Monday, November 21, 2011

Notable people remembered on a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road

Izaak Walton League Memorial Plaque, Oak Island Game Management Area, Sauvie Island, Oregon, Nov. 19, 2011. Photo Seth S. Moody.

A few weeks ago, I went a-looking for a plaque in North Portland that was not to be found. A few days ago, my intrepid co-explorer Seth Moody and I braved the wilds of Sauvie Island to find another plaque. I'm proud to report that neither of us were disemboweled by the Sasquatch, and that we achieved our goal (and we have proof!).

The plaque we found was installed by the Oregon Division of the Izaak Walton League on September 14, 1957, to commemorate the life and work of Edgar F. Averill and William L. Finley. Both men were long-time members of the League, long-time active conservationists, and long-time water pollution abatement advocates.

Our trek to discover this plaque was somewhat of a pilgrimage for me. In my ongoing research on Willamette River pollution, I have discovered an extensive amount of information about the in-the-trenches work of men and women like Averill and Finley. With every discovery I am increasingly more appreciative of this work, and conscious of these people's relevance and resonance to the present day. I locate my spiritual center in nature and human consciousness, so, in my interpretation, Averill and Finley are two notable and fully human figures—among many—who illustrate the ways in which real people can take real actions in the real world to effect real and positive changes to benefit present and future generations. In my interpretation, this is precisely the realm of the highest spiritual practice.

I will explain what I mean and ground these men in the real world. Below you will find some details of the lives of Averill and Finley to help explain why their names are glued to a nondescript moss-covered boulder at the end of a rarely-traveled country road in an out-of-the-way place like Sauvie Island . . .

Izaak Walton League Memorial Plaque, Oak Island Game Management Area, Sauvie Island, Oregon, Nov. 19, 2011. Photo Seth S. Moody.

This plague honors two men who were very active in Oregon conservation efforts throughout the first half of the twentieth century. This activism also included persistent and unstinting advocacy to improve water quality throughout Oregon, particularly in the Willamette River watershed.[1]

Edgar F. Averill was born in 1881 in Chetco, Oregon, and graduated from Willamette University with a BS in 1905. He worked as reporter for the Salem Capital Journal, night city editor at the Pendleton Tribune, and city editor for the East Oregonian after graduation. In 1911, he became a District Game Warden for the Oregon State Game Commission. From 1914 to 1919, he worked for the U.S. biological survey based in Pendleton. Two years later, he entered the insurance business. He served as State Game Warden from 1925 to 1927, and left this position to open his own insurance agency in Portland’s Yeon Building (522 SW Fifth Ave.). In addition to his active involvement in the Izaak Walton League and long-time advocacy for water pollution abatement, he was an active member of the Portland City Club, the Audubon Society, Exchange Club, and the Methodist Church, and was also a trustee of Willamette University. In the 1930s, he served as President of the Oregon Wildlife Federation. Averill died at home at 6805 NE 32nd Avenue, March 19, 1955.[2]

William Lovell Finley was a nationally-renowned conservationist, writer, photographer, and conservation advocate. Because he published widely and helped propel both state-wide and national conservation efforts, Finley's accomplishments, compared to Averill's, may seem more outwardly impressive, but both men seem to have been close friends and associates and, specifically in terms of Willamette River water pollution abatement, Averill was more active and influential.[3]

Finley was born on August 9, 1876, and when he was nearly nine years old he and his parents moved from Santa Clara, California, to Portland, Oregon. His father established Portland’s Finley Mortuary in 1892. Finley and his friend Herman Bohlman helped form the North-Western Ornithological Association in December 1894; Finley was president of the twenty-two-member organization by 1896. The association briefly produced a magazine titled The Oregon Naturalist, in which they advertised the bird eggs and skins they collected.

In the late 1890s, Finley and Bohlman had moved decidedly away from collecting skins, feathers, and eggs and began photographing birds instead. The men collaborated on a number of expeditions throughout Oregon and Northern California from 1899 to 1908. Together they produced thousands of images of nearly 100 western bird species.

William Finley and Nellie Irene Barnhart married in 1906. They were both 1903 graduates of the University of California, and they settled in Portland. William and Irene often traveled on photography expeditions with their two children. Irene was active in the Oregon Audubon Society, contributed to Finley’s first book, American Birds (1907), and wrote many magazine articles.

William Finley helped form the Oregon Audubon Society in Portland in 1902, and society members elected him President in 1906. Finley helped pass the state’s Model Bird Law in 1903 and, backed by this law, helped put an end to the hunting of sea birds. After becoming Oregon Audubon President, Finley helped raise fund for a patrol boat for wardens enforcing game laws on Klamath Lake. Finley and Bohlman’s 1903 photographs of Three Arch Rocks helped convince President Roosevelt to establish there the nation’s first west coast bird refuge. Roosevelt was inspired by Finley and Bohlman’s work in the Klamath and Malheur areas to establish bird refuges at these places in 1908.

Finley worked on regional and national conservation projects through the 1910s-1930s with Ira N. Gabrielson, Jay N. “Ding” Darling, and others. Gabrielson served as the first head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1940-1946, and helped found the World Wildlife Fund; Darling was a journalist and Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist, and in the 1930s he served as Chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, administered the Federal Duck Stamp Program, and helped establish the National Wildlife Federation.

