Saving a smokehouse
Historic preservationists hereabouts take it very personally when the loss of a one-of-a-kind piece of history appears imminent. No matter how modest, each entity constitutes a priceless, irreplaceable link to our past.
Leading the way in saving some of the most important examples of our historic built environment around the state is the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. For nearly four decades, this Portland-based nonprofit has marshaled the forces of committed volunteers to keep these cherished treasures from our past intact and in place.
Perhaps the highest profile among them would be the Crater Lake Lodge, which HPLO successfully lobbied the federal government to reconstruct, literally from the ground up. The meticulously rebuilt lodge includes originally planned amenities and enhancements never put in place when it first opened in 1915.
The most recent is the 1883 Ladd Carriage House in downtown Portland.
HPLO championed the Carriage House for nearly a decade and helped broker a plan that saved it from demolition. A stylish new restaurant is now being incorporated into the historic building, originally owned by William S. Ladd, one of the city’s most prominent citizens in the mid to late 19th century.
The Carriage House lies at the corner of Southwest Broadway and Columbia streets, directly across from the Oregonian building. It was on the Oregonian block that Ladd’s Queen Anne Victorian manse once stood.
A rare rural survivor, the Rosemont Farm Smokehouse just outside Yamhill was placed on the HPLO’s most endangered list in 2012. And it is slated to receive the determined attention for which this organization has become known.
The Rosemont Farm dates back to 1846, making it one of the earliest in the Yamhill Valley. Descendants have continued to own and operate it over the course of the 166 ensuing years.
Though only 22 acres of the original homestead remains, it has been designated as a Century Farm. The property includes a farmhouse dating from the 1870s, in addition to smokehouse, of like vintage.
Many farmsteads of that era had smokehouses, but over time and diminished use, they dropped away one by one. Torn down or left to collapse on their own, this once common structure has all but disappeared.
Consequently, retention of the Rosemont Smokehouse has risen in importance to priority status among the relics of pioneer life in Oregon.
Despite deterioration owing to neglect, the “bones” of this building remain solid.
It stands on its original site and features its original footprint. The original siding is still intact.
There are smoke holes still visible near the peak of the gable. Two interior levels feature meat hooks still attached to the rafters.
Putting its significance in historical context, the smokehouse is an important example of food preservation techniques prior to the advent of cold storage and refrigeration.
Preservationists determined the local specimen would likely qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, but it was in danger of collapse. So in late November, a crew led by Richard De Wolf of Arciform, a Portland firm specializing in vintage building restoration, put temporary supports in place to stabilize the structure.
Initial evaluation has determined that most of the building remains viable. It can be easily rehabilitated, study shows, once basic structural issues have been properly addressed.
Owners of an HPLO endangered list structure such as the Smokehouse can apply for a $2500 match from the League. If it is put on the National Register, there may also be opportunities for other assistance.
As HPLO executive director Peggy Moretti said, “This documents it for posterity and helps to qualify it for future grants or tax incentives.
“Its rarity makes the Smokehouse an important candidate for preservation, which may take place in stages over time. We’ve been talking with the owners about next steps....A good roof is key.”
The Rosemont Farm Smokehouse is but one example of buildings all around us that tell a historic story. Oregon is filled with such small but essential threads in our heritage fabric.
Following are just a few of those recently included on the HPLO’s list of endangered places:
In 2012, the Jantzen Beach Carousel in Portland, St. Francis Hotel in Albany, Rivoli Theater in Pendleton, View Point Inn in Corbett, Skidmore/Old Town Historic District in Portland, Uppertown Net Shed in Astoria and Willamette Falls Locks in West Linn, in addition to the Rosemont Farm Smokehouse.
In 2011, the Baker City Middle School in Baker City, Civic Stadium in Eugene, Ermatinger House in Oregon City, Tillamook Bay Lifesaving Station in Barview, Petersen Rock Garden in Redmond, Watson-Price Barn in Philomath, Josiah Burnett House in Eagle Creek, Dr. Pierce’s Barn in Cottage Grove, Egyptian Theatre in Coos Bay and Kirk Whited Farmstead in Redmond.
Each of these places faces the possibility of demolition for a variety of reasons. But not if the HPLO has anything to say about it, because they create the rich and complex tapestry that is our past.
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — admiring a diverse group of historic structures spread across the length and breadth of the state.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.