The Life of J.A. Bushnell

The following is the life story of James Addison Bushnell- banker, American businessman, and accredited co-founder of Eugene Divinity School (now Northwest Christian University):

James Addison Bushnell was born July 27th, 1826 in Chatauqua County, N.Y. His parents were of Puritan ancestry. He lived with his family in the “Western Reserve”, now the state of Ohio. His father died in 1842 and the family moved to Kirksville Missouri in 1844.

James was baptized in 1847, when he was 19. He stated “here… in the winter made a public profession of faith in a crucified savior. Was buried with him in the water of the Mississippi and arose to walk in a new life. A step I have never regretted having taken and am still after a lapse of forty-six trying to live faithful to the cause of him who then professed to love.”

He then married Elizabeth Adkins in 1849 and built a home on his 80 acres in Adair County. Charles Alvah, their first child was born in 1851.

In 1852, with the news of gold in California, he left his wife and first born and joined two men to voyage to the West. He stated, “The prairie grass had just started to grow on the bare hills and prairies of Kansas when we left civilized life behind us and turned our faces toward the setting sun – we commenced the long journey across the Plains.”

After meeting others along the way, they decided to change course to Oregon territory. They ended up ending their journey in Hudson Bay Co. in Vancouver. They then diverted their travels to Oregon City, down to Salem, Umpqua Valley and Winchester. From there they set out to mind gold in Jacksonville. He wrote, “Here we stayed and prospected for some time, going over onto the Applegate Creek, but of course knowing nothing about mining we had no success.”

They tried their luck in Shasta City, arriving there around October, some 7 months after leaving Missouri. James and his friend spent the winter in Middleton where they quite amazingly “came upon” his brother William. They formed a partnership with him as that winter was a harsh one and they feared that they may starve from lack of provisions.

As Spring came, William set off for the Sacramento River – and after having some success to amount to a little over $500. Missing his family, James walked to the mountains of Red Bluff where he took a boat to Sacramento, then on to San Francisco – where on the last day of June 1853 he boarded a steamship for San Juan, the western terminus of the Nicaragua route. He arrived in Greyton and boarded the steamer Northern Light bound for New York, through Toledo on to Chicago, and steamboat to St. Luis and up to La Grange, from there to Adair County Missouri by stagecoach.

After making it home at last (in August of 1853), James was informed by his brother-in-law Frank Adkins that his wife, child, mother, sister and brothers had left three months ago for Oregon. He wrote,

“My feelings can be better imagined than described… After traveling over fifteen-thousand miles to meet my loved ones, expecting to clasp them to my heart only to learn that they were far away from me, was almost more than I could bear. Was for a while completely stunned, but there was nothing to do but to return the way I had come…”

He then headed back to New York where he got on a steamboat to California. On his journey back, he wrote,

“As the ship neared the harbor (in Norfolk, VA) and all the danger had passed the crew and officers with the passengers assembled on the quarter deck, to give thanks to God for preserving our lives and bringing us safe to harbor. It was a scene long to be remembered.”

He then boarded the Crescent City and sailed to Panama, arriving there near starvation. He boarded the steamer Oregon bound for San Francisco.

Arriving in San Francisco James boarded the Columbia bound for Portland- there he walked to Salem hoping to find news about his family. Getting no news there, he walked to Springfield. Taking refuge in Mahlon Harlow’s house (the founder of First Baptist Church in Eugene) upon arrival in Springfield, late and tired- he awoke next morning to find that Mahlon had found his family and after a separation of 20 months and crossing the continent three times, they were reunited.

The Bushnell’s took to building a community around them with the fervor of the missionaries in the land and his first daughter Lucy, born in 1854. His daughter Ursula was born in 1857, but only his son little Willie survived that year.

By 1861, James had built a significant farming and ranching operation- but it was almost all lost that fall and winter because of a flood that covered the entire valley floor and an extremely cold winter. The Bushnell farm was the only one with a barn that could keep summer crops and feed off the ground in their area and as a result, they were a great aid to the people in their community.

