In 1854, Alvin T. Smith began work on his third house on the Tualatin Plains (now known as Forest Grove), his first two cabins having been flooded out by the unpredictable Tualatin River. An experienced carpenter from Connecticut, Smith chose to build in the Greek Revival style, its more formal and complex elements contrasting with all other buildings in the area. This was a serious man who did serious work; his nickname was “God Almighty” Smith. Smith chose the finest materials available: white oak for the framework, fir for the walls and floors, and cedar for the siding and shingles. His carefully tapered joists, tongue and groove floorboards, and mortise and tenon timber frame construction would prove strong enough in its day to withstand the hardest Oregon winters. Remarkably, it is still just as strong today, 160 years later.
Recently, the State Historic Preservation Office had this to say about Alvin Smith and his house: “There are only a [handful of] houses remaining from this era in Oregon, and this one has exceptionally high integrity. There is definitely a threat here, but there is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” And according to the Chief Historian at the National Park Service, “Smith’s diary, while perhaps not the most sophisticated literary work, was one of the most thorough and complete descriptions of early Oregon history that survives. And, since he not only built his house, but also kept a careful record of the building process in his diary, he provides the most complete detail on building a house in Oregon at that time.”
The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Even so, on two occasions before the turn of the 21st century, the Smith House was slated for destruction as part of nearby industrial development. By sheer determined force of will, a small group of people who called themselves “Friends of Historic Forest Grove” managed to save the house. Ultimately, the Friends were able to purchase the house and several surrounding acres with the idea of protecting its history and creating a “hands-on” pioneer museum for the people of Oregon and beyond. Their passionate hope was to give visitors of all ages the opportunity to walk in the footprints of Alvin T. Smith and his neighbors. In early September of 2014, the City of Forest Grove agreed to purchase a substantial part of the Smith House property, creating a partnership with Friends and providing capital and leadership for Friends to utilize in further development of the house and surrounding property. In the words of Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax: “A.T. Smith is still contributing to Forest Grove.”
As part of the celebration of this partnership, the Friends hosted a Forest Grove/Cornelius Chamber of Commerce luncheon on the grounds of the Smith House on September 15th, with tours of the house for more than 80 visitors. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive; Chamber members could immediately envision the property becoming an important Forest Grove tourist destination. With new partners from throughout the community, Friends will be able to work even more rapidly to achieve that goal.
The Friends of Historic Forest Grove are delighted to announce that you, too, can experience the excitement of the A.T. Smith House. It will be open as part of the Forest Grove Tour of Historic Homes on Sunday, September 28th, along with seven other beautiful homes in the oldest and most charming Forest Grove neighborhoods. You may pick up your tickets and tour maps at the Old Train Station on the corner of 19th and Main in Forest Grove. The tour lasts from 1pm until 5pm. Adults are $15, seniors $12, members and students $7, and children under 12 are free. Come on out to Forest Grove and share a “trip to tranquil times” by visiting some lovely homes, meeting some delightful people, and just maybe becoming a partner with Friends in the restoration of the Smith House!