Shady Cove incorporated (on some day) in 1972

While White City has been looking to become Jackson County's youngest incorporated city, the current titleholder has been having a memory problem.

Like an absent-minded husband forgetting his wedding anniversary, 2012 was nearly half over before a few Shady Cove residents realized that the town had just turned 40 — or maybe it was just about to turn 40.

The issue was as clear as a bend in the Rogue River on a foggy day.

Oregon's Blue Book, the official book of state facts, said Shady Cove was incorporated Nov. 8, 1972, but in a 1973 Shady Cove brochure, the date was given as July 25, 1972, a date that was perpetuated in many subsequent news stories.

Searching city records, City Administrator Danise Brakeman uncovered the city's "Proclamation of Incorporation," signed by all county commissioners. Based on a successful primary election, the document had "Ordered and Declared that the area is incorporated as the City of Shady Cove effective May 23, 1972."

"We just missed our 40th birthday," said a disappointed Brakeman.

Maybe — but, maybe not.

There were three dates to choose from and one of them had to be official, but which one?

It's not like Shady Cove had just appeared along the upper Rogue recently. Settlers began arriving in the early 1870s, a post office opened there in 1882, and the little community was known as Etna. But the Etna post office would only last 14 years when mail delivery moved north to Trail.

When the name "Shady Cove" first appeared is a mystery. Some believe it dates to around 1915, when a man named Barnes laid out a town site on the east side of the river in an area locals called "the cove."

The cove is a bend in the Rogue River a few hundred yards upstream from today's Shady Cove Bridge. However, the name didn't become official until a post office was established in 1939.

By 1963, with an influx of tourists and new residents, the population had increased from a few hundred to more than 1,300 and, coupled with news that the Army Corps of Engineers would soon begin constructing the Lost Creek Lake and dam, likely bringing even more growth, the first attempt to incorporate as a city began. But it never got off the ground.

Proponents of incorporation still felt that legal status as a city was needed, so in 1971 the campaign began again.

Jim Collier, eventually a Shady Cove mayor and city councilman, was co-chairman of the incorporation committee. In March 1972, he presented the Jackson County Board of Commissioners with a petition bearing 104 signatures requesting incorporation. A public hearing was held and a vote was set for the May 23 primary election.

Collier said there was more at stake in the election than just growth.

"There was so much contamination of the local wells from septic systems," he said, "that we wanted to put in a water system. "… In talking with the county, they did not want us to put in a water system. They wanted us to put in a sewer system, and if we didn't do it their way, they were going to send the Bear Creek Valley Sanitary Authority out to put in a system for us, and we wouldn't have any representation on their board. "… So a bunch of us decided we would not knuckle under to the county, and the best way to do what we wanted was to do our own incorporation."

In addition, Collier said, the group wanted to get its share of state gasoline, liquor and cigarette taxes and use them for local improvements. The taxes were going to the county at the time, and Shady Covers didn't think they were getting their share.

Incorporation was approved at the May election, 190 yes, 150 no, but until the town elected a city council and voters approved a city charter, the state wouldn't recognize the town as a city.

The run up to the July 25 election of a city council gave opponents of incorporation another chance. They urged election of a slate of five anti-incorporation candidates as the only way to prevent taxes that would be needed to provide city services.

The pro-incorporation slate swept the election with a pledge that "the local economy" would "temper any decision" as they worked "for an economically sound city."

Six days after the election, the five-member city council took the oath of office in the chambers of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.

At its first meeting, Aug. 7, the council selected Ray Briggs as the city's first mayor and began working on ordinances and the all-important city charter.

The Nov. 6, 1972, general election ballot gave voters three measures to decide — establish a tax base, join the Shady Cove-Trail Rural Fire District for fire protection and, most important of all, Measure 9 to approve a city charter, asking, "Shall the area be incorporated as a city, to be known as the City of Shady Cove, Oregon?"

All three measures passed, and as far as the state was concerned, Shady Cove was finally a legal, official Oregon city, its incorporation date set as the day after that election.

Now, 40 years after it was born, it seems ironic that Shady Cove is still trying to build that water system that got incorporation started 40 years ago. Officials hope to put a bond measure on the upcoming November ballot. It's probably the anniversary gift they've always needed and wanted, but so far no one's celebrating and nobody has planned a party.

Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at

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