McDonald House Exterior

Historic Hillsboro House to be Re-purposed for Community Use

McDonald House Exterior

The exterior of the McDonald House (Photo courtesy City of Hillsboro)

On May 31, 2013, the Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department officially acquired the historic Malcolm McDonald House, an in-holding along the northern boundary of the 42-acre Orenco Woods Nature Park. Sitting on .7 acre this building is a historically significant and architecturally intact structure with the primary public spaces preserved in their original layout and historic condition. The McDonald House features a distinctive layout with good quality spaces that lend to the possibility of adaptive reuse. Acquisition of this property by the Parks & Recreation Department is in line with the department’s mission to provide rich experiences for the community, as our motto says: “Nature. Inspiration. Culture. Adventure.” By taking ownership of this home and the surrounding property, the City is preserving a very noteworthy moment in Hillsboro’s history. The house is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places and will be nominated by the City for this distinction in the future.

The McDonald House was built in 1912 by Oregon Nursery Company co-founder Malcolm McDonald. The constructio­­­n came on the heels of the nursery company’s relocation from Salem to Hillsboro in 1905, due the destruction of their office and warehouse by fire. In its heyday, this residence sat on roughly 1,200 acres of nursery land and was surrounded by a company town for the employees. The nursery business thrived in the rich soil of Hillsboro and the company town swelled with citizens, ultimately incorporating in 1913 under the name Orenco; a portmanteau devised to honor the budding town’s parent company. The McDonald family lived well on the profits of their nursery company and the home built for them showcases cutting edge technology of the turn of the century such as indoor plumbing, push-button electrical switches, a call-system for servants and even a phone closet (an August photo essay in the Oregonian offers a glimpse into the historic integrity of the house.) Sadly, just before World War I, the Oregon Nursery Company expanded its plantings of apple trees with the intent to export to Europe. The devastating effects of the war left the company with produce it couldn’t distribute. After 60 years of successful harvests the company that had provided a living to so many filed for bankruptcy and dissolved in 1927. Unable to find work, the citizens of Orenco left the newly minted city and by 1938 the last remaining 8 people voted to dissolve the community.

The Historic McDonald House stands as a reminder of this glorious time in Hillsboro’s history. With three levels that include over 7,500 square feet of space and ample natural landscape surrounding the building, the house lends itself well to transition into a public space. A preliminary review by architects proposes that the basement level could provide classroom and storage space. The rich ambiance of the main level would make welcoming public meeting and event space and the upper level could house administration staff. Staff envisions programming such as private rentals, public talks by historians, an intimate concert series, environmental education and art classes and even displays of both art and historic artifacts at this charming site. The house may also be used as a support facility to small-scale outdoor events such as weddings and receptions.

Recently, the City initiated a stabilization effort to address the needed repairs identified in the purchase inspection report. A total of $50,000 has been budgeted to-date. This initial work will primarily include chimney and roof repairs. After the building has been stabilized, a restoration plan will be developed. The plan will be based on an operational and program plan for the house. The costs for restoring and renovating the house are to be determined by the final use that is decided upon.

In the interim, the house may be made available for temporary uses on as as-needed basis. One thing, however, is certain: the McDonald House is poised to become a permanent fixture in Hillsboro’s connection to its past.

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