MERLIN — When Oregon was celebrating its 100th birthday in 1959, Eugene "Debbs" Potts needed a place to house his vast collection of Oregon memorabilia.

MERLIN — When Oregon was celebrating its 100th birthday in 1959, Eugene "Debbs" Potts needed a place to house his vast collection of Oregon memorabilia.

Given the thousands of items he had collected over the years to commemorate Oregon's history, he knew he had to have ample space.

After all, in addition to countless small items, he had the stagecoach that once bounced from Kerby via Waldo to Crescent City, the 1,500-pound concrete step and the huge safe from the state capitol building that had burned in 1935, and the heavy horse-drawn logging wagon that once hauled logs near Wilderville. You name it: He collected everything from old cars to enough blacksmithing tools to open a shop.

He settled on 30 acres he owned along Pleasant Valley Road, about six miles north of Merlin, and promptly dubbed it "Pottsville."

The town boomed to include a church, schoolhouse, mercantile, country store, library, blacksmith shop, hotel and museum.

This weekend, in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Pottsville as well as the state's 150th birthday, a new museum is opening in the little town Potts created.

"Our new museum will be open to the public for the first time," said Vikki Pruden, president of the nonprofit Eugene Debbs Potts Foundation, which was formed in 2005.

"It houses all of Debbs' automotive stuff," said Pruden, his stepdaughter. "There is his 1928 Pottsville Taxi — she is still running — and the Model T Ford truck, a 1926 roadster and other vehicles from the 1930s."

The opening also celebrates the 24th annual gathering scheduled Saturday and Sunday at Pottsville of the National Early-Day Gas Engine & Tractor Association, Inc., Branch 9. Held every Father's Day weekend, the event draws steam and early-day gasoline engine buffs from throughout the Northwest.

"There will be so much going on — the FFA (Future Farmers of America) will be cooking hamburgers and the Boy Scouts will be doing security," Pruden said. "It's going to be a lot of fun."

A lifelong collector of all things Oregon, Potts, named after Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, served for 24 years as state senator representing Grants Pass, rising to Senate president. He later became the longest serving chairman of the Oregon Lottery Commission. He died in 2003 at age 93.

Pruden, 53, who teaches school in Brookings, is the daughter of his second wife, Ruth Pruden, whom he married in 1994. Her late biological father, Vic, and Potts were longtime friends. Ruth died in 1999.

In addition to Pruden, other board members include Allan Poole and Dick Strickland, both longtime friends of Potts.

"I want to perpetuate a place where a poor man or rich can go to look at things for free, and maybe learn a little about Oregon history," Potts told the Mail Tribune during an interview in mid-June 1998. "People need to understand our past."

The town keeps alive his goal of providing education, celebrating Oregon history and providing a place where people can gather for special events, according to Pruden.

"Throughout the year, the outdoor exhibits are open — people can come in and walk through," she said. "But if they want a tour of the museums, they need to call ahead of time."

The barn can be rented for meetings while the church is available for weddings, she added.

"Our intention is to get more and more displays," she said, although she notes it would take a lot to display everything he collected. "Oh, lordy, there must be 5,000 to 6,000 items."

The wide assortment included everything from a portion of a Japanese balloon bomb that landed in Oregon during World War II to a 1920s Fairbanks Morse motor standing 8 feet tall, she said.

"He gathered so much history of Oregon," she said. "We want Pottsville to be around for another hundred years. We're keeping Debbs' dream alive."

For further information on Pottsville, call 476-7319.

Reach Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com