The house at 126 W. First St. in Prineville holds a significant sentimental value to many Prineville residents and holds a lifetime of memories.
The regal house, most recently owned by Lucy Woodward, sustained significant damage due to an electrical fire that happened on Aug. 19. The top two stories were badly damaged, and the roof burned completely. More than a century of memories was engulfed in flames, but the house was repairable, and is undergoing repairs at this time.
The oldest historic place in Prineville to be nominated and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, the Thomas M. Baldwin House was built in 1907. The home was nominated for the historic registry by Sandy and Wayne Demaris, who owned it for more than eight years. Sandy previously owned the house from 1976 to 1981. It is significant for its historic association with the development and early history of Prineville. The house is a rare example of grandeur in Prineville that represents this historic period and is significant for its excellence in detail and quality.
The home has retained its original oak staircase spindles, where many grandchildren of the Smith family have vivid memories of sliding down that old staircase. With beveled windows and moldings, the house was built in "colonial revival style," based on the colonial architecture of the 17th and 18th centuries. It was built of hand-picked lumber that Baldwin selected himself and known to only have one knot in the entire house, according to Betty Woodward, who has fond memories of the house when her grandma, Sylvia Smith, owned it for 23 years. The home has seen many weddings, class reunions and celebrations over the 114 years since it was built.
Thomas Baldwin was one of the early pioneers to Prineville. He moved with his wife, Nellie, to Prineville the year it was incorporated a city in 1880. He was a bookkeeper and store owner before he went to work as a manager then president at First National Bank. During the period of time that Baldwin resided in Prineville, there was an unusual degree of prosperity, with low taxes and the farming and stock businesses very profitable. Crook County was, for a time, one of the wealthiest counties in the state of Oregon. The Baldwin House became a representation of this prosperous period.
At the time that it was nominated in 1987 to be added to the National Register of Historic Places, Sandy and Wayne Demaris operated it as a bed and breakfast. They bought it for $24,000, and the original house was built for $4,000 by Baldwin. The architecture firm of Messrs, Bennez, Hendricks, and Tobey were commissioned to design the house. Jack Shipp, a prominent local builder, oversaw the construction. The house had three stories and a basement, which originally housed the boiler and fruit and vegetable cellar.
Other owners of the Baldwin House have included Thomas Baldwin in 1907; Hugh Lakin in 1925; the Stearns Family in 1929; Sylvia Smith in 1953; Chick Parrish IN 1971; K. Reed in 1973; Sandy Overall in 1976; Alice Cullen in 1981; Duane Balcom in 1984; Sandy Overall Demaris in 1986; and Lucy and the late Craig Woodward, who bought it in 1994 and have owned it since that time.
If walls could talk and breathe, they would echo days gone by of many visitors, boarders and residents who made the home what it is today. Although the architecture did not change much throughout the years, the boarding house during the period that Sylvia Smith had the house would reminisce the smell of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls wafting through the kitchen door and escaping through the many rooms that were occupied by boarders, family and visitors.
Marie Smith, daughter-in-law to Sylvia, married Art Smith, Sylvia's sixth child. He had two brothers and five sisters. Marie recalled the year that they moved her mother-in-law into the grand old house, as she and Art married shortly afterward, and school had just gotten out. Marie taught school and/or substituted for 41 years in Prineville, and it was her second year of teaching girl's physical education at the junior high. She added that when they moved Sylvia in, the Stearns, who had the house prior to Sylvia, had left all the furniture, except for the large dining room table. Family found her a table that was big enough for her entire family to sit down at the table together.
"She really didn't have an awful lot of furniture to move in," said Marie.
Betty Woodward is the oldest living grandchild of Sylvia Smith, and she was 10 years old when Sylvia bought and took up residence at the Baldwin House. She recalls the old rocking chair that her grandma had, and she also fondly remembers the many Santa Clauses who provided Christmas entertainment for the many children who spent Christmas time with them each year.
"Grandma was the only grandparent I had, and boy I tell you what, she filled the bill," said Woodward adamantly. "She loved Christmas year-round, and she lived for Christmas, and she shopped for Christmas year-round."
Woodward added that she would often help her grandma wrap presents and hide gifts. Sylvia also made special crème puffs for her second brother, Bob, who would occasionally come and visit. It became a joke that Bob would hide the crème puffs after Sylvia made a large batch, because he didn't want to share. Woodward once found a plate of crème puffs hidden in a top cupboard that were six months old. Another time, he hid some on the garage roof.
When Sylvia was considering the Baldwin House after her husband, Alonzo Roy "Lon" Smith, passed away, she knew she would have to sell their property on Lamonta Road. Lon lost his life in an accident while working in the woods in 1940. She made the Baldwin House a boarding house to other boys attending school and guys who needed a place to live in town. At any given time, she would have six to seven boarders living there. Many considered her like a mother. Jimmy Garrett, one of her boarders, always watched out for Sylvia.
"Every time she had something due, he bought something from her," said Marie.
Another boarder, Jerry Noble, would come home from work and would sing when he was in the shower. Woodward, still a young girl, would sit at the bottom of the stairs and listen to him sing.
"I would slip over the top and go down into the kitchen and tell Grandma, 'Come here and listen to Jerry sing.' He had a beautiful voice, and if we said anything about it, he would clam up."
Other boarders included Rudy Mulner, Al and George Hanson, Myren Lupeck, and Ted Thompson. Sylvia was known for her exceptional cooking skills, and her boarders and family enjoyed her cooking. The late Hazel Denton, the oldest of Sylvia's clan, once said that "I have always accused Ray of marrying me for Mom's cooking. He said many times that she could boil up an old shoe and make the best gravy."
Woodward also laughed about her grandmas' secret of using real bourbon for her famous mincemeat pie. She also made her own laundry soap, complete with lye and other secret ingredients, and Woodward remembers helping with the task of washing the bedding and clothing with an old-fashioned washing machine—in the basement during the cold months. Sylvia would hang the laundry, and the whites were always bright white and fresh. She accomplished this task solo most of the time, with up to nine boarders to wash for.
Woodward recalled the room where her grandma slept, which later became a music room.
"It just looked like a place where a queen would sleep," she said fondly. She added that Sylvia really loved the grand old house. She recalled that her grandma would sometimes make the comment that she couldn't believe that she actually had the privilege to live in such a beautiful place to call her own.
Sylvia became Crook County Pioneer Queen in 1970, and Woodward had the privilege of placing the crown on her head.
"She just loved that house," said Woodward wistfully. "It was a house fit for a queen."
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