Roney, Lord Nelson

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He was born as Lord Nelson “Nels” Roney (named after a British naval hero) in Wapakoneta, Auglaize County, Ohio, September 2, 1853, a son of Thomas and Caroline H. (Levering) Roney.

He came to Eugene in 1876 which had, at that time, a population of less than one thousand people. During that time he went to work for A.S. Miller on the covered bridge over the Willamette River, in today’s Ferry Street Bridge location.

When the great flood of 1881 hit Lane County, it took out more bridges than the local contractors could replace, so Roney started his own bridge-building operations. It was the beginning of a career that would span forty years, during which time he built almost a hundred bridges, most of them covered. Bridge builders at the time often posted their names above the entrance, and most of the covered bridges in Lane County bore the words, “L.N. Roney, Builder.” But he only got half credit for the Eugene bridge over the Willamette.

Nelson (Nels) Roney with Will Abrams built the Shelton-McMurphy-Johnson House, in 1887 - 1888. On June 5, 1889, Nels was married to Mrs. Orilla G. (Baker) Humphrey, a daughter of Captain John Baker of Salem, Oregon, who came across the plains in 1846 and was one of the first settlers of Oregon.

Another great flood, in 1890, took out the north span of the bridge originally built by Miller. The southern span — with Miller’s name on it — held fast. Roney won the contract to replace the northern span, and signed his name there. He didn’t confine his work to bridges. From 1886 to 1905, Roney built nearly every important building in Eugene. He was also responsible for construction of many of the important Eugene buildings of his time, including the Lane County Courthouse, Smeede Hotel, the Episcopal and Methodist churches, the Eugene Opera House and several buildings at the University of Oregon. Mr Roney was a major stockholder in the Eugene Electric & Heating Company and in the Bohemia gold mines of Oregon.

Roney was suited to his work in more ways than one. He enjoyed the outdoors, and upon completing a bridge in some remote area, he might head into the woods, hunting and fishing his way back to Eugene. His wife, Orilla, would sometimes come out to camp with him at a site, then visit a nearby hot spring and return by stage to meet her husband back home.

He died in 1944.

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