This story is the work of Dirk Knudsen, a member of the Hillsboro Historical Society and guest author to the HHS Site – Updated: See the Hillsboro Tribune Story Here
One of the oldest pieces of furniture in Washington County has come home to where it perhaps best belongs today. The desk of Doctor Francis Alonzo Bailey has returned home this week to Hillsboro, Oregon; the place the good Doctor came to practice medicine, open a pharmacy, raise his family and lead the people. But before we discuss the desk let us have a quick historical look back at the life of the man that makes this desk so very important.
Doctor Bailey was born in Tennesse in 1839 and at the age of 18 headed out into the world to create a life of his own. He made it as far as St Louis, Missouri before stopping to enroll in college and study Medicine at Popes College in about 1857. The record shows that he was assigned to a Confederate Army ship in 1862 under General Price where he served along the Missouri River on a medical ship.
Now the story has a bit of gap as to what our young Doctor was up to but in 1862 he left the ship and headed West. Most of the information leads one to conclude he jumped shipped and deserted. Bailey’s life after this leads this Author to concur with that fact given his love of life, people, and his sincere character. None the less he left and headed out West where he landed near Gaston, Oregon in the Scoggins Valley (now flooded and primarily covered by Henry Hagg Lake) in about 1864. While there the records show he was a teacher at a small log school. This makes sense as Oregon joined the Union in 1859 as a “free state” siding with neither Union nor the Confederate States.
Our Doctor was a very popular teacher but he made no secret of the fact that he was a man of Medicine and if the need was great he intended to go into the medical practice once again. Now about 26 years of age he was a man at his prime and in 1866 he married one of his students, 17-year-old Letitia Chambers. She was the daughter of J.W. and Mary A Chambers- esteemed early Oregon Pioneers who settled in 1845 about 6 miles north of Hillsboro. Miss Chambers was a student at West Union school as a young girl and her family included the Scoggins family where Bailey was teaching when they met.
From that marriage came many adventures and connections for our enterprising Alonzo. The couple lived in the Scoggins Valley but eventually moved to Centerville, Oregon (just North of Cornelius and West of modern-day Hillsboro, Oregon) where they lived for several years.
During these years the good Doctor attended Williamette University (Oregon) and Cooper College (now Stanford) and by 1872 he had Medical degrees from both schools. He later received a degree from Popes College in St. Louis giving him 3 fully credential degrees.
Mrs. Bailey reported in some of her memories to the newspaper that they lived in Centerville for 6 years before moving to Hillsboro in 1873 where the family moved after the Doctor built them a beautiful home at 2nd and Baseline. That home would serve the family well supporting 8 children to adulthood and the happy couple their entire lives.
The family had 3 Doctors rise from their ranks and the children thrived in Hillsboro and beyond. The work ethic of their Father and pioneer strength of their Mother no doubt played a huge role in their success. In 1873 Doctor Bailey opened the Hillsboro Pharmacy making it the first pharmacy in the area and ran it to great success for many years; it is important to note that this business is still in existence to this day and you can visit any day for prescriptions, a fountain experience like no other, and to see history in the back where signage and photos still grace the walls. Bailey also partnered with JJ Morgan, a local railroad man, to build the Morgan and Bailey building among others; both significant brick business buildings to lead Hillsboro from a past of wood structure and persistent fire damage.
His medical skills became the stuff of legends and there is not a family from that era that the good Doctor would not have served or known in some capacity. He was constantly out working to help others as was his wife. They were involved in the schools, the Masonic Temple, the Eastern Star, and many other things to help create Hillsboro into a true community. He also co-founded the first free public library in Hillsboro. More importantly, he was elected to the office of Mayor of Hillsboro 4 times and at one point was asked to run for Governor of the State of Oregon which he promptly declined as it would not provide him to serve and care for the people here in the greater Hillsboro area. A staunch Democrat he was a great statemen. A show of that is the fact that he maintained a lifelong friendship with legendary Republican Thomas H. Tongue who was the most powerful lawyer and politician in the region in those days. Tongue served in the United States House of Representatives for 3 terms and was an equally big influence on the Hillsboro community and Washington County at large. The Bailey and Tongue families were neighbors and friends and the record shows they all stayed close for years to come.
Doctor Bailey died in 1920 17 years after his friend Thomas Tongue did. His imprint on the people of Hillsboro was so great that it is still felt to this day. The Oregon Journal wrote an obituary opinion piece which stated that it was the character and qualities of Doctor Bailey that defined the spirit of Oregon and what it meant to be an Oregonian. Characteristics of selflessness, service, and leadership with a fair hand and caring heart. This is why we must never forget Doctor Francis Alonzo Bailey and the impact he had on our communities and the State at large.
The Desk Comes Home
The desk of Doctor Bailey came into my possession in 2019 as the result of a phone call I received from Hillsboro native Albert Waibel who is a fine man and a local history expert himself. It seems the good doctor’s desk was owned by a collector in Lake Oswego who bought it a number of years ago. The desk is a hand grain painted two-piece desk with a cupboard designed for the doctor. It has a storage cupboard above and a fold-out writing surface that is designed to be used while standing or sitting upon an elevated stool. The desk has been authenticated as being from the mid-1800s by furniture experts and is made of clear Douglas Fir and Ash.
The desk came with paperwork that confirms it was owned by George and Mary Mooberry and it was left in a home in Gaston, Oregon that they purchased in 1890. The desk was, according to a Mrs. Ball whom they bought the home from, built specifically for Doctor Bailey. I have researched the Mooberry and Ball families and the timelines and their storylines up with the history we have on Doctor Bailey as he was living in the Gaston area in the mid and later part of the 1800s.
Once I saw the desk I knew we had to have it for our City. The owner agreed to sell the desk for $850 which for me was still a lot. So the cost was an issue as was the fact that I do not collect and hoard away items but prefer to share. The day after I saw it I was sipping coffee at the Hillsboro Pharmacy where the “Coffee Shop Boys” were wrapping up their morning session. One of them, Bill Warren, heard me rambling on about the desk and had to know more, after all, we were sitting in Doctor Bailey’s main haunt and it seemed appropriate. So I told him I thought the desk needed to come home to Hillsboro and needed to be on public display. He agreed and the following day he and his pal, Warren Schumacher, had a plan for them to pay the $700 of the cost if I could get it here to Hillsboro and put it on public display.
The Hillsboro Historical Society does not have the space as of right now to display this historic artifact but when and if they do it will reside there. As a member that is my wish. In the meantime, I lobbied the City of Hillsboro, the Mayor, and others to give this a home but to no avail. Finally, a year after we started this project we had a break in the situation! Jeff and Sandie Nelson, owners of Le’Stuff Antique Mall, stepped forward to help. Jeff carefully cleaned the desk as Sandie and the staff cleared valuable floor space for the Desk to reside and be on display for at least the month of January 2020. Around the desk, you will find photos and boards I had printed up as well as fitting historical items to support the setting. Even more importantly you will find the story of the Bailey’s and the Tongues. In our unveiling ceremony this week the local media came and a nice crowd gathered to welcome the desk home. As I stood there looking at all the people who helped to make this happy I found hope in the fact that our rich past can continue to be a part of our future. If we could all learn about Doc Bailey and be a bit more like him wouldn’t that be a fitting way to pay tribute? Wouldn’t that be the best way to keep history alive? I think so.
If you read this article and want to help I hope you join the Hillsboro Historical Society and get involved in 2020 and beyond- we need you all very much!
History got a win this week in Hillsboro, Oregon and that is something that is very hard to do in one of the fastest-growing places in the US where growth and the future have filled all the chairs at the table in recent years. Our organization exists to preserve our rich past.
Look for more projects that our members and the HHS are taking part in as 2020 comes along!
Read a quick fact sheet on Doctor Francis Alonzo Bailey