Provisional and Territorial Government Records

The 1931 Legislative Assembly authorized the transfer of the provisional and territorial government records from the Secretary of State's Office to the Oregon Historical Society in Portland. This was partially in response to a 1926 report by the Board of Control which outlined the high risk of fire in the Capitol. Of course the accuracy of the report was soon displayed by the 1935 Capitol fire that destroyed the building and most of its contents including a great number of valuable records. The law allowed the Board of Control to judge when conditions were suitable for the records to be returned to Salem.

Twenty years later a number of factors led to calls for the return the records to Salem:

  • A series of land claim court cases caused questions to be raised about provisions for authentic copies of the documents while in the custody of the Oregon Historical Society.
  • The State Archives program had been created by law in 1947 to care for historical public records.
  • The Capitol building now had adequate storage facilities.
  • Governor Douglas McKay summarized a general opinion held by many in saying that the records should be returned because "they are state documents and Salem is the seat of state government."13

The president of the Oregon Historical Society responded with reasons why the records should stay in Portland.

  • They were kept in a reinforced concrete vault with a fire door.
  • The Society had enhanced the usefulness of the records by creating an index.
  • The records should be kept where they could be studied by scholars in conjunction with other records and publications found only at the Society.
  • The president pointed out that "had the society not rescued them from the dusty wastes of the old capitol basement in 1931 they would probably have been burned in the fire that destroyed the building in 1935."14

The Board of Control settled the issue by voting unanimously for the return of the records to Salem. By April, 1952 the records were in the custody of the State Archives. However, in 1973 an effort was made to permit the transfer of the records once again to the Oregon Historical Society. After a flurry of letters, Secretary of State Clay Meyers (who as of July, 1973 had authority over the State Archives based on the passage of HB 3205) rejected the idea and stated that he could not "contemplate transfer of the 'Oregon Territorial Papers' without specific statutory direction."15 The issue died in spite of the fact that some legislators had voted for HB 3205 based on an understanding that it would permit the transfer.16

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