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Pioneer Farmsteads of the Willamette Valley (1841-1865)

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Willamette Valley Pioneer Houses and Farmsteads

Statistics

  • Built: Between 1841 and 1865
  • Location: Benton, Clackamas, Lane, Linn, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Yamhill, Washington Counties
  • Architect/Builders: Largely the pioneers themselves
  • Number Remaining: Less than 5%

News and Updates

April 15, 2015:

Comprehensive reuse study released to demonstrate economic reuse opportunities for Pioneer houses

June 23, 2014:

Restoration opens window to past

June 2014:

Open house and social dinner scheduled for July 19th at Forest Grove’s 1848 Beeks House.

April 2014:

Preservation Pub lectures scheduled for Albany, Corvallis, McMinnville

March 2014:

Overview of Restore Oregon efforts to-date published
– Grant awarded to record previously un-documented barns
– Contract awarded for economic reuse study of three pioneer houses

February 2014:

Multiple Property Documentation Form authored to establish significance and integrity requirements for nominating pioneer properties to the National Register

November 2013:

Historic resource survey conducted to identify all pioneer properties

July 2013:

65-page Preservation Roadmap published to offer opportunities for saving pioneer places

Significance

After walking across the country from Missouri, some 60,000 intrepid pioneer families carved out more than 4,600 homes and farmstead complexes in the Willamette Valley between 1841 and 1865. Today only 5% of these hand-made buildings remain standing. The 237 surviving homes, barns, and outbuildings from this settlement period tell the story of Oregon and the fortitude required to stake your claim to the American dream. Of the remnant that remains, most are risk of being lost to obsolescence or neglect.

History

Although non-Native people began colonizing the region in the early 1800s, known surviving buildings related to Euro-American settlement of the Willamette Valley date from 1841 to 1865 with about half pre-dating Oregon statehood. All nine counties in the Willamette Valley include an early settler’s residence, and each is unique in its story. In spite of their importance to Oregon – and American – history, little formal attention has been given to the conservation and protection of this particular group of fragile historic properties.

With support from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Oregon Cultural Trust, State Historic Preservation Office, Kinsman Foundation, and individual donors, Restore Oregon has been dedicating resources towards researching, documenting, and finding solutions for this group of properties since the summer of 2013.

Why they’re Endangered

Current threats to settlement-period properties are not unlike the threats to other historic resources, except that the dwindling number of Oregon’s earliest buildings makes each loss more keenly felt and elevates the importance of those that remain. Development pressures, economic challenges, functional obsolescence, weather, age, neglect and a lack of understanding of their cultural importance all contribute to their loss.

Many pioneer era homes that operate as house museums are failing, the result of low attendance and lack of funding for maintenance. Those in urban areas are often targeted for demolition and redevelopment because of their large lots. Many that stand in rural counties have not been designated as historic, receive no protection, and have been altered beyond recognition. There are only a handful of pioneer homes and homesteads in the Willamette Valley that have viable uses and are maintained to the degree that they deserve.

Near-term Goals

To pass forward pioneer homes and farmsteads to future generations will require the coordinated efforts of preservation advocates, property owners, governments, charitable foundations, and the general public over a sustained period of time. In addition to creating programs to raise public awareness, Restore Oregon seeks to document, celebrate, and identify actionable solutions so that this chapter in Oregon history doesn’t become merely a memory. If you own a pioneer property, we welcome you to contact the Restore Oregon office.

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Statewide Partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation