Pioneers: John H. Butler
Butler Is Among Medford Veterans
Head of Largest Home Furnishings Firm in Southern Oregon
Rode Blind Baggage of Passenger Train into This
City 38 Years Ago; Developed Illahee Orchard,
One of Best Producers in This Valley
This story of J. H. (John) Butler, whose record of 38 years as a businessman in Medford makes him a veteran here, might never have been written had not an Iowa cyclone figuratively blown him from that midwestern state to way out here in Oregon. It was a cyclone that swept through Clarion in 1893, where Butler was born 62 years ago, leveling the dwellings of neighbors on either side of the Butler home, that induced his parents to seek another location.
"That cyclone, which made our neighbors homeless, was such that my father immediately made up his mind to seek a location where devastating storms were unknown," said Mr. Butler. "We had heard that Oregon offered a refuge from violent elemental disturbances. So it was that in 1895 we set out for Oregon."
The Butler family arrived at Harrisburg a few days after shaking the loamy soil of Iowa from their feet. The subject of this sketch remained in Harrisburg only long enough to become acclimated, to meet the girl of his dreams, to marry her and to become possessed of a desire to see the famous Rogue River Valley, all occurring within a few short months of the then young life of John Butler, who arrived here before the close of 1895.
Before 1896 was ushered in Butler had engaged in the paint and wallpaper business with A. C. Green, which firm was the foundation for the Medford Furniture & Hardware Co., one of the leading institutions of its kind in Southern Oregon, and one with which he has been connected many years.
"Beats Way" to MedfordIncidentally it is no disgrace to this highly respected businessman to say that he "beat his way" from Harrisburg to Medford. John chuckled when he recalled the incident. "My only possession was a young wife and an irresistible desire to get to Rogue River Valley. After some persuasion I induced Frank Wilson, who originally hailed from Iowa and with whom I became acquainted soon after arriving at Harrisburg, to make the trip with me. It required a great deal of persuasion. Wilson, former well-known Medford businessman, whose death occurred only a few months ago, had never 'beaten' a train. But I had, so it was no novel venture to me. Let me say here, however, that had it not been for my companion, we would have been stranded on the way to Medford."
Butler recalled here that times were hard in '95. Thousands of idle men were all but taking possession of passenger and freight trains, and train crews, under orders to keep all itinerants off the trains, were hard boiled. "We were put off the blind baggage twice, once at Cow Creek. We were about ready to give it up when finally Frank Wilson asked an irate brakeman if there was an Odd Fellow among the train crew. The brakeman advised him that the conductor was a three-link man. Forthwith Frank found the conductor, showed his receipt for dues in the Eugene lodge, and we were permitted to ride into Medford without more delay."
Met Charley PalmCharley Palm, whose death occurred here a few weeks ago, was the first man Butler and Wilson met after leaving the train. Butler tells the story as follows:
"We had no sooner alighted from the train when Charley Palm, who made a fortune here in real estate, approached us and asked if he could interest us in a piece of real estate. Our rejoinder was: "Not now. What we need most of all is something to eat and a bath."
Butler moved rapidly in those days. He soon made the acquaintance of A. C. Green and opened a paint and wallpaper store under the firm name of Butler & Green. They opened at the location now occupied by Hutchison & Lumsden.
Add Furniture StockMarch 10, 1904, the late Frank W. Hollis and D. S. Busey, the latter the father of Mrs. Butler, joined the firm. A stock of furniture was added, and also an undertaking business, and the name of the firm was changed to Medford Furniture Co. Larger quarters were required, so the firm moved to the present location of Lamport's, occupying a building that stood on the lot now occupied by the west half of Lamport's.
The business continued uninterruptedly until 1908, when H. G. Nicholson, who remained with the firm until his death a few years ago, and C. W. Conklin were made stockholders of the company and a larger stock of house furnishings was added, making it necessary to occupy what is now the west half of Lamport's building. The undertaking department was sold to John Perl.
