Don’t Tell Me to Move My Chicken Coop, Mr. Mayor

Canby Then is brought to you by Retro Revival. They are not your average antique shop. Open daily. Find them on the corner of NW Third and Grant in downtown Canby.

It was May of 1893. The Canby City Council was meeting for the first time, in a cramped, cluttered room above the store owned by city pioneer William Knight — more on him in a moment.

The council paid a handsome sum of $1.25 per month for the privilege, and that was part of the problem: Running a city is expensive, and their coffers were completely empty.

Their bills at that meeting totaled $35.50, which is called a cheap date today but back then must have seemed almost insurmountable. The mayor and recorder were directed to procure $100 to pay the debt and cover the first year’s expenses.

Why become a city at all? I wonder how often Canby’s first elected leaders asked themselves that question. A scant 200 souls called the newly incorporated Canby home — and only 63 of them had voted in the town’s first election, held a few days earlier.

But 15 other cities, including neighboring Aurora, had been incorporated during the Legislative session of 1893, and Canby joined the trend. Small or not, Canby was experiencing some issues that incorporation allowed the city to address.

Canby already had three hotels, the Carlton & Rosenkrantz department store, which would remain the city’s largest for over 60 years, and several taverns, which drew rowdy loggers from outlying camps. The regulation of “spiritous liquors” (the best kind of liquors if you ask me) was a top agenda item in the council’s first few meetings.

Also, even in 1893, sprawl was already becoming a problem. But not the kind of sprawl you’re thinking of. This is more the type of sprawl where your less clean and considerate neighbor’s junk collection starts to encroach on your carefully manicured lawn.

You see, the 24 blocks that once comprised the entirety of Canby had been deliberately and painstakingly laid out when Philander Lee and co. filed the city’s first plat in 1870. But for many years after, those lines and streets were more hypothetical than anything else.

The city council spent much of its first few years of business convincing residents to move chicken coops, fences, gardens and trees so the platted streets could be graded and wooden curbs could be put in. The council had to repeatedly consider ordinances designed to pull reluctant property owners In compliance.

I bet you never knew how close downtown Canby came to having chicken coops for bike racks instead of the stylish flowers we have today.

Other early ordinances addressed problems with peddlers, eating establishments, gambling and other entertainment. They might have had an easier job with that if they had been able to keep a police chief on the payroll.

Early Canby changed police chiefs about as often most folks change their underwear. The $1 a month salary — paltry even in those days — probably didn’t help. When repairing sidewalks and lighting the city’s new street lamps became part of the job in 1895, the council reluctantly agreed to increase the pay to four bucks a month.

Let’s return to the subject of William Knight, Canby’s second most well known and influential founding patriarch to have an elementary school named after him.

His story intertwines somewhat with that of Dr. William Keil (“Kyle”), founder of the German Lutheran communes that formed in Aurora, Oregon, and Bethel, Missouri — William Knights hometown.

Knight traveled west from Bethel in 1863, with his father, Joseph Sr., and four brothers, George, John, Adam and Joseph Jr.

The family had ties to the Aurora Colony but was never very active in it. instead, Joseph Sr. settled in Canby, on land near the Molalla River. He died in 1872, but all of his sons would remain in the area to make their mark on the blossoming town and help Canby grow, with the exception of John, who moved to the Hubbard area.

William was an early railroad agent and opened Knight Mercantile in 1871, across the street from the railroad Depot. For those listeners who weren’t alive in the 1870s, a mercantile is just a five cent word for a general store.

In 1875, he built the area’s first schoolhouse on Baker Prairie. From 1875 until his death in 1922, he served as clerk of the Baker Prairie and Canby school districts. He also served two terms as Clackamas County sheriff and was Post Master from 1877 to 1884.

He was one of the prime movers responsible the push to incorporate Canby, and he did his part to make it successful, serving as the city’s first recorder and a justice of the peace.

He wasn’t the only good Knight in Canby, either. His brother, Adam Knight, was our first blacksmith and, like most blacksmiths, also an entrepreneur. He built the Knight Hotel (should have called it the Good Knight Hotel), which overlooked the 1877 Knights Bridge over the Molalla River.

Yep, shocker here, but Knights Bridge and Knights Bridge Road were named after one of the Knights: Adam Sr., Who owned the land the original span was built on. The original was a charming covered bridge built by Clackamas County, but it was condemned in 1944 and would be blown into Molalla River by a storm three years later.

The loss of the bridge, compounded by the loss of ferry service during this same period, caused inconvenience and isolation for Canby. Knights Bridge would be rebuilt by the county in 1964, slightly downriver from the original bridge.

Adam Sr.’s son, Adam H. Knight was twice mayor of Canby, a Clackamas County commissioner and served as the city’s postmaster for 23 years.

But he wasn’t the first postmaster. That honor belongs to his uncle, Charles Knight,  better known as Doc, who also owned and operated a drug store on Grant Street.

You think we’re done with our series on Canby’s movers and shakers? Forget about it! We’ve got loads more stories to tell, but it will have to wait till next time, on Canby Then.

Photo courtesy the Canby Historical Society.

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