JOSEPH GASTON. – Joseph Gaston, the pioneer railroad man of Oregon, was born in Lloydsville, Belmont county, Ohio, in 1833. His ancestors on is father’s side were Huguenots, who were expelled from France by the Roman Catholic King in the sixteenth century, on account of their adhesion to the protestant reformation. They settled first in Ireland, and from thence in 1562 removed to North Carolina, from whence numerous branches of the family scattered out over the United States. William Gaston, the granduncle of Joseph, was chief justice of North Carolina, and for many years member of Congress from that state, and was spoken as one of the great orators of his day. He was also founder of the city of Gaston in the “old North State.” Mr. Gaston’s cousin, William Gaston of Boston, was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1874, being the first Democratic governor of that state in fifty years. His grandfather on is mother’s side was a distinguished soldier of the war of 1812, fighting with Perry in his victory on Lake Erie.
His father dying, Joseph was left to the care of relatives, and at the age of fifteen set up in life for himself, working for wages on the farm and in the sawmill. By his own earnings and efforts he procured a common-school education and the means to study law, and was admitted to practice in the supreme court of Ohio in 1856. When the Southern Rebellion broke out in 1860 he raised a company of volunteers, and offered his services to President Lincoln, but was rejected by the examining surgeon for a disease of the throat which has afflicted him all his life.
He emigrated to Oregon in 1862, and settled first in the mines in Jackson county, and subsequently engaged in practicing law in Jacksonville; but, becoming interested in the project of a railroad connecting Oregon and California, he removed to Salem in 1865, and to Portland in 1868. He organized the party which made the first preliminary survey for a railroad line from Rogue river valley to the Columbia river; and, to arouse the interest of the people in the enterprise, he distributed at his own expense thousands of circulars and petitions, and sent the petitions to Congress to support the application for the land grant for the Oregon & California Railroad. After the grant was made, he incorporated the Oregon Central Railroad Company to receive the grant, and secured from the Oregon legislature an offer of a state subsidy of one million dollars in bonds to the road. He was elected the first president of the company, and proceeding to do active work, “broke ground” for the first railroad in Oregon on the fourteenth day of April, 1868, in South Portland. Mr. Gaston remained in the service of the company until its road had been completed from Portland to the Yamhill river, when he removed to his farm in Washington county in 1875.
In 1877, at the request of the farmers of the South Yamhill valley, Mr. Gaston took up the project of building a narrow-gauge railroad from Dayton, in Yamhill county, to Sheridan, with a branch to Dallas, in Polk county; and by dint of great energy, but with very slender means, he built in 1878 forty miles of this, the pioneer narrow-gauge line in Oregon, and which became the basis of the system of narrow-gauge lines in the Willamette valley built by the Dundee Company. In constructing these roads, Mr. Gaston handled large sums of money and millions of acres of property, but did not profit thereby beyond his stipulated salary, although the opportunity to become suddenly rich was not lacking. (See second volume of Bancroft’s History of Oregon, pages 700 to 704.)
Mr. Gaston has been a large contributor to the political and agricultural literature of Oregon. He was editor of the Jacksonville Sentinel, when that was the only Republican paper in Southern Oregon. He subsequently conducted, as editor, the Oregon Statesman at Salem, when that was the leading Republican paper in Oregon. He was editor of the Oregon Agriculturist, the first farm journal published at Salem, and during the year 1872 edited the Willamette Farmer. In 1873-74 he was editor of the daily and weekly Bulletin of Portland, Oregon; and during the year1888 he edited the Pacific Farmer. Besides this he has been a frequent contributor to other journals and to the press in other cities. Mr. Gaston is at present devoting his time to the improvement of his farm and stock ranch at Wappotoo Lake in Washington county.