Hager Grove was an oasis for early settlers
In 1846 the Benjamin Franklin Munkre family left Missouri for a new home in Oregon. Benjamin’s wife Polly was very frail, not even able to walk. To plan for all contingencies, Benjamin had a coffin built to transport in the wagon. It turned out to be an advantageous move. The coffin added storage for linens and the family’s life savings. It also provided a base for Polly’s feather bed where she was able to recline as they made their way on the Oregon Trail.
The Munkres settled in Salem. Another pioneer family, the Hagers, owned a large orchard that eventually included the Munkre homestead. The orchard became known as Hager Grove and offered a plethora of fruit trees. Because the land was adjacent to Mill Creek, it became a highly populated recreational spot for early pioneer families, offering sports, picnic areas, and a swimming hole.
The Hager Grove playground went away when the freeway built its interchange; the orchard land receded as development began to turn Salem into a suburban town. Munkers Street was named after the Munkres, reflecting a name change adopted long after they settled.
All that’s left of this natural park is one tree. The Hager Pear Tree was saved by an Oregon State Highway foreman who was in charge of the freeway projects. He saved the tree because it was healthy, it bore fruit and it wasn’t in “nobody’s way.”
The tree now is one of Oregon’s largest and oldest pear trees. It still is in good health and bears fruit. At the ripe (no pun intended) old age of 151 years, this tree stands 65 feet high and has a trunk circumference of nine feet. Because of its significant history, it was commemorated as a state heritage tree. No one argues that its beauty is a welcome treat for the traveler along the road.
You can see this wonderful specimen of Oregon history every time you exit I-5 at the Mission Street exit northbound, or when traveling Highway 22 between Lancaster and the I-5 interchange.
By the way, Polly outlived Benjamin. She buried him in that well-traveled coffin.