Researching House History - Part 6

In Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 we walked through the process of researching your house's history, using readily available and (mostly) free resources available online and at publicly-accessible archives and libraries in Portland.

We'll wrap up with a list of resources, and - in case you're curious - a brief summary of what we learned about our example house.

Online Resources

PortlandMaps - starting point to find the historical plumbing permit cards.

Multnomah County Library - search the Historical Oregonian, city directories, US census data, and more.

University of Oregon Historical Newspaper Archive - easily search various Oregon newspapers.

Historic Plat Maps - for Laurelhurst via our repository.

1914 Realty Atlas - for Laurelhurst via our repository.

1924 Sanborn Maps - For all of Portland via library or for Laurelhurst via our repository.

1967 Sanborn Maps - for Laurelhurst via our repository.

Vintage Portland - historical photographs, usually not of specific houses, but it is interesting to see what your neighborhood looked like back when.

1931 Street Renaming Guide - translate pre-1933 to post-1933 addresses.

FamilySearch.org - a free genealogy website.

In-Person Resources

City of Portland archives - the archives are the most convenient place to view Portland city directories in physical form, and the archivists can help in many other ways. Given an address, they can look for historical city permit cards and sometimes photographs. They also have the 1924 and 1967 Sanborn maps and other materials. The research room is air conditioned and pleasant and the archivists are knowledgeable and helpful. 1800 SW 6th Ave. Suite 550, see here for hours.

Oregon Historical Society - The OHS research library is an invaluable resource. Consult city directories, Sanborn maps, Realty Atlases, the 1984 Historic Resource Inventory volumes, files of clippings and photographs on neighborhoods, and get help from the excellent reference librarians. 1200 SW Park Ave, 4th Floor. Hours here.

Multnomah County Library, Central Branch - 801 SW 10th Ave. Consult hard copies of the Polk City Directories, and hard or microfilm copies of Sanborn Maps and Metzger Maps.

Architectural Heritage Center - the AHC periodically teaches a class in house history research, and has a wide variety of reference materials available for viewing by appointment. If you are researching a particular architect, the AHC is the place to go. 701 SE Grand Ave.

Other Online Resources (Subcription)

Newspapers.com - as far as we know, this is the only source to research the Oregon Daily Journal.

Ancestry.com - if you really want to dig deep into a particular person, a subscription to this or another genealogy service is invaluable.

More Tips And How-Tos

Multnomah County Library page on house history research and its blog post "Who Lived In My House"

City of Portland guide "Researching Your Historic Property".

Multnomah County page on house history research

Our Example House

You've patiently followed along as we showed you some research techniques, using one particular Laurelhurst house as an example. Are you curious what we found on the house? Here is a quick summary.

Our example house started life in 1911, built by the Provident Investment Co. and completed in December. Provident was a large player in early-20th century Portland development, buying, selling and building houses in many neighborhoods and even outside the city. It bought a hundred lots in the new Laurelhurst district, and started building this house and several others on the same block.

This house was listed for sale at $7500, described as a "BEAUTIFUL 8 room house in Laurelhurst".

On February 4, 1912 it was bought by Harry M. Courtright, a young real estate agent. H. M. Courtright had moved to Portland from Bay City, Michigan in 1910 and married Marie Belshaw of Oregon in Trinity Chapel July 26, 1911. Their children, Harry Jr and Elizabeth, were born in this house in about 1912 and 1914. Mr. Courtright was active in the neighborhood. In September 1913 he joined a group of residents working on getting the Laurelhurst district's streetlights electrified and re-illuminated. Meanwhile, from his office in the Yeon Building, he bought and sold real estate in the growing city.

After completing the houses on this block, Provident started on building 25 more houses in Laurelhurst. However, the company's fortunes declined in mid-decade. Around 1914, Portland entered a real estate slump which was to last through World War One. The Provident company was delinquent on property taxes for many lots in 1913 and 1914. In May 1914, Provident transferred many dozens of Laurelhurst lots to Charles Henry as well as to the Title & Trust Co, and in September 1914, Mr. Henry auctioned off dozens of these Laurelhurst lots. References to Provident in Portland's newspapers, previously so frequent, cease that year.

