In 1957, the Albany Chamber of Commerce promoted the city as the “brightest spot in Oregon’s future” in its annual directory.
After all, it was the “Northwest center of the nation’s strategic metal industry,” and the chamber bragged that Albany was built on a diversified industrial base that included meat packing, paper production and machinery manufacturing.
Those are the kinds of facts one can find buried in dozens of city directories that have been published since 1878. Together, they're much like an encyclopedia of history, factoids and advertisements offering glimpses of Hub City life.
For years, if someone wanted information from these directories, they had to consult them one-by-one at the Albany Regional Museum or the Carnegie Library. But recently, thanks to a $2,500 Oregon Heritage All Star Community grant, dozens of volumes dating back to 1878 have been digitized for easy perusal and research.
Albany is one of seven Oregon cities to have received Oregon Heritage recognition for their dedication to enriching heritage programs.
“Our volunteers are using the digitized directories a lot, especially when it comes to researching properties,” said Keith Lohse, the museum’s executive director. “It’s really great for property research and to determine if someone had relatives living in the area at a certain time.”
Lohse said the information contained in the directories is also valuable in determining what types of businesses have occupied retail buildings over the years.
“The directories don’t include every address, but they expanded offerings over the years,” he said. “Also, street names changed as the town grew and business addresses changed with that.”
Lohse said that in addition to the museum volunteers, townspeople visit daily for information. Now, they're directed to a computer in the research room, where they can work with the new digitized files.
Admission to the museum and use of the computer are both free, he added.
Completed by inmates through the Oklahoma Corrections Industries Program, the digitization process makes it easier to research data found in the thousands of pages, as they were scanned and digitized using optical character recognition software. That means users can enter individual words, phrases or business names and the program will recognize them, reducing search time.
Information gleaned from city directories ranges from facts and figures — such as past Albany mayors (Jason Wheeler in 1878, Russell Tripp in 1969) to the fact that George Rowlett received the chamber’s Key Man Award in 1969.
An advertisement in the 1878 directory noted that an annual subscription to the State Rights Democrat newspaper was just $3 per annum in advance. Mart Brown was its editor and proprietor. It billed itself as “The largest and best Democratic paper in the state and the official paper for Oregon and the city of Albany.”
In 1941, Albany boasted three theaters, a golf course, bowling alley and a municipal swimming pool. There were churches “of practically all denominations” and “three strong banks” in town. The population was 7,000.
Some of the directory's key advertisers were Cummings Transfer & Fuel, which provided “storage, wood, coal, briquettes, sawdust and oil”; First Federal Savings & Loan Association, where savings accounts could earn 3½ percent interest; and Albany Magnolia Laundry, which was proud to employ 28 people.
By 1957, the community had grown to 12,300 residents and 3,700 children were enrolled in local schools. There was more than $26 million on deposit in local banks and 8,500 electrical power connections. The total property value within the city limits was about $8.6 million, and three hotels had 161 rooms available. Some 120,000 persons flocked to the annual World Famous Timber Carnival, held annually over the Fourth of July holiday.
Albany continued to tout its industrial base in 1969, when the directory featured photos of the new 100-by-261-foot building under construction for Oregon Metallurgical and a new Zirconium Technology plant on South Pacific Boulevard that was to employ up to 60 persons.
Golden West Mobile Homes planned to start production in October, part of some $23 million in building expansions and new plants in the community in 1969 alone.
Individually, these directories provide curious insights into particular eras. Together, they tell the story of a developing, prospering community.
But not all directories are available. Volumes from 1912 to 1936 and 1942 to 1946 remain missing. The city is asking anyone with copies to consider donating them to the effort.
The digitized files can be accessed at the museum, 136 Lyon St., or at Carnegie Library, 302 Ferry St., as well as on the city’s website at cityofalbany.net/citydirectories.