Milwaukie’s Portland Open-Air Sanatorium (1905)

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Located where Park Blvd. hits River Road, the location is likely where the Willamette View retirement community now sits right on the border of Milwaukie and Oak Grove.

I’ve seen the name mentioned, seen it on maps and have always wondered what this sanatorium was, when it was built and what happened to it. By chance while searching for beer history,  I stumbled on the lengthy-titled book (take a deep breath): “The Campaign Against Tuberculosis In The United States (Including A Directory Of Institutions Dealing With Tuberculosis In The United States And Canada Compiled Under The Direction Of The National Association For The Study And Prevention Of Tuberculosis).”

http://sites.rootsweb.com/~ormultno/Directories/1924/hospitals.htm#Portland%20Open%20Air%20Sanatorium
The sanatorium provided “individual cottages with steam heated dressing rooms, hot and cold running water and shower and tub baths.”  Source. 

Scanning it I discovered that, yes, the Portland Open-air Sanatorium was real and existed and took “incipient and advanced cases” with a capacity of 40, and rates from $10 to $30 a week.

The Sanatorium was located at “Milwaukee” (the book’s spelling) Heights, on the Oregon Water Power and Railroad Company’s line, six miles south of Portland, on a bluff three hundred feet high overlooking the Willamette. It was the first sanatorium for the treatment of tuberculosis to be established in Oregon.

The book continues:

The sanatorium is situated in a fir grove, sheltered from the winds, the climate being so mild and equable that the patients live comfortably in tents during the entire year.  Its equipment consists largely of tents, which can be used the entire year. (People were much tougher in 1905.)

It offered “the exclusive treatment of tuberculosis by the careful application of the most modern physical, dietetic, hygienic and specific procedures. Patients were provided with X-ray and laboratory facilities, but also “individual cottages (I guess the tents were replaced) with steam heated dressing rooms, hot and cold running water and shower and tub baths.” 

It didn’t last long when the state realized it needed a much larger facility, mandating public medical care to tuberculosis patients in 1910, after which patients from the Milwaukie Heights hospital were relocated to the new Oregon State Tuberculosis Hospital in Salem (in the former Oregon State Deaf-Mute School building, constructed in 1894).

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Ralph Friedman disses Milwaukie, Ore.

Update 6/14/18: The Skulason home is for sale at $1.6 million. Marketing materials state clearly, as required: The house could be demolished. Could be. Hopefully not. Watching this one.

If you’ve never read Ralph Friedman’s books, get to it. His first self-published (before it was called DIY) book, Oregon For the Curious, cost $1.95 in 1965 and sold thousands of copies. If roadside places he covered back then were lost or almost lost, you can be sure that the hand-drawn maps he used and places he covered have long been paved over. His books are a joy, a tad esoteric, but primers for all kinds of cool and goofy Oregon history—and they’re pretty much at every used bookstore across Oregon.

His style wasn’t flowery; it was practical and informative. For instance, here’s his take on downtown Milwaukie from another, more current, book he wrote:

Visitors to Milwaukie sometimes ask for a walking tour brochure but there isn’t any; not that much of interest to see. Still, town has a few encouraging footnotes.

Ouch.

Yet, it’s kind of, well, true. At least back then when the book was penned. Until now, Milwaukie had a scorched earth policy with its historic buildings. The darling Oaks Pioneer Church in downtown Milwaukie? Moved, by barge, to Sellwood, where it’s loved and used for all kinds of events. (That one still hurts.)

However, in its defense, much of Main Street is still intact with shops and restaurants. And digging deeper, I’d have to start to disagree with Friedman on the lack of interest comment. If you dig a little deeper you’ll find all kinds of cool things, like a hidden lake park, an old grist mill, and the former site of Crystal Lake Park—a former dance hall, zoo and amusement park—demolished in the 50s for an apartment complex called, you guessed it, Crystal Lake. Milwaukie is a mix of “former locations” and some still standing. But, buried and hidden between 1950s tract homes, you can still find a gem.

