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Henry J. Biddle papers

Identifier: Ax 645

Scope and Contents

The collection consists of diaries, trip logs, account books, correspondence, manuscripts, sketch and survey maps, and photograph prints and albums.

There are sixteen volumes of diaries, trip logs, and account books, 1879-1927. Diaries and trip logs include accounts of travel to Europe, southern Appalachians, Southern Oregon, Alaska, an exploration of Oregon's water resources, and hunting and fishing trips in Oregon, Alaska, Washington, and Idaho. Account books include a farm account book for "Tannenheim," and an account book of liens, securities, and real estate.

One section of correspondence is mostly letters from Biddle to his mother, 1879-1911.

Incoming correspondence is filed by sender's last name and includes 800 letters from friends and family, 1870-1894. One section is about Biddle's employment as a special agent collecting mine information in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, 1888.

Another set of incoming correspondence is filed by sender's last name and includes eighty-one letters, 1879-1890.

Manuscripts are filed by title and topics include botany, Dakota's Black Hills, and the Zulu war. Drawings and watercolors of English scenery, western wildflowers, and a sketch book are also included here. There is also a folder of mementos and printed material.

The Biddle and Baird Family papers include correspondence organized by family member, 1815-1887.

An addendum contains sketch and survey maps of land in Georgia (1775-1796), a will (1720), correspondence (1780-1946), and additional items of the Biddle and Baird family papers including correspondence (1797-1925), and documents such as a list of revolutionary war letters, and land and rent inquiries.

Photographs consist of seven albums documenting expeditions by auto and by pack train, in Oregon, Idaho, Washington, and Alaskan wilderness areas. Another album and assorted prints document the Columbia Gorge landmark of Beacon Rock that belonged to Biddle, and his construction of a hiking trail up its steep terrain.

The albums were compiled by Biddle and some are annotated. The collection is notable for documenting spectacular wilderness areas of the Northwest in the early 1900s, for use of an automobile for touring in the rugged landscape, and for construction of the Beacon Rock path. Most of the photographs are by Biddle; five by Weister showing a climbing party appear in the Beacon Rock album. Notable family images are a portrait of Maj. Henry J. Biddle (1817-1862) and one of Lt. Jonathan Williams Biddle (1855-1877) in uniform, Mary D. Biddle, and an unidentified male Biddle from the 19th century.


  • Creation: circa 1862-1928


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open to the public. Collection must be used in Special Collections and University Archives Reading Room. Collection or parts of collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Special Collections and University Archives in advance of your visit to allow for transportation time.

Conditions Governing Use

Property rights reside with Special Collections and University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries. Copyright resides with the creators of the documents or their heirs. All requests for permission to publish collection materials must be submitted to Special Collections and University Archives. The reader must also obtain permission of the copyright holder.

Biographical / Historical

Henry Jonathan Biddle (1862-1928) was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1862. He was a member of the prominent Biddle family of Philadelphia, and the son of Maj. Henry J. Biddle (1817-1862), who died the year Henry was born, from wounds suffered in the Battle of Newmarket Crossroads. Maj. Biddle's widow, Mary Deborah Baird Biddle (?-1900), endowed a college in his memory in Charlotte, North Carolina. (The institution endures but was later renamed Johnson C. Smith University; a Biddle Hall still stands on campus.).

Biddle was the youngest of five children. Oldest brother Jonathan Williams Biddle (1855-1877) was a lieutenant in Company K, 7th Cavalry and was killed in the conflict against the Nez Perce in 1877. Spencer Fullerton Baird Biddle (-1887), the third child, served in the Navy. Henry had two sisters, Lydia Macfunn Biddle (-1896) and Christine Williams Biddle. In 1887 he married Helene Rudolph in Germany. The couple produced two children, Rebecca Baird Biddle (1888-?) and Spencer Biddle (1890-). Spencer accompanied his father on some of the expeditions.

The Biddle family became prominent during the Revolutionary War, and have been active in banking, statesmanship, and military service. Two noted relatives of Henry may have helped to inspire him. Nicholas Biddle (1786-1844) served as the primary editor for the first edition of the journals of Lewis and Clark. Spencer Fullerton Baird (1797-1887), namesake of Henry's brother, was a naturalist and prolific ornithologist mentored by Audubon. At the age of 27 he was appointed assistant secretary of the nascent Smithsonian Institution, and then Secretary (director) 1878-1887.

Henry J. Biddle was educated at Sheffield School and Yale University, and received a degree in geology in 1885 from the Kaiserlich Bergakademie in Freiburg, Germany. Trained as a mining engineer and geologist, he was also a naturalist and a botanist, and worked for the Smithsonian for a time. In the 1880s he was employed with the US Geological Survey in the Southeast and the Northwest. In 1881 he was informally attached to John Wesley Powell's survey of the Zuni Pueblos. Biddle settled in the Northwest, first in Lakeview and then in Portland, Oregon, finally establishing an estate near Vancouver.

In 1912 he retired to pursue botanical studies and promote conservation. He was a friend and traveling companion of Louis Forniquet Henderson (1853-1952), professor of botany at the University of Oregon 1893-1906 and curator of the UO Herbarium. Biddle also traveled with noted Portlanders, physician Rodney Glisan and botanist Martin Gorman (1853-1926). Biddle toured in Alaska and throughout the mountains and deserts of the Northwest. He may also have been involved in establishing Crater Lake as a national monument.

In 1915 Henry Biddle reputedly paid $1 to acquire Castle Rock from Charles E. Ladd. Both men were concerned that this landmark on the Columbia Gorge, first described by Lewis & Clark in 1805 as Beacon Rock, be preserved from developers. Biddle helped convince the United States Board of Geographic Names to restore the name in 1916. An avid hiker and engineer, Biddle designed and constructed a trail to the top of the rock between October 1915 and April 1918. Biddle Butte is a nearby landmark, also owned by and named for Biddle. (Reproduction of 1916 article about trip to Biddle's Butte.) Henry Biddle died in 1928, and his children gave Beacon Rock to the state of Washington as a public park in 1932.


6.5 linear feet (12 containers) : 1 record storage box, 1 flat box, 1 legal manuscript box, 4 small photo albums, 1 small box, and 4 large albums.

Language of Materials



Henry J. Biddle (1862-1928) was an engineer and an amateur botanist. The collection consists of diaries, trip logs, account books, correspondence, manuscripts, sketch and survey maps, and photograph prints and albums.


Material within this collection may have little to no intellectual or physical arrangement. Any arrangement may have derived from the records' creators or custodians. It may be necessary to look in multiple places for the same types of materials.

Other Finding Aids

Paper finding aid with additional information is available in Special Collections & University Archives.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Mrs. Spencer Biddle in 1970-1971.

Related Materials

The Biddle family is extensive and has been influential since the Revolutionary War. Major collections of Biddle papers are held by the University of Delaware and by Swarthmore.

Processing Information

Photographs processed by Normandy S. Helmer, October 2005.

This finding aid may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.

Material within this collection is minimally arranged. Any arrangement is either derived from the records' creators or custodians or from staff at the time of initial processing. It may be necessary to look in multiple places for the same types of materials.

Guide to the Henry J. Biddle Papers
Complete Description
Tanya Parlet.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.
Funding for production of this finding aid was provided through a grant awarded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Repository Details

Part of the University of Oregon Libraries, Special Collections and University Archives Repository

1299 University of Oregon
Eugene OR 97403-1299 USA