Finley helped establish the Oregon Fish and Game Commission in 1911 during the administration of Governor Oswald West, and shortly thereafter became head of the commission and State Game Warden. In this role he oversaw game and fish re-stocking, hatchery construction, hunter safety, and related projects. He also founded the Oregon Sportsmen magazine. State fish and game commissioners created a new job category for the widely-popular Finley—State Biologist—in 1917, but in 1919 abruptly fired him. The commissioners claimed the firing was because Finley’s interest in non-game species conservation and his frequent speaking tours out of state were incompatible with the commission’s work; some observers speculated that the firing was linked to Finley’s opposition to the draining of Klamath-area waters for farming purposes, a project many commissioners supported. In 1926 state officials reappointed Finley to the commission, in the role of a Commissioner, and he held this role until 1930.

Local civic leaders, conservationists, and other men formed the Portland Chapter of the Izaak Walton League on December 15, 1922. The organization’s first elected officers included President Noyes E. Tyrrell (who had been a charter member of the Multnomah Anglers’ Club, organized circa 1903), Vice President John Gill (a state senator), and Secretary A. Benz. The executive committee included naturalist William Finley, Mazamas mountaineering club president John A. Lee, and conservationist, journalist, and newspaper editor Marshall Dana. This organizational meeting came just a week after the Chicago Chapter of the IWLA honored Finley for his contributions to the causes of conservation and preservation; these same men in Chicago had, just a few months previously, founded the Izaak Walton League.

David B. Charlton, who was also a long-time member of the Portland Chapter of the Oregon Division of the Izaak Walton League and one of the central figures in Willamette River water pollution abatement from the 1930s into the 1980s, reflected on the central role that William Finley played in recruiting him into the IWLA in the early 1930s:
    My becoming a Waltonian in 1934 resulted from my visit to the Portland chapter meeting when there was much uncertainty on how to get Portland to do something on its sewage disposal problem. Perhaps my greatest inspiration and awareness of wildlife and conservation problems come from contact with Bill and Irene Finley.[4]
Finley died on June 29, 1953, after suffering a series of strokes since 1946 that left him physically and mentally impaired for the last seven years of his life.[5]

[1] See, generally, James V. Hillegas, "Working for the 'Working River': Willamette River Pollution, 1926 to 1962" (MA thesis, Portland State University, 2009).

[2] For information on Averill, see: University of Oregon Libraries, “Guide to the Edgar Averill papers, 1934-1939,”, accessed March 19, 2011; “Fish Killed by Sewage,” Morning Oregonian, May 5, 1926, sec. 2, p. 1.; “Edgar Averill Dies at Home,“ Oregonian, March 20, 1955, p. 15; “Plaque to Fete,” Oregonian, Sep. 14, 1957, p. 9; “Finley-Averill Memorial,” Oregonian, Sep. 14, 1957, p.10; A.J. Kreft, “Finley-Averill Memorial,” Oregonian, Sep. 23, 1957, p.14.

[3] You gotta trust me on this last claim. Documentation will be forthcoming.

[4] David B. Charlton to “Dear Al,” April 9, 1975, folder Correspondence re: Water Pollution 1930-1950, box 18, Charlton Papers (Mss 1900), Oregon Historical Society Research Library, Portland, Ore.

[5] For information on Finley, see: Worth Mathewson, William L. Finley: Pioneer Wildlife Photographer (Corvallis, Oregon State University Press, 1986); Lawrence M. Lipin, Workers and the Wild: Conservation, Consumerism, and Labor in Oregon, 1910-30 (Urbana, Ill., University of Illinois Press, 2007), particularly 51, 54-60; “Local Anglers Elect,” Morning Oregonian, Dec. 16, 1922, p. 16; “Izaak Walton League Chapter is Formed Here,” Oregon Sunday Journal, Dec. 17, 1922, sec. 2, p. 2; “Naturalist’s Widow Dies,” Oregonian, Sep. 29, 1959, p. 15; “Plaque to Fete,” Oregonian, Sep. 14, 1957, p. 9; “Finley-Averill Memorial,” Oregonian, Sep. 14, 1957, p.10; A.J. Kreft, “Finley-Averill Memorial,” Oregonian, Sep. 23, 1957, p.14.



  1. Can we expect reference 3 to be fully developed and more detail about the IWL, and its intrepid members, in your forth comming book?

  2. Why, yes!

    What the reader will find is that Averill is the one in the trenches from the 1920s into at least the mid-1940s, and Finley is involved consistently but from a more strategic vantage.

    I see Averill in attendance at an array of city council and Sanitary Authority meetings, part of the City of Portland's committee to develop an actionable sewer funding plan in the 1930s, and active in pushing the city council to pay for sewers in the 1940s. Finley does attend some city council meetings, he is involved in public outreach, and he's good for the occasional op-ed and quotation in the newspaper, but he's not involved, as far as I can tell, in the membership of the committees meeting regularly to hash-out the nitty-gritty details.

    Both men were very important contributors, but not in exactly the same ways.