Like the Bardi Skulason home. Skulason’s home has been described as a fine country home, where he “devoted his leisure to the growing of fruit and flowers.” It’s also a pretty nice looking piece of architecture, described accurately as Colonial Revival, built in 1913. 

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Snuggled behind Providence Milwaukie Hospital, the homes sits, safe from developers and probably curious seekers like you and me. It does represent, however, some of the history that still exists in Milwaukie and its next-door neighbors, Oak Grove, hanging on as testaments that history is everywhere, and like Friedman and his books, you just need to be more curious and dig a little deeper.

What’s next for Milwaukie, Ore.? Look to the past, perhaps.

Milwaukie, Oregon, is an interesting place. No, really. It has a rich, historical past that’s often overlooked. The Lot Whitcomb, launched in December, 1850, was the first steam-powered craft built on the Willamette River. The Bing cherry was created in Milwaukie. Gary Gilmore, the first American to be executed in ten years after the death penalty was re-instated, attended Milwaukie High. So did his brother, Mikal Gilmore, author of Shot in the Heart and a well-known Rolling Stone magazine writer.

It’s mere minutes from Portland. A bus ride up McLoughlin can get riders to downtown in about 25 minutes; if you’re on a bike, you’re in Portland city limits in 10 minutes. Despite its proximity to Portland, Milwaukie also can feel like it’s miles and miles away. Many aging boomers who live in Milwaukie (and the sleeping giant known as Oak Grove, snuggled next to Milwaukie in unincorporated Clackamas county) like it that way. They want to be left alone. They like their privacy and they like the suburban qualities of their neighborhoods and large lots (count the RVs in the driveways).

But change is coming to Milwaukie in the form of light rail. Drive along McLoughlin and around Main Street and one can see the tracks being laid and the stations being built. Those who oppose light rail call it the “crime train” and believe that it will attract criminals and bankrupt the city. (They also want to stop “Portland Creep” but don’t mind commuting to Portland–where their jobs usually reside.) Those who favor light rail think it will bring new blood, new business and a boost to the economy.

Just a few years ago, Milwaukie had a solid jumpstart back what seemed like the beginning of some sort of renaissance. The popular Cha Cha Cha restaurant came to downtown in 2007, and a new restaurant, Hartwell’s, opened in the newly built mixed use project on Main, offering local craft beers, upscale food – both vegetarian and non-vegetarian – and a cool foodie vibe that Milwaukie lacked (and still does). There was talk of more mixed-used projects along McLoughlin with condos on the top and retail on the bottom, while older buildings along the river were demolished to make room.

And then 2008 happened and the bottom dropped. Projects were stalled, businesses failed, Hartwell’s shuttered its doors and downtown reverted back to Sleepytown, USA.

Since then, there’s been new life on Main Street in downtown Milwaukie. Slowly, businesses have come in and existing businesses have expanded. Despite setbacks, like the beloved and popular Milwaukie Kitchen and Wine literally leaving town overnight and shuttering its doors, there seems to be an air of optimism. Retail space is opening up on the ground floor of office properties along Main (with rumors swirling of a yogurt shop and a “Mediterranean restaurant” coming to town) and some of the city’s downtown buildings are getting the retrofits they deserve (many that were desecrated back in the 1960s and 1970s). The riverfront park is slowly coming together (the view of the Willamette is stunning), the unsightly Kellogg Dam will be (eventually) removed and a movement to add murals around downtown is gaining steam. Then there’s the kick-ass Sunday farmers market that grows every year, the addition of the popular Breakside Brewery‘s production facility and tasting room, a First Friday that continues to get better and bigger each summer, and the creation of a Neighborhood Greenway.

Add to this, a younger population is moving to Milwaukie’s historical neighborhoods that want amenities like walkable and bikable communities, restaurants, healthy food options, shopping, cheaper housing (than Portland) and a sense of community.

