History of Veneta
100 Years a Town, 50 Years a City by Sandra Larson
In 1912, Edmund Hunter platted a town on what some sources say was forest land and others describe as a brush-covered goat farm. What is known for sure is that Hunter traded his farm in the Central Road area for the nearly 1100 acres then owned by John McCutcheon, because he preferred real estate to farming. Hunter sold a half interest in the real estate venture to Charles Dunham, who named the town Veneta after Hunter’s youngest daughter. Hunter and Dunham foresaw growth and prosperity for the city, situated on the railroad being constructed from Eugene to the coast. To encourage business development they gave three lots to anyone who would start a business in the town.
In 1962, that town became the tenth incorporated city in Lane County by a vote of 211 to 168, largely through the efforts of the Board of Directors of the Veneta Improvement Association (VIA), a group originally formed in the late 40s to coordinate community volunteer efforts to build a gym at Veneta Elementary School. This was actually the second incorporation election. The first held the previous August, ended in a 147 to 147 tie after two votes were invalidated.
The impetus for incorporation was the need for clean water, unpolluted by septic systems. The community’s wake-up call was a series of hepatitis outbreaks that sickened many, including VIA member J.W. “Bill” Smigley and his daughter. Smigley and his fellow VIA directors realized that the community needed a good water system. The group considered forming a water district but decided to go one step further and create a taxing entity.
In 1961, VIA president Ralph Johnson wrote, “My fellow citizens. In the main, we feel that our most pressing problem is that of obtaining a healthful supply of water for domestic consumption.” That hasn’t been easy to accomplish, but many bond issues later, Veneta now enjoys state-of-the-art water and sewage treatment. Water continues to be at the top of the city’s concerns as it prepares to build a pipeline to bring McKenzie River water from Eugene to Veneta.
The very first issue of the West Lane News appeared on June 29, 1961. On the first of its four mimeographed pages, founder and editor Archie Root editorialized, “Incorporate Veneta.”
In addition to clean water, he listed a dozen other reasons to support incorporation, including gas and liquor tax revenues, reduced fire insurance rates, street improvements, and police protection. A $25,000 gift to establish a public library was conditional on the city being incorporated.
Fifteen candidates ran for the first Veneta City Council, which is probably a record. Many said they chose to run because their friends had urged them to do so, or because it was their civic duty. Shoemaker Frank Faust said he was running because “I think this community has crawled long enough. It is time it got up and walked.” Faust wasn’t elected in 1962, but he served as the city’s first budget commissioner and was elected to the council in 1976.
The top vote-getters in the 1962 election were all movers and shakers in the VIA: Ralph Johnson, Wayne Elliott, Bill Smigley, H.R. Oglesby, and Richard Gutman. The council met at the Western Lane Protection Association offices until the city hall at 4th and McCutcheon was completed in 1967. Johnson was chosen by his fellow councilors to be Veneta’s first mayor. He was succeeded by Gutman who was followed by Smigley.
Upon Smigley’s retirement in 1996, Veneta elected its first woman mayor, Galen Carpenter. Carpenter was followed by Tim Brooker who served for ten years. Brooker retired in 2008 and mayor Sharon Hobart was elected who later retired in 2012.
It is interesting to note that 88.1 percent of the electorate voted on incorporation in the April election, but only 47.4 percent voted in the June council election. At incorporation, the population was 1,123. Today, it is just under 5,000.
In 1962, there was already a Fern Ridge School District, a Veneta Fire Department, a Veneta Garden Club, and a Fern Ridge Reservoir. According to the West Lane News, there were 350 houses in the city, plus eight churches, three service stations, two restaurants, two grocery stores, two electrical appliance stores, two radio repair shops, one meat locker, and two operating sawmills - Blek’s and Johnson’s.
There was also a hardware store, a second-hand store, a tailor, a beauty shop, and one real estate agent. Two doctors and a dentist served the new city, which also had a flower shop, a tire repair shop, one tavern, and one trailer court. There were two parks and a swimming pool, which was about 75% constructed. The city would complete the pool after it and the two parks were deeded to it by the VIA.
The city’s first two-year budget was approximately $8,800. On its first anniversary, Mayor Johnson proudly exclaimed, “We have $11,000 in the bank and we’re not obligated to anybody.”