Monday, April 12, 2010

Finding Alice

Alice Bingham was born in Salem, Oregon in 1895 to judge George Bingham and his wife Willie Harris Bingham. When Alice was just shy of her first birthday her father bought a grand house on the corner of Mission St. and 12th that is known today as Historic Deepwood Estate. Alice grew up in the house and was wed there in 1915 to Keith Powell, a local banker. The ceremony took place in front of the ornate coal-burning fireplace in the house’s main parlor.

 For the past year I have been a volunteer at Historic Deepwood museum and steeped myself in its history and lore and the lives of those who dwelt there.  Alice and her parents were not the only family to occupy the Queen Anne Victorian home throughout its history. In fact, Alice Bingham would not even be the only woman named Alice to spend a significant amount of time there. But after pouring over dozens of photographs of this woman, as a little girl in ringlets and as a beguiling teenager, she is the occupant that intrigues me the most. She was beautiful, wealthy, most likely spoiled and died at the age of 46 less than four months before the United States would become official participants in World War II. I don’t know how she died, but I think it tragic she died so young. Last week I came across a photo of her I had not seen before: Alice on the front porch of Deepwood, hair loosely tied back, and beaming as she holds her first-born infant son, Bingham. The photo most likely was taken when she moved back into Deepwood in 1916 while her husband went off to fight in the First World War. As Alice Bingham Powell and I stared at each other across the better part of a century I felt sad. Sad because I knew what she did not, that she wouldn’t live to know her grandchildren, and because I never got to be her friend.


After searching in the wrong cemetery for almost a year for Alice's gravesite, I finally found it after being steered to the correct cemetery by her great-granddaughter with whom I shyly initiated an email correspondence. (What if she thinks I am some kind of weirdo for wanting to know where her great-grandmother is buried?) I must admit that the gravesite was not at all what I expected. Photographs of Alice show a stylish woman with mischievous eyes. When looking at these photos it is easy to see why her parents sent her off to a finishing school when she was 15. This, the story goes, to separate her from Keith Powell who she met while visiting her grandparents in Lafayette, Oregon and who was nine years her senior. I did not expect a terribly ostentatious and elaborate headstone, nor did I expect the simple quiet marker that I found. Yes, the country was coming out of a Depression when she died and therefore it may have been in poor taste to purchase a more decorative headstone. Yet still, no angel, rose, dove or other symbol to signify the final resting place of such a feminine and captivating creature?

I left the cemetery more intrigued by Alice Bingham Powell than ever and determined to get to know her better.

 Historic Deepwood Estate 2010

Photos of Alice Bingham courtesy of Bush House Museum, Salem Art Association, Photo I.D No. bh1409 and bh0002. Both photos were taken circa 1910.

1894 photo of Deepwood Estate courtesy of Salem Public Library Historic Collection, Salem, Oregon.


  1. Great story and photos to go along! it sad about the tombstone! I have seen that alot in cemeteries where it's just a name and more than that! Makes you wonder the story behind why that was like that!

    Brian V. Laws

  2. Thanks for posting this story. I want to see the picture of Alice and grandfather as an infant. I don't think I've ever seen it. I also don't think I knew the story about her being kept away from Keith. Interesting! (As a side note, the story of Keith's family is really interesting. His mother was way ahead of her time...)

    I've always been intrigued by Alice and wondered about what she was like. It's fun to read what you're thinking about her story, the way you are filling in the holes.