Wilson, Platt Join FirmIn 1911 the Medford Furniture Co. formed a merger with Hal F. Platt and E. E. (Elmer) Wilson, who had been conducting the Nicholson Hardware, which Nicholson sold to them the day he joined the former company. Thos. Howard also became a stockholder at that time, and the firm was incorporated under the name of the Medford Furniture & Hardware Co., under which the business has been conducted for approximately 22 years, and during which Butler has been manager.
Elmer Wilson and Hal F. Platt, who joined the firm in 1911, are also with the present company today, after an unbroken record of 22 years.
Erect Medford BuildingDuring the year the merger was formed, 1911, the company erected what is now the Medford Building at the corner of South Central and Sixth, a four-story structure, with full basement, covering one-fourth of a block. The company moved from the Lamport location on Main to their new home that year, occupying all but the fourth floor, with the largest stock of house furnishings ever assembled in Southern Oregon.
Immediately following the erection of the building at Central and Sixth the boom, which threw Medford into a frenzy of growth, collapsed and the company was compelled to dispose of the building. J. P. Hansen & Son were induced to erect a new two-story building at the corner of North Bartlett and Sixth, into which the company moved, and where it is located today.
The two-story structure occupied by the Medford Furniture & Hardware Co. at present is 100x125 feet and contains 25,000 square feet of floor space. The structure also houses post office substation No. 1, of which Butler is chief clerk.
Develops Illahee OrchardOnly once during his long and successful career here did John Butler ever attempt to branch out into other activities. That was in 1906 when he and Clarence Noe, senior member of the barber firm of Noe & Saylor, of North Riverside, purchased the raw ground and set out what is now the famous Illahee Orchard.
The Illahee tract consisted of 100 acres, 60 acres of which Butler and Noe set out to pears and 40 acres to apples. Much of the 40 acres set to apples has since been reset to pears. Butler purchased Noe's interest after about 11 years, and a year later sold the tract to Harry Leland, present owner.
Butler recalls, as does Noe, with some degree of pride, that the Illahee is one of the best producers in the valley. The founders of the orchard made only small profits from [the] operation, as the orchard had only come into full bearing when Butler sold it to Leland, but he made a reasonable profit on the sale above his former investment.
Can of Kerosene Brings $2000While in a reminiscent mood Butler recalled how he and his first associate, Green, traded a five-gallon can of kerosene for two acres of land for which Butler ultimately received $2000. It was back in the early days, soon after Butler and Green opened the paint and wallpaper store, that they acquired the two acres, which is now part of the site of the Timber Products Co. They were asked to submit a bid for painting a large two-story frame house, inside and out, but were told that they would have to take two acres of land, valued at $50 an acre. Despite the fact the two enterprising young businessmen added $100 to their original bid, they were awarded the contract.
All materials and equipment for the painting job were assembled on the ground but before work was started, the contractors discovered they had failed to include a five-gallon can of kerosene, for mixing stain, in their original estimate. Butler relates that failure to include the kerosene in the estimate of materials was always figured as what they paid for the two-acre tract.
Coin Flip Settles Argument"Afterwards, when my partner decided to leave and was set to go to California in 1899, we had an argument as to who would take the two acres, and continue to pay the taxes. He suggested we flip a coin. We did and I won, although he chided me at the time.
"The land seemed worthless at the time, but I eventually realized $2000 from it," said Butler.
Son Joins FirmThe young lady whom Butler met in Harrisburg and who became Mrs. Butler after a few months of courtship was Miss Florence Busey. It was a union that has withstood 38 years of time, and to which two sons and one daughter were born.
The eldest of the Butler sons, Warren, is following the footsteps of his father. He became a stockholder in the Medford Furniture & Hardware Co. following his return from service in the World War and will perpetuate the name of the family in that pioneer firm. Arnold, second son, is with the Jackson County Building & Loan Assn., and the daughter, Arlene, a graduate of U. of O., is a teacher in the Longview, Wash. city schools.
