I went down a rabbit hole this weekend studying a distant cousin named Nevada Stewart (1863-1922) — my second cousin, 4x removed if you’re keeping track.1 Normally I wouldn’t detour so far off the course of my direct ancestors, but Nevada’s family caught my eye because they were early settlers in Oregon, which is where I live. In fact, Nevada and I are both first-generation Oregonians. Her branch of the family just made it here about 100 years before mine.
Nevada Ester Stewart was born in Washington County in September 1863, four years after Oregon became a state. Her father, Albert Stewart (1825-1897), was a farmer who came to Oregon in 1846. My connection is through Nevada’s mother, Mary Jane Schuck (1833-1904), who crossed the plains in 1852.
Albert and Mary Jane married in 1852 and raised 10 children on “Hazelwitch farm,” the namesake of Hillboro’s Witch Hazel neighborhood as well as a road and elementary school.2 The Stewart Family Cemetery is still there, surrounded by a suburban housing development on SE Stewart Court. 3
I started following the Stewart family trail, clicking my way through records on Ancestry and Google, and before long, I was looking at Nevada McDonald in the 1920 census.4 She was 50 years old, divorced, and proprietor of the Grand Central Hotel in Clatskanie, Columbia County, Oregon.
I googled the Grand Central Hotel to see what I could find and turned up a blog article with a 1913-era photo postcard featuring the hotel’s dining room, boasting the “best meal in Oregon.” 5 The eagle-eye blogger made note of a “Skim Milk Served Here” sign on the back wall, a detail I surely would have missed. Apparently hotels and restaurants were required to post a sign in a conspicuous place if their milk contained a less-than-legal fat content. The Grand Central was cited by the Oregon Dairy and Food Commission for illegally serving skim milk at some point in 1910-1912.6
Illegally skimming or diluting the milk wasn’t the Grand Central’s only run-in with the law. In 1914, Nevada’s husband Dave McDonald, proprietor of the Grand Central, was arrested “on the charge of working women longer than the time prescribed by law.” He pleaded guilty and paid $25 plus fees. Meanwhile, the labor inspector also served notice to Mrs. Nevada McDonald, proprietress of a restaurant, and two Clatskanie merchants to “change their hours of employment to conform to the law. They all promised to do so.”7
As best I could tell, the McDonalds opened the Grand Central Hotel in 1904.8 It was just a stone’s throw off Highway 30 on Nehalem Street, current site of the Conestoga Bar & Grill. The hotel building is long gone, but in bits and pieces, I gathered that the 24-room hotel9 was located on the second floor and the ground floor housed several different businesses over the years.
Clatskanie, pop. 1,171 in 1920, straddles Highway 30 — the scenic Columbia River Highway — midway between Portland and Astoria, where the mighty Columbia meets the Pacific Ocean. On Aug. 12, 1915, dozens of automobiles arrived in Clatskanie to the sounds of ringing bells and steam whistles to celebrate the dedication of the new highway.
“No event in road construction that has yet occurred has greater significance to Oregon than this. This highway in addition to its scenic value, opens up a magnificent agricultural and industrial county. We are profoundly interested in this territory made accessible by a high class highway at a very great sacrifice on the part of the people of the state and must show our appreciation by joining in a grand demonstration on the official opening day. Do not forget that we want the ladies with us on this historic trip. Gasoline obtainable all along the line.”
— Columbia Highway Association, announcing the highway’s official opening 10
Nevada and Dave must have split up about that time. In 1917, David MacDonald11 was listed as divorced on his license to marry Norwegian immigrant Gertrude Mathson; the couple raised three daughters and managed a hotel for many years in Vernonia.
Dave was actually Nevada’s second husband. In 1882, at age 19, she married 37-year-old Francis Marion Kelsey, whose father Isaiah Kelsey donated the land to Washington County where the courthouse was sited.12 Frank was the father of Nevada’s only child, Oscar Marion Kelsey (1884-1949).
In 1900, 15-year-old Oscar was living in Hillsboro with his father and step-mother Agnes, who had been married for two years.
Nevada had also been remarried for two years to David B. MacDonald, a day laborer from Nova Scotia, Canada. The couple lived at Marshland, an unincorporated area in Columbia County, in the 1900 census. Nevada’s sister Etta and husband Oscar Elliot lived nearby.
In 1910, Nevada and Dave lived in Clatskanie; he worked at a blacksmith shop, likely the same shop operated by brother-in-law Oscar Elliot.
Dave remarried in 1917, and a 1918 report in the St. Helens Mist newspaper reveals Nevada found love again as well: “Cupid stole a march on the residents of Clatskanie when Mrs. Nevada McDonald, of the Grand Central hotel, slipped away the first of the week and was married to Mr. Lincoln Purcell of Pasco, Wash., the ceremony being performed at the Unitarian church, Portland, the pastor, Rev. W. G. Elliot, officiating. The wedding occurred on Tuesday, Oct. 29th. Mr. and Mrs. Purcell returned to Clatskanie Wednesday evening and are receiving the congratulations of their friends. 13
The partnership was brief. In January of 1920, the thrice-married, thrice-divorced Nevada McDonald was running the Grand Central Hotel on her own. Squire Lincoln Purcell apparently returned to Washington. He worked for the Northern Pacific railroad for 25 years, according to his obituary.14
Nevada married Husband No. 4, Swedish immigrant John Steelquist, in Portland on Dec. 9, 1920. He died 10 months later, on Oct. 4, 1921, at the home of his son in Albany, having “been in poor health for some time.”15 John’s great-grandson Peter Steelquist told me the couple didn’t live together for more than a couple months; the relationship was so brief that some of John’s family didn’t know he’d remarried.