In fact, a recent poll by the city revealed that:

…the community would like to see more shops in downtown to meet daily needs, such as a grocery store. Eighty-eight percent of survey respondents agree or strongly agree that downtown Milwaukie should be a destination for meeting daily needs; 27% of the survey respondents noted that a grocery store was one of the things they would like to see in Milwaukie that is not there today.

It’ll be interesting to see what transpires over the next decade, or even five years. Will Milwaukie continue its reputation as a sleepy Portland suburb? Will it attract new families and new business?

Ironically, 50 years ago downtown Milwaukie and Oak Grove had many of these amenities that current residents want in 2014. Pharmacy? Check. Clothing store? Check. Department store? Check. A restaurant shaped like a tee-pee? Ummmm, got it. Appliance store? Ding ding ding. All of these were small and independently owned. Following are some snaps taken from a local yearbook from 1964 that helps illustrate the changes in the area, what once existed and what could make a comeback. Click on each for a bigger version:

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Long-gone New Tom Tom.

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Teeney’s – all types of apparel.

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Besides the sign, still there (now a teen center).

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Be sure to check out the Gay Blade plaque/fountain in front of Enchante.

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A different era, for sure.

Lost: Moore’s Flour Mill in Oak Grove

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Continuing our look at the Clackamas County Cultural Resource Inventory, we travel down the Trolley Trail to 4001 SE Roethe Road. On the site, there once stood a flour mill. The machinery, built in 1879 was imported from Muncie, Indiana. It was a full functioning mill until the mid-1980s, when it burned down.

The name Moore’s Flour Mill, might ring a bell, however. The owner of the mill in the mid-80s, was Bob Moore. After the fire, the company relocated to International in Milwaukie.

As Paul Harvey might say, “you might know it better these days as Bob’s Red Mill.”

Here’s a cool recollection from an Oregon Fresh post on Bob:

“I told Charlee, ‘you know, it’s crazy, but I think that’s an old mill.’ I could see the grinders and mixers; it had been closed for years,” says Bob. He later learned that a rail line used to carry grains to the mill, and when it was pulled out in 1957, there was no longer an easy way to deliver grains there, so it closed. Bob and Charlee made a decision to purchase the mill, and Bob’s Red Mill was born. They started with 11 employees, making 100 different products, including 10-grain cereal and cornmeal.

The mill represents our agricultural past and at time was the last remaining working mill in the Oak Grove and Milwaukie area – until the new Bob’s was built.

Here’s where the mill was approximately located:

Lost: Church in Oak Grove, Ore.

Note: This is a cross-post from my other blog, Oak Grove! (The O.G.). 

Last month there was a discussion on the Oak Grove Facebook page about the empty lot on River Road and Courtney next to the handsome house that sits next to the corner. A commenter mentioned there was – at one point  in time – a church on the corner that had the same style of the well-kept home that sits on the (almost) corner.

Some sleuthing revealed that – indeed – there was a church where the grassy lot now sits. Pouring through the Clackamas County Cultural Resource Inventory book I found a photo (albeit a shitty, Xeroxed one) of the church that had once stood on the spot.

Long-gone church on River Road and Courtney Avenue.
Long-gone church on River Road and Courtney Avenue.

(The book, by the way, is an amazing resource for local historians and building nerds. In 1983, the county sent out letters to residents asking them a few questions about their property (year built, style of home, etc.). The purpose of the inventory was to provide the State Historic Preservation Office with information for possible inclusion in the statewide inventory. Sadly, many of the buildings in the book are no longer standing- like the corner church.)

But back to the photo – it’s not a great photo, but you can clearly see the tip of the existing building in the middle as well as the unique “steeple” above that. Described as “Western Falsefront-Bungalow,” the building was constructed in approximately 1901- 1910 and was still standing in 1983.

What else has Oak Grove – architecturally – lost in the last 30 years? Plenty, if flipping through the inventory is any indication. We’ll occasionally post some of our lost treasures – with the hope that they inspire us to save what we currently have.