It is possible that Harry Courtright's fortunes reversed around that time as well. He begins to show up in the list of delinquent property taxes. In 1915, a judgment was entered against him for the large sum of $43,500 in favor of the First National Bank. For whatever reason, by 1920, Harry and Marie, and their children, had decamped to Los Angeles where he worked first in real estate and later in insurance.

The house went into ownership by the Portland Trust Co., and was occupied by a succession of lessees until the 1940s, sometimes in a two-family living arrangement.

During the 1920s, the house was occupied by some, perhaps, colorful characters. William Groves, who lived here in 1924, was arrested for check forgery. Aaron Cohn, who also lived here from 1920 through at least 1925, curiously reported a different occupation every year - a partner at "Groves & Cohn", "package clerk", "cabinetmaker", "president of NorthMaid Mfg Co." They lived here with Marguerite Groves, who left in 1923 to marry a salesman and moved to San Francisco in 1929.

A later occupant was a noted musician. Robert B. Flack, a pianist, had attracted mention in Portland newspapers from age 10. By 1932, he was 24 years of age, living in this house with his parents, and performing all over the Portland and Salem area, described in newspaper articles as "a pianist of exceptional ability and a composer of much promise". He moved to Los Angeles around 1940. In 1960, he returned from Tinseltown to perform in Portland.

In 1937, truck driver George Thompson and his wife Helen C. called this house home. Immigrants from Canada, they lived with their adult daughter Theresa, a bookkeeper. In 1939, the house was occupied by Herman F. Mader, a safety engineer, with his wife Eda L. The house was vacant in 1941.

The next owner-occupant was John A. and Kathy S. Corenbaum, in 1943. Mr. Corenbaum was an engineer with Pacific Telephone. He owned the house for only a few years in the mid-1940s.

By 1950, this house was again a leased residence. It had been bought by Elroy M. Reagan, former editor and owner of the Albany Morning Register and other newspapers. After selling his newspapers, Mr. Reagan went into real estate development with the Simms company in the Yeon building. He owned properties in Portland and Eugene, including this house from at least 1950 through at least 1962. Elroy passed away in 1967 and rests with his wife Mabel in the Willamette National Cemetery.

Various lessees lived here during that time. Roderick W. Kitson, a builder's representative, was the occupant from 1953 through 1956. Alvin L. Kellogg and his wife Margie L. were the lessees in 1958. Mr. Kellogg was in the US Air Force. Rolly D. Van Riper lived here in 1960.

Our research stops there, for now. All of this information was retrieved using the methods described in this series of posts.

During all of these decades and occupants, our example house remained relatively unchanged. The porch succumbed to the years and was rebuilt, along with some window replacements, when the house was rehabilitated in 1999. Otherwise the house looks much as it did when Harry M. Courtright, flush with confidence and business success, his new bride at his side, purchased his modern 8 room house with fireless cooker and built-in refrigerator in the brand new district of Laurelhurst in February 1912. In time, this house's current occupants will themselves be footnotes in history. With care and good fortune, their 8 room house with two fireplaces will endure, along with the Laurelhurst neighborhood, carrying its piece of Portland's history into the 22nd century.

Parting Thoughts

We'll leave you with three last thoughts.

First, do you have other sources and tips to share? Can you recommend a professional house history research service? An affordable source for chain of title searches? Do you have experience searching county tax assessor records or other city records? Please let us know and we'll add your tips to this post.

Second, this series of posts has been Laurelhurst-centric, but the techniques described here should work anywhere in Portland.

Third, if you research your house and find something interesting about the history of the Laurelhurst neighborhood - a cool old photograph or document, a notable resident, a curious event, a distinctive architect or builder - please let us know. We'll write a post about it, or add the photo to the central respository that we are working on.

Thank you for coming on this journey with us.

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