On Friday, April 17, 2015, the community of Lafayette and Oregon Travel Experience dedicated a new historical interpretive marker at Joel Perkins Park. The marker honors the town’s founder, Joel Perkins, and acknowledges his contributions to platting the city’s map and donating the town square at the site of the present day park. (Scroll down past this article to see the image gallery from the dedication.)
Lafayette City Council President Marie Sproul welcomed the crowd and stood in for Mayor Chris Pagella as “mistress” of ceremonies. OTE Executive Director Nancy DeSouza spoke about OTE’s partnership with communities and the value of OTE’s heritage programs to all Oregonians. Fourth grade history students from Wascher Elementary School listened intently to Joel Perkins descendent and retired teacher Virginia Johnson’s speech. Johnson is the great great granddaughter of Joel Perkins and the marker installation was a poignant celebration for family present at the dedication.
“Within the great and colorful panorama of Oregon’s history, Joel Perkins became a nearly forgotten person to the people of this region,” said Johnson. “After his murder, and as Oregon moved on to statehood, Joel’s story, his accomplishments during such a short life and his death seemed lost and unmarked, like his grave located somewhere in the Siskiyou Mountains.”
Since Joel Perkins’ life was cut short at age 35, not much about his accomplishments in the annals of Oregon history has been recorded. This omission was especially hard on his family members and descendants like Johnson, who knew what a creative thinker and innovator their ancestor was.
“Joel died in 1856, but his talents did not die with him on that tragic day,” Johnson noted. “I have observed over the last 50 years, Joel’s outstanding traits of active visionary, creative entrepreneur and family man revealed in his descendants. I see these traits as gifts from Joel to us. I pray we, his family, make good use of them and that these traits be revealed in future descendants as well.”
Johnson acknowledged 24 known direct descendants of Perkins. She pointed to her nephews Weston and Ryan Renoud, who are the great great great grandsons of Joel Perkins. Weston Renoud and his family were visiting from Fredericton, New Brunswick, and Ryan Renoud travelled from Louisville Kentucky. At the end of the dedication, Johnson and her nephews unfurled a red drapery from the marker and shared both a public and private moment of gratitude.
Following the unveiling, Wascher students proudly pointed out their homes and streets on Perkin’s town plat, a feature illustration displayed prominently on the new marker.
The Joel Perkins Park Historical Marker is a prime illustration of how OTE’s Oregon Historical Marker Committee works in partnership with outlaying communities to draw in heritage travelers. The Perkins marker was planned with Lafayette community leaders and officials, as well local historian and marker nominator, Sheri King.
Lafayette City Administrator Preston Polasek also teamed with other leaders and King to place their historic community of Lafayette on the map with another prominent marker. In 2012 the community honored Lafayette citizen and 19th – 20th century suffragette Abigail Scott Duniway with a historical marker in Joel Perkins Park.
Oregon Travel Experience works with numerous communities on multiple maker projects. As the “hotbeds” of Oregon history, small cities and towns boast notable persons, geological or cultural events that make storytelling easy. If markers are placed in waysides, parks, along walking paths or near accessible sites overlooking areas of interest, travelers can follow the trails of history as they motor across the state. Stopping at these vantage points to read markers is a tradition passed down within families. Markers create a veritable “heritage highway,” steering travelers into new places they might never have stopped before.
If you think your community’s stories might be a good fit with OTE’s heritage programs, please contact us. We’ll be happy to take your idea to the next level if the project is approved by the program committees. Telephone us at 1-800-574-9397 and select either Heritage Trees or Historical Markers from the directory.
Joel Perkins Oregon Historical Marker image gallery
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