Biography of Hon. Wilder W. Parker

HON. W.W. PARKER – There is no name in the city at the mouth of the Columbia better known in the business and social circles than that of Parker; and of those bearing it Wilder W. Parker wields an influence perhaps the most extended. A pioneer not only in name but also in fact, he ha brought to bear upon public affairs a mind keen, quick and powerful, and has been able to give the people the benefit of opinions carefully elaborated and lucidly stated, and held by himself with conscientious firmness. In intellect and character he is the ideal New Englander, and has found his life interest in the great political and moral development of the nation.

He was born at Orange, Vermont, October 19, 1824, but removed as a child to Washington in the same state; and that town became his own until he attained his majority. Being ambitious and fond of study, he sought an education in advance of that afforded at the common schools; and for this purpose selected Newberry Seminary, an institution under the control of the Methodist denomination and deemed at the time the best equipped in Vermont. Assisting himself by teaching school in the winters, he graduated from the academic department of that seminary, and completed his course at Norwich University, an institution which had grown out of the military school of Captain Alden Partridge, a distinguished educator, and previously a professor and superintendent at West Point, and who was thus enabled to give his pupils the benefit of a course the same as at the government institution, with ancient languages optional. In April 1847, young Parker received the offer of a lieutenancy in the one Vermont company comprised in the New England regiment to serve in the Mexican war, under Colonel T.P. Ransom; but, in preference to a campaign which promised to be barren in the notoriously unhealthy climate of the east coast of Mexico, he accepted a position as engineer at the copper mines of Lake Superior on the Ontonagon river. There he spent fifteen months, but, becoming dissatisfied with the management of the company, and seeing the difficulty of reducing their hard ores of the Lake Superior copper, determined to prospect the old copper mines of Lower California, which had now by the treaty of Guadaloupe Hildalgo become accessible to Americans.

The journey thither was undertaken in the autumn of 1848, and involved an almost endless succession of adventure. Mr. Parker arrived in New York in ample time to arrange for a passage in the old steamship California, the first vessel of the Pacific Mail Company’s line to clear for Astoria; and he was the first passenger to pay his fare on that ship. By an unforeseen and unexpected event, and not his own fault, at the sailing of the ship, he was left behind, and was obliged to take passage in a Spanish, or New Grenadian bark for the Isthumus, and arrived in Panama more than a month ahead of the steamship.

While he was crossing the Isthumus and awaiting his steamer at Panama, the reports of gold mines in California, which had first appeared in a fabulous form, received full confirmation; and ere the ship arrived a thousand gold diggers had congregated in the old city of Panama, across the Isthmus, looking for transportation to the new El Dorado. Loose crafts, disengaged coalers, whalers, etc., in the Pacific, as well as the steamship, sailed in to accommodate the company. The ticket which Mr. Parker held, and for which he had paid one hundred an fifty dollars, was now worth six hundred dollars, in addition to a paid ticket in one of the sailing vessels.

Arriving in San Francisco February 28, 1849, he, with three others, built a scow skiff boat of 2 tons’ burthen, took on a ton of provisions and freight, and went to Stockton and to Tuolumne and engaged in mining, realizing about twenty dollars per day. A return to San Francisco, however, showed the greater advantages of business, and, obtaining some three-inch Oregon planking, costing three hundred dollars per thousand, he ripped it into scantling for the frame of a canvas or cloth covered building, the floor of which was earth, but was protected with checked matting. This building was intended for service as a restaurant, and the profits of its operations were large. Before winter a bakery was added; and, for the cloth, boards were substituted. baker and cook were paid an enormous salary of six hundred and four hundred dollars per month respectively. Among the visitors at the restaurant, and indeed among the waiters whom Mr. Parker employed were many interesting characters, – big headed Eastern ex-college professors, highly cultured young men; while at the board sat many dignitaries. The business was ultimately swept away by fire at a loss of twenty thousand dollars.

While in San Francisco, Mr. Parker was elected on the city council as a member of the board designated as “honest,” whose special work was to straighten the accounts and pay the debts of the succeeding spendthrift incumbents. The work of casting up the interest and arranging the funding of the debt of two million dollars was done by Mr. Parker. The celebrated Henry Meiggs, Thomas J. Selby, afterwards mayor, C.L. Ross (with C.J. Brenham for mayor) with other well-known characters of early San Francisco, were upon the same board.

After his loss by fire, Mr. Parker was advised to seek a location for lumbering in Oregon, and, arriving at Astoria in 1852, leased the old Harrall sawmill on the Lewis and Clarke river, and later bought Simpson’s mill at Astoria. For many years he was occupied in that line, doing a heavy business, until in 1861 he received an appointment as deputy collector of the port under W.L. Adams. He held that position eleven years, serving also under Honorable Alanson Hinman. Since his retirement from that office he has been active in the real-estate and insurance business, and in improving his city lots for public uses.

His animating purpose in coming West was the ultimate establishment of a journal of the stamp of the New York Tribune; but, although not realizing that cherished design, he has ever made his principles felt. For a time he was editor of the Astoria Marine Gazette. In 1855 he was the Republican and opposition candidate, receiving a tie vote with Judge P. Callender; and in 1859 he was elected from Clatsop county as representative to the territorial legislature on the platform of approbation of the Maine liquor law as one of its leading features. During the session he introduced and had passed by the house, by a vote of seventeen to thirteen, a bill authorizing the annual voting in each county for license or prohibition, with the express provision that, whenever a majority for prohibition was retained, the vote should be considered an instruction to the ensuing assembly to pass a law securing it. This, considering that the year before the house, by a larger vote, ordered UNDER THE TABLE a petition of two hundred citizens of Portland for a prohibitory law, was considered quite a success for temperance. He was the first in his city to urge upon the school district a free school, which, after several school meetings was secured; and he has been among the most active in promoting public enterprises. He has contributed large to the upbuilding of churches and all moral institutions. He is at present a stockholder in the Astoria & South Coast Railway Company, and was one of the five incorporators of the same. In 1878 he was elected mayor of Astoria, serving two years.

Although approaching the years of elderly life, he prosecutes his business with no diminution of energy, and is one of the representative men of character in our state. he was married in 1863 to Miss Inez Eugenia Adams. Mrs. parker is well known in all social and church relations and maintains a high character for benevolent work, and for faith and zeal in the moral upbuilding of the city. She is a lady much beloved by a large circle of friends.



History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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