‘Mystery’ house on Courtney in Oak Grove

A few month’s back, I posted the below pic of a home that looks like it was plopped down on the corner of Courtney and Arista. It appears to be in the process of being renovated:

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Some Googlin’ revealed the following information about the home:

The Frank A. Heitkamper House, built in 1900.
This visually prominent house built on a large corner lot is a good example of Craftsman-style architecture– typically a four-room over four-room configuration with a low-pitched hip roof. The full-width front porch, in this case with Doric supports and a solid balustrade, was also quite common. The bellcast hip roof has wide overhanging eaves and frieze; windows are double-hung sash with architrave molding, and the exterior is surfaced with double bevel siding with cornerboards and water table.

The listing has it as: 2009 SE Courtney Avenue, Oak Grove Legal Description: 21E02DA05000.

That’s down the street from where it currently sits. So, the mystery continues – was it moved? And what is its fate?

(Here’s a link to a wonderful map of historic homes near the Trolley Trail. Clackamas County just launched its new site so the link might not work.)

Oak Lodge History Detectives: Murder at McNary’s

The Oatfields, 1885. That’s Minvera standing, third in. Photo courtesy of Oak Lodge History Detectives.

I had the pleasure of attending my first meeting of the Oak Lodge History Detectives last week. After a couple of misses (I’ve usually found out about their monthly meetings after the fact) I finally made it to their latest meeting.

If you’re not from the area, Oak Lodge is a combination of the Oak Grove and Jennings Lodge areas in unincorporated Clackamas County.

After a roundtable of introductions – many of its members live in houses with familiar, local names – the group did some administrative chatter while others shared various historical artifacts (a crumbling deed was displayed and a few historical tidbits were passed around). Members are also working on an Oak Lodge Street and Place Names document – which will be an amazing resource when completed. (I never knew Oak Grove Blvd. was originally called Central Ave. until the early 1900s. I have a lot to learn about my community.)

This particular meeting also promised a presentation from OLHD Chairman Mike Schmeer on the Murder at McNary’s, which took place in the vicinity of Oatfield and McNary Roads in 1879.

Mike had a full-on PowerPoint presentation, with newspaper clips and photos, that helped illustrate what happened. He read a prepared paper and sprinkled it with news accounts, while another member read snippets from Minerva Thessing Oatfield’s diary, who was the first to find out about the murder.

He mentioned that information was available from 1930s WPA interviews and sure enough, I found the following from the interview conducted with the then-eldery Minerva in the 1930s on the chilling account of the murder:

The old McNary donation land claim is just down the road a short distance. The old house, the photograph of which I am lending you, was destroyed only a few years ago. In the early ’60s a murder was committed there that scared the whole countryside. A woman named Mrs. Hager, two daughters and a son were living in the house. They were supposed to have quite a bit of money hidden away, at least the girls bragged about it.

But as it transpired the son had taken whatever amount there was and invested it in a business elsewhere. Anyway, one day when the woman, Mrs. Hagar, had been left alone, one of her girls came home and found her out in the yard in front of the house, with her head nearly cut off.

I can see and hear that girl now, as she came shrieking down the road on her horse, screaming that her mother had been killed. It was an awful sight, and everything in the house had been turned inside out by the murderer as he hunted for the money.

Even the feather beds were pulled to pieces and feathers were everywhere. A number of men were arrested, but it was years after, when a man was tried and condemned for another murder, that he confessed to six, among them that of Mrs. Hagar.

Mike’s presentation expanded on this and added lots of personality and life. One note he brought up was that onlookers from the community and surrounding Portland rushed to the crime scene, there was courthouse drama and many lurid headlines. Some things never change.

The meeting adjourned and a few folks milled around. I met a couple of local historians, exchanged information and, of course, joined the organization. If you’re in the area, you should join, too.

As the evolution of my local knowledge slowly grows, it was another community building moment. It was fascinating hearing stories, and even more eye-opening to hear local street names such as “Naef” and “Oatfield” being used to describe people and their homesteads. It’s a connection to the past and more than just street directions and paved over suburban streets.