Although Native Americans, mountain men, and packers spent much time in the Cove area it wasn’t until the last day of 1861 that Samuel Cowles and his niece Fannie Pauline pitched a tent in what is now Cove and became its first permanent residents. During 1862 many settlers moved into the community, which was then called Forest Cove.
At first, outgoing mail was left at the Cowles store and transported to the post office in Union. On Saturdays, James Hendershot, the owner of a stage stop at what is now called Phy’s Point, would bring the mail from Union to Cove. Families from miles around would gather at the Dixie School on the chance they would receive a letter from friends or family back home. A more traditional post office was soon formed in Forest Cove but in 1868 the post office department ruled that the name too closely resembled Forest Grove and after much local protest Cove assumed its present name.
Union County was established in 1864 and a county court was elected to conduct county business. The court initially established a tax system, formed road districts, and provided the normal legal and judicial functions of most counties. As a part of their responsibility they created election precincts usually centered in and around the several small communities that had developed within the county. In addition to voting on county, state, and national candidates and issues, a provision allowed voters within precincts to elect a Justice of the Peace and a Constable. Justices of the Peace were charged with rendering decisions on local disputes or problems that did not rise to the level of county action, and to levy fines or jail time to those who broke local ordinances. Constables were to maintain some semblance of order and refer transgressors to the Justice of Peace. This system seemed to serve Cove and other small communities for many years.
At the turn of the century, the need for a local public body to construct and maintain city streets, establish water systems, and provide for some form of organized fire protection began to emerge from within these small communities. Some Cove residents saw this need and in 1904 discussion of incorporation began in earnest within the community. On February 10, 1904, the La Grande Morning Observer reported:
“In the matter of the proposed incorporation of Cove a meeting was held at Trippeer’s Hall last Saturday. The attendance was full and much interest manifested. The following ticket to be voted on the 20th was nominated. For Mayor, W. D. Clark; Councilmen, E. F. Pearl, Joseph Pixton, A. G. Conklin, K. J. Duffey, William Reynolds, and Jasper C. Stevens.”
Subsequent comments by an unnamed Observer correspondent stated:
“Registering of voters has just commenced in this vicinity and will rapidly be pushed through completion. Spring fights have commenced, a little early this season on account of the liability of early incorporation of the town and hence raise in price of such luxuries. We propose to start off with a clean slate, all differences disposed of peaceably or otherwise.”
The February 24, 1904 edition of the Observer noted:
“The Cove will vote on incorporation today. The question has been one of intense local speculation but the ballots will tell the story today.”
(Actually, the vote had taken place four days earlier.)
The February 26, 1904 edition of the Observer announced in bold headlines:
“COVE NOW A CITY. VOTE CAST 106 MAJORITY OF 12 IN FAVOR OF INCORPORATION. DAVE CLARK ELECTED MAYOR.”
“Cove is now a full-fledged city. The battle waged furiously all day both sides were confident of victory and it was not until the ballots were cast and counted that the matter was settled. The principal issue was whether Cove should be incorporated. The total vote cast was 106 and the count showed a majority of 12 in favor of incorporation.”
“There were two tickets in the field for city offices. David Clark won the mayorship over O. T. Severs by one majority. Sherman Reese was elected recorder. J. H. Stevens, Treasurer, S. E. White, Marshal, Councilmen A. G. Conklin, Wm Reynolds, Joe Tripeer, Wm Martin, J. C. Pixton, and S. E. Pearl.”
Thus, on February 20, 1904, Cove voted favorably for incorporation. The original charter received from the State of Oregon remains on file in the City office, one of the few original documents not lost in an early Cove fire.
Only 106 Cove residents voted in that election with 59 favoring incorporation and 47 voting against incorporation. By this slim margin the Cove community formed a local government that continues to serve its citizens to this day. During this period of time countless local residents stepped forward to contribute their time and effort as mayors, council members, recorders, treasurers, and other positions of responsibility in order to maintain and improve the City of Cove.
History by John Van Schoonhoven
August 12, 2004