St. Helens' most substantial and trustworthy citizens and his taking away leaves a vacancy in the community that will be hard to fill.

The funeral will be held at 2 o'clock this afternoon at the Methodist church of which he was a member. Rev. McDougall of Spokane will officiate and the interment will be in the I.O.O.F. cemetery near Warren. The ceremonies at the grave will be conducted by the Masonic Lodge. The pall bearers are his three sons, Levi, Harold, and Cecil, and his son-in-law A. L. Stone.