“Wiley is an example of what it means to engage against the odds while forging paths for others to come,” Eric Richardson, Lane County NAACP president, said to a crowd of 25 at EWEB’s main headquarters, where the county’s first African American landowner, Wiley Griffon, purchased a small waterfront property in 1909.
On Feb.18, a small crowd gathered for the dedication of an historic sign acknowledging the history of Lane county’s first African American landowner.
Griffon relocated to Eugene from Texas in 1891, eventually purchasing a home near 4th Avenue and Mill Street in Downtown Eugene. Today, EWEB’s main headquarters sits on the same Willamette River property that Wiley used to inhabit over a hundred years ago.
Griffon was one of the first operators of Eugene’s original streetcar system, driving people from downtown to the University of Oregon in a trolley car led by a mule.
In later years Griffon worked for UO as a janitor, becoming the university’s first black employee. He passed away in 1913.
EWEB’s general manager Frank Lawson opened the ceremony by outlining the impact Griffon had on the community and the importance of honoring the people who have made the dedication possible.
“As a native Eugenian I appreciate all of us who have contributed to the building of this community. This was really a team effort. There are a number of people to thank along the way, including The Eugene Historical Society, the local NAACP and several community members,” Lawson said.
In 1908, Oregon’s exclusion clause prohibited blacks from owning property. Griffon however was able to obtain a mortgage and purchase his first home. According to Lawson, the property, which lies next to the Willamette River, used to flood periodically.
“Wiley Griffon may have appreciated the fact that we are standing on dry ground right now. Every single picture I found was apparently recording a flood event. This property in here was often flooded, which made for some interesting research,” Lawson said.
In 2009, a plaque dedicated to Griffon was placed at Eugene Station commemorating his status as the “first public transportation provider in Eugene” according to the plaque.
Willie Richardson, the president of the Oregon Black Pioneers, documented the history of African Americans in Oregon to close out the dedication.
“What we’re really attempting to do is tell Oregon’s story in a complete way with all the historical facts.That’s the goal that we are trying to achieve,” Richardson said.