Wednesday, January 19, 2011
This towered Italianate Villa, once known as Eugene's most beautiful home, stood at 419 Willamette (later 543 Willamette) on the east side of the street between 5th and 6th, approximately in the middle of the block across from the Post office. James Benson Underwood, a native of New York, came to Eugene in 1860 where he studied law and was eventually admitted to the Bar. He also served as the President of the first City Council (Eugene Skinner being Mayor) and as a representative to the state legislator. He later was employed as a U.S. Postal agent for Oregon and Idaho pursuing mail thieves. He evidently made a good living as he was not only able to build this imposing Mansion in 1878 but also employ a Chinese Houseboy named "Wah" and a gardener/coachman/laborer named Nels Hanson. James and Margaret Charles Underwood had at least six children; Mae, Lydia, Matilda, Charles, Anna and Amelia. Sadly Mr. Underwood passed away in 1882 at age 44 due to the effects of "strong drink" having lost much of his fortune. Mrs. Underwood was only able to hold onto the house by turning it into a boarding house for U of O students. Mr. Underwood is buried in the Masonic Cemetery along with his daughter Lydia.