By 1864, James was selected sergeant of the area’s Union Calvary but they were never called upon to fight. The Christian Church in Grand Prairie (Junction City), a new congregation he was instrumental in founding and the sole financial supporter, was split in two over the question of war and emancipation of slaves.

James wrote of the incident and the preacher he employed at Grand Prairie the following solace,

“He lived to see and deplore his conduct in this crisis of our country’s history.”

A third son, George Addison was born the same year that little Willie passed away.

In 1867 James was excited to add to his ranch 100 acres and build a new house, larger barns and a silo. BUT the following spring his wife Elizabeth took sick with consumption. He wrote,

“For two months never got more than two hours of sleep at any one time but God sustained me and fulfilled to the letter his promise that, as thy day, so shall thy strength be. The night of January 2, 1868 she closed her eyes for the time on earth…Three of our little ones had gone on before and she only followed them to the better land where sickness, sorrow, pain, and death are felt and feared no more, and where I humbly hope to meet them when the dreams of life are fled.”

In 1870 James married Sara Page — “The partner of all my joys and sorrows…”

Just a year later, their son Charles Alvah died of consumption after spending two years at the Christian college in Monmouth (now Western Oregon University).

“To lay him down in the cold and silent grave would be very hard to bear if it were not for the hope given us in the Gospel. The night before he died he asked me to read him what Christ said about the many mansions and going to prepare a place for us and he was very much comforted… the grave held no terror for him.”

In 1874 James built a crop warehouse in what was now Junction City and the farmers soon filled it to overflowing. The following year he built a house in town and was elected to the town council as president.

That same year, a son Albert was born who did not survive infancy. Four years later, a daughter, Mary was born quickly followed by sons Henry and Walter.

In 1884, the First Church of Christ was organized under James’ leadership – he serving as elder.

That year the town was devastated by another great flood. His family was also devastated with the loss of his son Walter as he became sick with diphtheria and died just before Christmas. Mary died just five days later and young Addison passed away 10 days later.

“I trust, in immortal bloom in that land where there is no sickness, sorrow, pain or death… that their angel spirits do always behold the loving face of our father who is heaven and that His kind hand will gather the lambs into his arms.”

In the coming years, he and his family traveled much of the Northwest and had numerous involvements.

  • James served as president of the Lane County Evangelistic Board.
  • Several years as Secretary of the Oregon Christian Convention.
  • Vice President of the State Missionary Board.
  • Founded the first bank in Junction City and served as its president.
  • Started the first chamber of commerce in the area.
  • Built a Hotel, and according to several publications the finest Opera House to be found between Seattle and San Francisco. It was sadly destroyed by fire in 1915.
  • And, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: he was called upon to partner with Eugene Sanderson to found Eugene Divinity School in 1895, served on the committee to canvas the initial funds – elected President of the Board of Regents – a position he held for 17 years – until his death in 1912.

He wrote of the college that he appreciated and supported often – as successful and full to its capacity – of the funding and preparations for the Goodrich Building in 1908. The Bushnell Library  was a source of pride for he and his wife.

He was proud of its growth and changing of the name to Eugene Bible University as the school continued from six students and no property to,

“An attendance in all departments of 147, with four good building and assets of over 150K, with its representatives preaching in every state on the coast.”

His final journal entry read,

“Was elected to fill the same place for the coming three years. I may be able to fill it but do not in the least expect to. God alone knows if it is His will that I should tarry here three years longer – I shall be glad, but if not shall be the same. Held our meetings in the Bushnell Library… in the fine stone building now containing 4,000 volumes. It is supposed this will keep in memory the name of J.A Bushnell when he is dead and otherwise forgotten – it is well – I have never been ashamed of my record. It will matter little to me if my name is the only in the Lamb’s Book of Life but for my children sake may they remember me in love and gratitude.”

A final remark on the importance of recognizing James Bushnell:

“As we, the NCU community, find ourselves here – strengthened in resolve to such a mission we are reminded that for nearly 125 years we stand on the faithful shoulders of those who came before us, starting with James Bushnell and Eugene Sanderson.

Buried at Luper cemetery – between Eugene and Junction City – off BEACON Drive.”

-President Joe Womack

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