Researching House History - Part 1

In recent months, an intrepid crew of Laurelhurst neighbors have been researching the history of a dozen Laurelhurst houses, for the historic district nomination. We're going to share some sources and methods for doing this research in this series of posts.

PortlandMaps - the starting point.

Go to the city's very useful website, PortlandMaps, and enter the house address.

The lot and house is shown on the map, and the year built. "Year built" is the year the property went on to the city's tax rolls, and may sometimes be the year after the house was actually constructed. In this case, we are looking at 461 NE Mirimar Pl and it is shown as built 1911.

Scroll down and click Permits.

Scroll down to "Historic Plumbing" and click the historic plumbing permit link. Its number will usually start with "7".

Scroll all the way down and look for the earliest plumbing permit card. If you're lucky, you'll see the original card from the house's construction. The first line shows the address. If the card dates from before 1933, this will show the "old" address and then the current address will be handwritten next to it.

The old what? In 1933, Portland changed all its addresses. For the most part, street names stayed the same, but the modern sectors of NE, NW, etc were established and the street numbers were changed. For example, for this house, the old address was "1000 East Glisan" which became "3260 NE Glisan". Pre-1933 sources will use the old address, so you'll want to know what it is. A better explanation is here and here is the original directory of old to new addresses.

Of course, we're dealing with century-old records, so you may run into clerical errors and oddities. Occasionally, these plumbing cards have been misfiled under the wrong address. Rarely, the address was miswritten to be that of an adjoining lot. In very rare cases, house addresses have been changed in other ways; the example shown here originally had an address on Glisan but in modern times the address was changed to be 461 NE Mirimar.

The next lines show the owner and plumber, and the lot and block numbers. For a house that was built "on spec" rather than for a specific person, the "owner" may be the developer or builder rather than the original occupant; in this example, the owner was "Provident Invest. Co." The "plumber" may be the builder or the plumber. At the bottom, the card shows the dates of first and final inspection and certificate. The date of final inspection or certificate is generally considered to be the house's "build date".

The later-dated plumbing cards, if any, may identify the subsequent owners of the house. They may also show if major changes were made, but only if if they involved plumbing.

In the next post we'll cover historical maps, documents, and photographs that may show the house as it was back when.

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