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Historic and Cultural Areas
Candidate Reserve Study Area
Washington County, North of Highway 26

August 29, 2009
Submitted by . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . SaveHelvetia.org

A local citizens' group whose goal is to preserve all land north of Highway 26 as Rural Reserves

Helvetia Swiss Festival Cow Parade

Justification for designation as RURAL RESERVES under
RR (3) (e) Provide a Sense of Place for the Region
per OAR 660-027-0060(3)(e)

Definition includes Historic and Cultural Areas

The Land Conservation and Development Department, Division 27 of the Oregon Administrative Rules, describe factors that a region must consider when choosing lands for designation as urban or rural reserves.

Important natural landscape features are further defined in OAR 660-027-0010(6): ... "These features include, but are not limited to, ... historic and cultural areas; and other landscape features that define and distinguish the region."

This document describes the historic and cultural areas and features that define the area north of Highway 26 known as “Helvetia” and the features which distinguish this region within the Willamette Valley.

Where is Helvetia?

The area under discussion in this paper is located north of Highway 26. It includes the land that was originally settled by Swiss German immigrants in the 1870’s. By 1892, this area was called “Helvetia”, meaning “Switzerland” in Latin. Helvetia’s approximate borders are:

South:   Highway 26
East:     NW Germantown/Kaiser Roads
North:   Tualatin Mountains (vicinity of Skyline Boulevard)
West:    NW Jackson School Road

Swiss Community

The earliest Swiss German homesteaders began to arrive in the Helvetia area in 1873-1874. Over the next 25 years, more than 70 families arrived from Switzerland and Germany. Today, more than 135 years after the first Swiss German immigrants arrived in Helvetia, the Swiss culture remains a vibrant part of the Portland metropolitan region. Hundreds of descendants of these original Swiss German families continue to honor their Swiss heritage.

Becky Sowders, a yodeler with the Helvetia-Alpengluehn Swiss Singers, testified to the WCRCC on August 20, 2009: “The Swiss Community in Oregon is alive and thriving as the descendants of these early settlers still lay claim to their Swiss heritage. The annual Swiss wrestling contests have been held every summer for the last 92 years. The 120-year-old Helvetia Alpengluehn Singing Society has one of their concerts every fall out on West Union Road. And they have hosted 4 West Coast Singing and Yodeling festivals - bringing up to a thousand Swiss from Canada to California and beyond to Portland.” In addition, the Swiss Kids Kamp is held annually for children who are the 4th and 5th generation descendants from the early Swiss families from Helvetia.

The Helvetia Swiss Festival

The heart of Helvetia is the Helvetia Community Church. Founded in 1881 by Swiss and German settlers, the building was constructed in 1899. Services were held in German until 1942. Every July the Swiss Community celebrates Swiss Independence Day by holding the Helvetia Swiss Festival.

Helvetia Swiss FestivalHelvetia Community Church

Helvetia Community ChurchHelvetia Community Church

The Helvetia Swiss Festival - The Cow Parade

The Cow Parade starts at the Yungen Century Farm on NW Helvetia Road. The parade honors the traditional Swiss farmers who bring their cows down from the mountains at the end of the summer. Swiss descendants of the original Helvetia Swiss families, in traditional Swiss costumes, proudly walk their Swiss brown cows, as well as St. Bernard dogs, goats, chickens and assorted farm animals towards the Helvetia Community Church.

The Cow Parade
St. Bernard dogs, goats, chickens

Becky Sowders observes, “The daylong Swiss music, and the parade of children in their Swiss costumes as well as cows and goats bedecked with their bells and wreaths - gives you a feeling of being in Switzerland and watching the cows coming down from the mountains as they still do to this day.”

Swiss brown cows wear traditional bells - giant size!

St. Bernard dogs



The Helvetia Swiss Festival - The Picnic

Children in traditional Swiss costumes The Buehler Brothers
Everyone loves a Swiss picnic
After the animals are safely tethered with food and water, it’s time for the picnic. Under the trees on the grounds of the Helvetia Community Church, the crowd enjoys homemade Swiss food.

Festival crowd

The Helvetia Swiss Festival - The Music

Mark Grossen and his group of Alphorn musicians No Swiss celebration would be complete without Mark Grossen and his group of Alphorn musicians. Fortunately, their Alphorns can be carefully dismantled for easier traveling.
Alphorns The Alphorn musicians

The Swiss Community

In addition to the Helvetia Swiss Festival, the Swiss Community enjoys many activities throughout the year. Descendants of Helvetia’s original Swiss settlers participate in many of these activities: the Helvetia-Alpengluehn Swiss Singers, Swiss wrestling (Schwingen), the Swiss Ladies Club, the Jodelklub Edelwyss and lots of family reunions with visiting relatives from Switzerland.

Helvetia-Alpengluehn Swiss Singers The Helvetia-Alpengluehn Singing Society has been singing for 120 years.

The Merz/Yungen families get together every year Up to 200 second, third, fourth and fifth generation Merz and Yungen family members honor their family’s Swiss roots at reunions held every year in Helvetia. Becky Sowders relates, “My great-grandfather, Jacob Yungen, built his home on Yungen Road. He grew wine grapes on this land - the same land that is now Helvetia Winery. Their tasting room is in that very same house that my great-grandfather built. And it is also at this very house that we have a family reunion every June.”

Schwingen - Swiss Wrestling

Schwingen - Swiss-style wrestling Swiss-style wrestling (schwingen) is a centuries-old style of wrestling originating in the mountainous valleys of Central Switzerland as a way of determining who was the strongest in a group of mountain farmers (Sennen). Special pants are worn and various holds and moves are incorporated into the rules. Schwingfests (Swiss wrestling tournaments) are held throughout the year. Many Swiss wrestling clubs host Schwingfests up and down the west coast.

Schwingfests have been held in the Portland area for the past 92 years.

Schwingen - Swiss-style wrestling
Schwingen - Swiss-style wrestling

The Swiss Ladies Club

The Swiss Ladies Club sells handmade Swiss articles and Swiss memorabilia at events throughout the year. Proceeds go to fund scholarships for children of Swiss descent.

handmade Swiss articles and Swiss memorabilia Edelweiss, the Swiss national flower


Becky Sowders, yodeler for the Helvetia-Alpengluehn Swiss Singers and great-granddaughter of Helvetia settler Jacob Yungen, recounts, “In 1889, my ancestors came to the fertile farmland and quiet community of Helvetia, Oregon, because it so reminded them of their homeland. The name was given to the town because of the rolling hills and valleys that were so similar to the Switzerland they had left but still so dearly loved...Altogether, I believe we have a very rich connection to this pastoral community. And for that reason, I urge you to retain the Helvetia area - in fact, all the area north of Highway 26, as RURAL reserve. I don’t want to see that beautiful drive to Helvetia be turned into one that is a drive through malls, industries, warehouses, apartments, and neighborhoods of homes built where those fields of crops used to be.”

Many of the Helvetia Swiss came from Canton Bern Helvetia’s long-standing Swiss roots establish it as a unique cultural area for a “Sense of Place” under factor (3)(e).  Please designate all the area north of Highway 26 as Rural Reserve.\

Swiss style architecture Cow
Swiss style architecture A Helvetia resident leads a cow
in the Swiss festival parade

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