A Civil War Guide for the Sophisticated Visitor: Five Little-Known Facts About Corvallis, Oregon

Randy Morse History

Boy, the way Glenn Miller played, songs that made the Hit Parade, guys like us we had it made…those were the days.

There are towns in this world that people dream of visiting. You know, Paris in the springtime. New York in the autumn. San Francisco in the summer. Eugene virtually anytime.

Then there’s Corvallis, whose town motto is the refreshingly candid, “It’s Never So Bad That It Couldn’t Be Worse.”

With a population of around 55,000 benighted souls (and Lord knows how many cows), Corvallis has four claims to fame: it is the Benton County seat, the home of a large Hewlett-Packard research campus (dedicated to coming up with a better printer ink cartridge – now there’s a growth industry); it is the westernmost city in the lower 48 with a population of over 50,000; and of course it is the home of Oregon State University. While perhaps none of these are sufficient to cause the average traveler’s heart to race while rushing to book a ticket, the fact the town is hosting tomorrow’s Civil War clash with the Oregon Ducks will certainly ensure a few hardy folks from The Outside will end up wandering through Corvallis’ mean streets prior to and immediately after the Ducks’ win. If you are one of them, read on. Here are five fascinating facts about Eugene’s little brother intended to make your visit at least tolerable:

Noon, Corvallis.

Noon, Corvallis.

1. Fog

In cities like London and San Francisco, fog is part of the local charm. In Corvallis, it simply adds to the already-depressing sense of doom that seems to permeate the town – especially this time of year (you know, January through November). We’re talking grim, gray, impenetrable walls of diesel-tinged mist, often making it near-impossible to find your car in the Taco Belle parking lot (Corvallis’ premier restaurant). Justifiably famous for its remarkably bad drivers, the Corvallis fog adds appreciably to the mayhem. Be careful out there.

2. “Heart of the Valley”

Salem 1, Corvallis 0.

Salem 1, Corvallis 0.

The town was originally called “Marysville,” named, a gentleman who I once met at either Squirrel’s Tavern or the Suds & Suds assured me, after a lady who ran a sawmill/brothel where the river named after her (that would be the Mary) flows into the Willamette, back in the 1840s. In 1853, the legislative assembly renamed the place Corvallis, from the Latin phrase cor vallis, meaning either “rotten to the core,” or “heart of the valley” — linguists are divided on that. The town served as capital of the Oregon Territory for approximately 23 minutes in 1855, until legislators came to their senses and hastily switched to Salem (an only slightly less boring town 48 miles to the north, whose only real virtue is that it is linked to Eugene and Portland via what we commonly refer to as a “road,” unlike the game trails that connect civilization with “the Heart of the Valley”).

3. Demographics

White person

A Corvallis female. Who can blame her?

At last count there were 137 people of color living in Corvallis. Seriously, according to the 2010 Census, almost 90% of the population is White. This is an even higher percentage of White people than, say, Disneyland or Opryland USA (which, as I type I realize reminds me a great deal of Corvallis, without the music and excellent BBQ of course). Corvallis boasts more men than women, a fact the casual Civil War traveler will find unsurprising as he or she scans the crowd outside Reser Stadium prior to kickoff. I mean, really – would you want to be a woman and live in Corvallis?

4. Is There a God?



Believe it or not, Benton County – and remember, Corvallis is the county seat – is the least religious county per capita in the United States. It is speculated that this may be attributed to the popularity of, shall we say, “less common” religions not listed in the survey that resulted in Benton County winning the nation’s religious booby prize. “Religions” like the Church of Ed Wood (an internet-based church – they only have dial-up in Corvallis, but apparently that’s enough for Woodies) – that follows the inspirational teachings of late cult film director Ed Wood. Or Apatheism, a religious practice nurtured by most Beavers fans, embracing apathy as a way of life. Then there’s The Church of All Worlds, a neo-pagan religion founded in 1962 by Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and his wife Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart. Need I say more? In Corvallis, Scientology, complete with inter-galactic leader Xenu, fleets of DC-8-like spaceships, hydrogen bombs in volcanoes, and “soul traps,” is considered mainstream. Having said this, I understand even Tom Cruise refuses to visit.

5. The Clonal Germplasm Repository

Fun for the entire family.

Fun for the entire family.

To be honest, there are more than a few Oregonians who believe Corvallis has little to offer the visitor. Well, to them I say, you clearly have never seen the Peavy Arboretum, visited the majestic Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, or taken in the Clonal Germplasm Repository, purported to be a gene bank for the United States Department of Agriculture, but according to both Xenu and Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, is something far scarier and more sinister – a terrific place to take the kids before hitting the scintillating tailgating scene outside Reser.

So there you have it. If you do intend to make the trek to Corvallis, I hope this helps make your visit more enjoyable. Having been to Corvallis myself – once – I intend to watch the game from the relative safety of my rec room, wearing my Xenu tunic and munching on genetically modified nacho chips.

I thank Ed Wood I’m from Eugene. Go Ducks.

Top photo by www.corvallisadvocate.com

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