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Obadiah Place

Amber Valley

Other Names:
Bowen Residence

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
Obadiah Place is a vernacular wood one and one-half storey "square house" with four farm outbuildings (and a phone booth) located in a rural setting on a 1.21 hectare parcel of land on the Obadiah Bowen farm in the Amber Valley district of the County of Athabasca.

Heritage Value
The historical significance of Obadiah Place lies in its association with the Afro-American settlement of the Amber Valley area of the County of Athabasca in north-eastern Alberta, and two of the community's leading citizens, Willis Reese Bowen and his son Obadiah Bowen.

In 1911, a group of black Americans emigrated from Oklahoma and filed for homestead on lands north of Edmonton and east of Athabasca Landing. Obadiah Place is located on one such homestead, settled by Willis Reese Bowen in 1913. Bowen's original log cabin served as a central part of the community, housed as the first post office and was the site of the community's first telephone. The log cabin was replaced in 1938 when Obadiah Bowen, his son, built the current house. Obadiah was very active in the community, and served as pastor at an interdenominational church built in 1953 on land he donated about a half mile from the house.

The dwelling is a one and one-half storey square prairie vernacular wood frame building that retains most of its original architectural features. The farmhouse, yard and outbuildings, represent the experience of homesteading in an isolated area as well as vernacular basic wood frame construction that is becoming increasingly rare in rural Alberta. Though not the original homestead dwelling, this house is the oldest structure in the community. Owing to its size, it was frequently used for social gatherings.

Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 2005)


Character-Defining Elements
The character-defining elements of the Obadiah Place include:
- farmhouse with restored horizontal cedar siding and 1959 addition to rear elevation;
- medium hip roof with four hipped wall dormers;
- restored cedar shingle roof;
- balloon frame system on stone rubble surface footing;
- brick chimney on a bracket in centre of building;
- original floor plan: central hall, stair case, kitchen, dining space, parlour and bedroom (main); bedrooms and bathroom off a square hall (second floor);
- fir tongue and groove floor laid over with linoleum floors;
- fenestration and door pattern;
- ancillary outbuildings: barn, chicken coop, smoke house, outhouse;
- phone booth;
- continued location on its original site.


Location



Street Address:
Community: Amber Valley
Boundaries: Plan 952 1874, Lot 1
Contributing Resources: Buildings: 5
Structures: 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD
4
20
66
23
5 (ptn.)

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel
9521874

1


Latitude/Longitude:
Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
54.723811 -112.928600 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type

Recognition

Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 1999/02/25

Historical Information

Built: 1938 To 1938
Significant Date(s) N/A
Theme(s) Peopling the Land : Settlement
Historic Function(s): Food Supply : Farm or Ranch
Residence : Single Dwelling
Current Function(s): Leisure : Museum
Architect:
Builder: Howard Hamilton
Context: HERITAGE SIGNIFICANCE

In 1911, a party of black Americans made their way from Oklahoma to seek a new life in lands north of Edmonton. Recent statehood for Oklahoma had brought with it several 'Jim Crow' laws, and many blacks decided to seek their destiny elsewhere. Amid concerns expressed by the Edmonton Bulletin and the Edmonton Board of Trade about a mass influx of Negroes to western Canada, these families filed for homestead on lands east of Athabasca Landing, near a locality soon to be known as Pine Creek, renamed Amber Valley in 1931. Here, they farmed and, over the years, developed a strong sense of community. They became active in the social life of the district, particularly in sports, with the Amber Valley baseball team gaining province-wide recognition.

One of the early settlers to the district was Willis Reese Bowen. He was born in Butler County, Alabama in 1875, and was married to Jeanie Thigpen, the daughter of a Cherokee chief, in 1893. The couple soon moved to Texas, where Willis worked as a cowboy, and from there to the Oklahoma Territory. Shortly after the institution of statehood in 1907, Willis determined to seek a new life in Canada. He first visited Saskatoon, and then moved with Jeanie, their seven children, and several other families to Vancouver in 1910. Three years later, he filed for homestead on SW23 TP66 R20 W4. This was at the center of what would be the Amber Valley community, with the post office and later, a telephone located there. Here, the Bowens began to farm and raise 14 children. Willis would remain on the farm until 1970 when at age 95, he retired to a nursing home in Athabasca. He would live to see his 100th birthday before passing away in 1975.

The Bowen's seventh child was named Obadiah. He was born in Lincoln County, Oklahoma in 1907 and moved with his parents to Amber Valley. In 1936, Obadiah married Eva May Mapp, also of Amber Valley, in the Anglican Church in Athabasca. The couple went on to farm on the original Bowen homestead as well as their own land, and raise six children. Obadiah became a recognized community leader, and served as a pastor in the community's interdenominational church. Built in 1953 on land donated by Obadiah, this church still stands one half mile from the Bowen house.

To accommodate his family, Obadiah had replaced his father's log cabin in 1938 with a larger house, built under the direction of the community carpenter, Howard Hamilton. Though he would retire with the death of Eva in 1972, Obadiah would remain in this dwelling until moving to the Athabasca Parkland Lodge in 1996. The historical significance of this structure lies in its association with the Amber Valley settlement and two of its leading citizens. Though not an original homestead dwelling, this house is the oldest structure in the community. Due to its size, it was frequently used for social gatherings.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-0530
Designation File: DES 2005
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File: HS 81387
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture and Community Spirit, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2005)
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