Nevada died the following year. She was 58.
“Mrs. Nevada E. S. McDonald-Steelquist, who died March 5, was born September 21, 1862, at Reedville, Washington county. She was the daughter of Albert and Mary Stewart, early Oregon pioneers.
“In 1833 she was married to F. M. Kelsey. To this union was born one son, Oscar Marion Kelsey. Later she was married to David McDonald and they moved to Clatskanie, Or., where she opened a hotel. She operated this hotel for 25 years. She sold her hotel in 1920 and moved to Portland, where she was married to John Steelquist. A few months after this marriage Mr. Steelquist died.
“She is survived by one son, Oscar M. Kelsey, and two grandchildren, Rollen and Velda Kelsey of Portland, and also the following brothers and sisters: Mrs. Julia Roy, Ezra and Albert Stewart of Portland, Mrs. Harriet Lousignout, Forest Grove; Mrs. Etta Elliott of Clatskanie and Mrs. Mary Course and Andrew Stewart of Tekoa, Washington.
“Funeral services were held March 9, with interment at the Rose City cemetery.”
— The Sunday Oregonian, 19 March 192216
- Nevada’s great-grandparents Christopher Schuck (1766-1833) and Mary Catherine Appel (1773-1822) are my 5th great-grandparents.
- “Witch Hazel, Oregon facts for kids,” https://kids.kiddle.co/Witch_Hazel,_Oregon : accessed 25 May 2020.
- Hillsboro Historical Society, http://www.angelfire.com/or3/hhs/tour/tc/stewartcemetery.html
- 1920 U.S. Census, Columbia County, Oregon, Clatskanie City, Enumeration District 96, p. 1B (penned), Dwelling 25, Household 25, line 73 (3 Jan 1920); digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 23 May 2020.
- “Best Meal in Oregon: the Grand Central Hotel, Clatskanie,” Oregon Rediviva,http://www.oregonrediviva.com/2012/06/29/best-meal-in-oregon-the-grand-central-hotel-clatskanie/
- Biennial Report, 1908, Oregon Dairy and Food Commissioner, https://books.google.com/books?id=6SUdAQAAIAAJ.
- “Inspector Gets Busy,” Statesman Journal, 16 Apr 1914, p. 5, col. 3; digital image, newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/52132876/inspector-gets-busy/ : accessed 25 May 2020).
- “Mr. Dave McDonald moved,” St. Helens Mist, 12 Feb 1904, p. 3, col. 7; digital image, newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/52226131/dave-mcdonalds-new-hotel/ : accessed 27 May 2020).
- “Business opportunities,” Morning Oregonian, 30 Sept. 1913, p. 15; digital image, oregonnews.uoregon.edu (https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83025138/1913-09-30/ed-1/seq-15/#words=Central+Clatskanie+Grand : accessed 5 June 2020).
- “The Columbia River Highway” compiled by Larry Rea, The Columbia County Historian Home Page (http://www.twrps.com/history/the-highway/ : accessed 25 May 2020).
- Yes, I know I’ve spelled his name both McDonald and MacDonald. It comes up different ways in the records, so I’m just making sure I cover all my bases for the search engines: Dave McDonald, David McDonald, Dave MacDonald, David MacDonald.
Hillsboro, Ore., Dec. 29 (AP) — Francis M. Kelsey, 88, reputed to be Oregons oldest native son, was buried here today. He was born on the site of Hillsboro on January 16, 1845, and died here Tuesday. The site of the Washington county courthouse was donated by his father, from the Kelsey donation land claim.
The son lived in Washington county his entire life. In 1867 he married Miss Louisa Jackson, who died in 1882. He married Nevada Stewart in 1882, and in 1911 he wed Mrs. Lillian Kuhn who survives.
“Oldest Native of Oregon Passes,” The Capital Journal, 29 Dec. 1932, p. 5, col. 4; digital image, newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/51981923/obituary-for-francis-m-kelsey-aged-88/ : accessed 25 May 2020).
- St. Helens Mist, 8 Nov. 1918, p. 4, col. 3; digital image, newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/51983333/nevada-mcdonald-marries-lincoln-purcell/).
- “Squire Purcell of Valley Dies,” The Spokesman Review, 04 Sept 1934, p. 6, col. 6; digital image, newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/52226131/dave-mcdonalds-new-hotel/ : accessed 23 May 2020).
- “John Steelquist Dies After Long Period of Illness,” Albany Democrat-Herald, 05 Oct 1921, p. 4, col. 6; digital image, newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/51986467/obituary-for-john-steelquist-aged-64/ : accessed 23 May 2020).
- Obituary: Mrs. Nevada McDonald-Steelquist,” The Sunday Oregonian, 19 March 1922, p. 6, col. 2; digital image, oregonnews.uoregon.edu (https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/lccn/sn83045782/1922-03-19/ed-1/seq-6/ : accessed 25 May 2020).