Mike Schmeer, a Restore Oregon supporter and chairman of the Oak Lodge History Detectives, brings us a story of the threatened Philip Oatfield House (14928 SE Oatfield Rd). Despite its designation as a Clackamas County Historic Landmark, this century old home will be demolished for new development if not moved and renovated. All photos courtesy of Oak Lodge History Detectives.
End of an Era: Phil Oatfield House to be Demolished
Early 1903 was an exciting time for Philip T. Oatfield. His father, Michael Oatfield, had just deeded him 100 acres of his 600 acre farm. Phil was about to propose to his neighboring sweetheart, Dora Thiessen of the adjacent farming family of Henry and Selena Thiessen. Michael Oatfield had immigrated to the U.S. from Austria in 1853 and settled south of Milwaukie in the early 1860’s. By 1870 Michael had accumulated over 600 acres primarily by purchases of land from the Kellogg family. He had married Minerva Thessing in 1867 and they raised six children on their farm – Phil being the third. In 1890 Michael and Minerva had sold the school district one acre of their farm for what became Concord School. The family had remained on their farm all these years, but Michael was getting older and by 1903 had decided to divide his farm up six ways among his children. Phil received 100 acres between today’s Hill Rd. and View Acres Rd., and from Oatfield Rd. to the crest of Oatfield Ridge. The Thiessens had bought in 1879 and the two families were very good friends.
Phil and Dora were to be married in November 1903 so Phil commenced building a home for them on his piece of the farm. He chose a site on the east side of Oatfield Rd. at what was to become Risley Ave. Completed in the summer of 1903 his house stood out, being the only one for a mile in either direction and visible nearly from River Road. Phil plumbed the house for gas, electricity not arriving until about 1913. Phil and Dora married Nov. 8, 1903, moved into the house, and started their family. To complement the landscape Phil planted an orchard and four Giant Sequoia trees from Broetje’s Nursey on Oatfield and Courtney Rds. – now Clackamas County Heritage Trees.
Phil continued helping to farm the remainder of Michael’s farm with his brother John Oatfield, calling their business “Oatfield Bros.Farming”. Their home was frequented by their neighbors and close friends the Risleys, who owned much of the land across Oatfield Rd., the Thiessens, and family. During the years 1904 to 1908 Phil and Dora had two daughters, Inez and Irene, whom they raised in the house into their teen years.
Around 1920 Dora had a stroke and it became difficult for her to negotiate the stairs up to their bedroom. So Phil decided to build a newer house, with a bedroom on the main floor, down the road three hundred yards further north, on land he still owned. The family moved into their new house in 1922, selling their first house and 10 acres to Fred W. and Leah Schwarz. Phil continued farming, and in later years became involved with managing First State Bank in Milwaukie. Dora died in 1935, but Phil continued living in their newer home until his death in 1950.
The Schwarzs lived in Phil’s 1903 house until sometime after 1930 when they moved to east Portland, selling to F Schneider. The property went through several hands until more recent times when in the 1970’s James R. and Frances Rothschild became the owners. In 1986 the house was placed on Oregon’s cultural resources survey inventory and in 1987 designated a Clackamas County Historic Landmark. At the time of its listing it was incorrectly identified by the Rothschilds as the “John Oatfield House”. James Rothschild died in 2006, and Frances continued living in the house until her death in 2011. By then the house had fallen into disrepair, and Frances’ children sold it. In 2014 the property was purchased by Hilltop Contractors LLC, a development company based in Hawaii, which has recently petitioned the county to demolish the house and will be proposing to subdivide the property.
The purpose of both Oregon’s Historic Preservation Office and Clackamas County’s Historic Preservation Ordinance is to protect and preserve our historic and cultural resources. Unfortunately without the stewardship of a caring owner this process can be circumvented and financial realities can intervene. The legacy of the Oatfield family is quickly disappearing, and unless a philanthropic individual steps forward to move this house to a new location this historic community icon will be lost forever. A required notice placed in the Clackamas Review instructs to call “Paul at 808-866-4454” – in Hawaii. Paul has a local address. As per Emmert International the cost of moving this house could be upwards of $85,000, excluding the cost of another lot, permits, and a new foundation. Much of this depends on the distance it would be moved and the cost of moving wires.
If no one steps forward to move the house Clackamas County requires that the owner provide an opportunity for salvaging architectural features from within or on the house. A public hearing has been scheduled regarding this demolition for Mar. 9, 2017
Chairman, Oak Lodge History Detectives