Thomas Livesley bio




Thomas Albert LIVESLEY (1863-1947)
@by Sam Bush


the sixth of ten siblings was born in Ironton right at the middle of the Civil War. He was ten when his father bought a ranch in nearby LaValle and the family moved. So Tom knew hop farming growing up and presumably studied his father's affable business style as he went along, possibly also coming to know the customer contacts in England. It was Tom who came back from Oregon 1899-1901 to tend the farm while Dad went to England on hop business.

At sixteen he was listed by the census as "laborer." At twenty one as "carpenter." It's unclear how far he went  in school, but knowing he went very far in hops, he may have made that business his full study fairly early. At any rate the young man broke away from the farm and went west too. If with his parents in 1887, he'd have been 24 years old. If he traveled west with John Morrison in 1885 and was one of "the two Livesley boys," he'd have been 22. He worked at odd jobs for a while, among them pulling stumps. We know that in 1889 Tom was a butcher at the same Seattle address as brother George who was a grocer. In 1890 he's part of Livesley Brothers" hop dealers with Robert and George. At this time their father Sam was establishing himself as a force in NW hop broking though at a different address.

In February 1890 Tom married Myrta Emeline Hubbell in Seattle. She was the daughter of prominent LaValle farmer and Judge Wellington Hubbell who had also moved to Seattle. This family was very much known to the Livesleys in Wisconsin, and Tom's older brother Robert had already married Myrta's older sister Ella. There is a charming letter from sister Lizzie to Esther Jan 1889 in which she speculates: "Tom may marry in the spring if her health is good enough." Evidently it wasn't - they waited a year. In 1894 Tom and Myrta moved to Salem, Oregon, and his residence was listed as Portland for a few years. He was in hops, first leasing 20 acres and then acquiring the 260 acre William Holmes ranch a few years later. Salem recollection was that Myrta kept much to herself. They were not happy, had no children and divorced ca. 1903. Speculation abounds why he ever married her in the first place.

Tom's business activities were ever expanding. The early 1900's saw him a good bit in California, going into the grapefruit business there, and having a melon ranch. At some point he met his second wife Edna DeBeck in San Francisco. Edna was a Canadian, had attended Mills College in Oakland (class of 1901), taken nurses' training and was working there at the time of the great earthquake and fire in 1906. One story has Tom the patient (not of the earthquake) and Edna assigned to his care. They were married in Vancouver BC in September 1908 and Myrta became a close subject. Tom was 44.

Tom - or T.A. as he was called - and Edna also lived in Salem in a house they purchased on Oak Street. It was here all four of their children were born, 1910 to 1921. He founded "T.A. Livesley and Co." in 1908, just before departing for his wedding, with partner and friend Jack Roberts, growing and broking hops. Mr. Roberts was involved until 1924 when they amicably dissolved their partnership and T.A. became sole owner. Tom liked business and didn't let his eye stray far from the ball. His one vacation that we know of was in 1935. He and Edna steamed from Los Angeles to the Panama Canal and visited a banana Plantation. At his own business, he knew his crop, his workers, his market. He expended terrific energy, used up to date, scientific methods and spent whatever needed. He was independent and showed not only a flair for the business, but a courage, a daring about it.

Some good years must have fallen in the early 1920's because Tom commissioned a larger house to be built on Fairmount Hill in southwest Salem. At 10,000 square feet this was large even for the neighborhood, but it fit in well and had a lovely view. It was designed by Ellis Lawrence and completed late 1924. The family moved in by Christmas for a stay of 34 years. This is the house later purchased to be the permanent Governor's residence and dubbed "Mahonia Hall." During the Livesley days however it was not just big, but filled. Tom and Edna entertained a lot, a wide circle of friends that included many senators and governors. There was also the family growing up, their friends and soirees. There were weddings and formal affairs, fund raisers, concerts and Edna's frequent bridge club parties. There was a constant ebb and flow of guests. It was a busy and used house, well furnished, great food, lovely gardens.

We learn from Edna's diaries that son Tom brought home a Monopoly set in 1933. This was the hit for several years.

During the Prohibition (1918-1933) Tom's focus shifted to his English buyers. There were many hop growers in the Willamette Valley but only one selling agent with his clout. Farmers would sit in his office waiting for T.A. to tell them the best moment to sell. He did right by them and they valued his opinion. He came to own not only the famous ranch at Lakebrook but others at Independence and Oreville, Oregon, at Saradis and Chilliwack, British Columbia. There were kiln fires, floods, threats of strike, the ever present downy mildew, the ups and downs of every hop man.

He was the largest grower in the world and known for the quality and reliability of his product. In his peak season, 1915, he grew a million pounds on his ranches which was 1/10 of the Oregon crop and 1/30 of the worldwide crop at the time. With brothers Robert, Charles, George and Bill, as well as father Sam all active at the time, unquestionably a remarkable portion of worldwide hops came from the efforts of this one family.

In politics he was decidedly Democratic. "He would have walked over hot coals for FDR." His mayorship was marked by much improvement, noticeably moving Salem toward a council-manager form of government, replacing many of the town's wooden bridges with concrete ones, construction of the Salem Airport, installation of street lights, etc. He was adamant that these changes be made with concern for the beauty of the city. He was known as the "Good Roads" mayor.

On his ranches he provided worker amenities that were unheard of in his day - better housing, electric lights, stores, social halls, recreational facilities, day care, nursing, teaching. He and a few other owners were distinct leaders in this regard and he was widely acknowledged and exemplified for it. A tense labor moment came in late August 1935. Union organizers were working the 1500 pickers that had assembled at Lakebrook to bring in that year's crop. Tom arrived and spoke to the pickers as he had many times before. Everybody went to work.

In 1927 Tom built the Livesley Tower, an 11 story office building in downtown Salem. Ellis Lawrence was again the architect. First National Bank was a long time tenant on the first floor. Space in this building was managed and leased by the Livesleys until its sale in 1860. It's still the Capitol's tallest building. Meanwhile he was President of the Canadian Hop Growers' Assn., a director of the First National Bank and YMCA, vice president of the Oregon Linen Mills and held other posts as you might imagine. Edna was also busy, noticeably as President of the Hospital Auxiliary but also with family, social and business affairs.

And my, how he loved to drive. He was a good driver too. Most of his mileage was to the farms and the beach and so forth, but he also often went to British Columbia, his wife's homeland and site of more farms. In 1914 Edna's grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday. The paper noted, "Mr. & Mrs. Tom Livesley are here from Salem, Oregon in their motor." To put this in perspective remember that roads in town were paved in the 1920's. In the 1950's Salem to Vancouver was still a serious, non-interstate trek. We have one 30's diary record of him leaving on this journey one evening at 9:00 p.m., in the pouring rain. The family also drove to Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Mt. Lassen and other sites. He occasionally visited midwest brewers, going there by train, buying a car and driving home. He favored big, strong cars. Packards topped the list.

Tom died in Salem of skin cancer in July of 1947, age 84. At the end the cancer attacked his face. It was an ironic end for a vain man. His brother Charles visited the house after the service and sight of the built-in organ Tom loved and played brought tears to his eyes.


@2000 by Sam Bush; reproduced on this website with permission