Some rare information about a family which also provides a window into Oregon rural history. The family of Aaron Cohen lived and worked in Willamina for several years. Aaron Cohen was a treasured member of the Willamina community and the Willamina Brick Plant where he worked for many years.
Helen S. Cohen taught at Willamina High School. The two boys attended school in Willamina and are equally fondly remembered, particularly by Charlene Brown, who established the Willamina Historical Society and has written several books about local history. Aaron and Helen’s sons played with her own children after school.
I met Helen Cohen at a dinner at Congr. Ahavath Achim in the 1980s, before the family made aliyah. Later, I met a Willamina woman who knew the Cohen’s son, Sidney, when the family lived there. She said Mrs. Cohen used to come over to visit her mother often and whe remembered them well and fondly.
The Willamina Historical Museum has published a book by local historian and founder of the museum, Charlene Brown, titled “Brickburg, The story of The Willamina, Oregon Brick Plant.” She has one paragraph on Aaron Cohen, the Ceramic Engineer, who “joined the crew in 1948.”
Brown goes on, “Cohen devised the formulas to meet the specifications of sometimes hard-to-please architects, bricks of every shade of red, blue, yellow and buff. Any requirement of color, size and texture could be met.” It is clear in the book how important the brick plant was to the economic life of Willamina.
At the Museum, there is also a large, framed article from The Oregonian, dated March 14, 1975, (p. C7) by Janet Goetze about the imminent demise of the brick plant. There is more detail about Mr. Cohen there – apparently he worked at the brick plant for at least 25 years.
In that year, 1975, according “Brickburg,” Gerald Edwards, son of the owner, and Aaron Cohen, were given a special award from the members of the American Institute of Architects, “for meritorious craftsmanship and service to the architectural profession and the community.” The brick plant was bought by Willamina Lumber Company and entirely removed in 1976.
Family members recalled weekly trips to Portland for Shabbat. Their father would point out buildings in and on the way to Portland, noting “That’s built with Willamina Brick!”
The Oregon Encyclopedia writes:
“The first economic boom [in Willamina} occurred in 1907, when O.K. Edwards established the Pacific Face Brick Company. The brick plant brought the railroad to town, and for over sixty years the unusual clay from Willamina was used to construct buildings up and down the West Coast.”