Was Volunteer FiremanButler says his early years in Medford were "the good old days" when we all belonged to the volunteer fire department and often ran a mile to the hose cart, and another mile with the hose cart to get to the fire.
Butler was chief of the department when Dr. J. F. Reddy was elected mayor, but resigned during the latter's administration when the city purchased the first fire engine. Harry D. Ling succeeded him as chief. "The fire that broke out in Weeks & McGowan's furniture store and ate its way into the mattress room was one of the most stubborn we ever fought," said Butler.
Recalls Oldtimers"Hubbard Bros., Strang's Drug Store, Leon Haskin's father, who ran a drug store, the Lawton implement store and C. I. Hutchison, who operated a grocery store, were among those in business when I arrived here."
Dr. E. B. Pickel, W. S. Jones and E. P. Geary were practicing here then, and it was in Dr. Jones' automobile, which was guided by a stick, that Butler took his first automobile ride.
Until very recent years hunting and fishing were Butler's hobby. Politics has been a diversion with him, and he remained a steadfast Democrat through all the long years of Republican rule.
Asked to state the guiding principle he has followed through his long business career, Mr. Butler said: "I have always tried to treat every man as I would have him treat me." It may not always have been profitable in dollars and cents, but has been satisfactory.
B. N. Butler, father of John Butler, died here in 1919. His mother, Mrs. Anna B. Butler, 83, resides at Eight S. Orange with her daughter, Miss Jeunesse Butler.
Medford News, July 21, 1933, page 1
JOHN BUTLER DIES OF HEART ATTACK IN YARD OF HOMEJohn H. Butler, one of the founders of the Medford Furniture & Hardware Company, dropped dead of a heart attack while he was talking to a neighbor in the front yard of his home, 916 East Main Street, about 6 o'clock Saturday evening. He had been in ill health for some time. He was in his 68th year.
Co-Founder of Medford Furniture and Hardware Co. Succumbs While Talking to Friend--Rites Tuesday
Funeral services will be held in the Perl chapel at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon. Dr. Sherman L. Divine, pastor of the First Presbyterian church, will officiate. Interment will be in the Siskiyou Memorial Park.
Active pall bearers will be Charles Gray of Gold Hill, Ancil C. Hubbard, Charles C. Furnas, Elmer E. Wilson, Grant Mathews of Grants Pass and Elmer I. Elwood.
Honorary pall bearers will be L. F. Pickett, Hal F. Platt, John Lawrence, C. D. Thompson, Roy Elliott and Harry Ling of Yreka, Cal.
Mr. Butler is survived by his wife and three children, Warren Butler of Grants Pass, Arnel Butler of Medford and Mrs. Claud Thompson of Los Angeles, He is survived also by three sisters, Mrs. Elizabeth Browne of Portland, Mrs. Oliver Norton of Portland and Miss Jeunesse Butler of Medford. Four grandchildren also survive.
Mr. Butler was born in Mapleton, Iowa, on October 11, 1868, the son of Basil N. and Susannah Butler, early Medford residents now deceased.
The family left Iowa for Oregon and settled in Harrisburg. There on November 1, 1893, John H. Butler married Florence Bussey. Three children were born of the union, all of whom survive.
Mr. Butler came here in 1893 and engaged in the paint and wallpaper business which became the foundation for the Medford Furniture & Hardware Company, one of the leading firms in Southern Oregon.
Mr. Butler helped to organize the first fire squad in this city. He became fire chief when the late Dr. J. F. Reddy was elected mayor. He resigned during Mayor Reddy's administration when the city bought its first fire engine. He was elected to the city council in November, 1923, but resigned a year later.
When a young man in Iowa, Mr. Butler was a member of the Congregational Church. He was long a member of the Knights of Pythias, Medford lodge of Elks and Woodmen of the World.
During his long business career here, Mr. Butler was highly respected and esteemed. He made many lasting friendships because of his rugged honesty and sympathetic understanding, and his death is generally mourned throughout Southern Oregon.
Medford Mail Tribune, August 31, 1936, page 8
Last revised May 5, 2022