NESBIT: This old house is ready for a historic makeover
The old girl is stark naked.
She stands back from the road at 17111 N.E. Sandy Blvd., the home of the Zimmerman family since 1869. It was part of the Zimmerman family's huge dairy farm. It's been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since June 1986.
Originally a squared-off farm house, she was dolled up in later years with enough gingerbread trim and frilly porches to knock your eyes out. It was as if someone draped a white doily over it.
The first time I saw it, I almost wrecked my car. It has been a joy and a curse ever since.
Recently, the East County Historical Organization bit the bullet and launched a major restoration paint job, which means stripping layers of old paint down to the original wood. It is easier to see the original hand-split shingles, the naked doo-dads, the frilly pediments turned out on a lathe.
Writing about the restoration, Chad Olin said it looked a bit "Munster-esque." Adding, "It is a treat to see how it looked when it was being built."
The work is part of many steps that will ultimately amount to a $2 million restoration project on the house, made possible in part by a county levy supporting local historical societies. Three times voters have approved that levy.
On that first day decades ago when I saw the house, I finagled a way to meet its occupant, a spinster and retired school teacher named Isobel Zimmerman. She was the guardian of the house and the family treasures inside. The Zimmermans never threw much away, including bags of nut shells they saved as fire starters.
Ultimately, Isobel died, and the old house came into the hands of what was then called the Fairview Historical Society, but all East County historians pitched in to help.
Dick Jones, who built the Troutdale Historical Society's barn, found time to help. He and Roy Hoover from Fairview crawled under the house to remove asbestos, because having it done by professionals was too expensive.
"Roy and I are too old to die of asbestos," Dick reasoned. "We are going to die of something else before that." And they did.
I don't know how many of us are left who emptied a structure at the back of the house, called the lean-to, which was, in fact, badly attached and leaning away from the house. The second story of the lean-to had once housed farm workers. As it began to fall away, we realized that the Zimmermans had stored their stuff in there.
One Saturday, we called on most of the founders of the local historical societies. Jones threw a bunch of boards across the gap from the second story of the house to the second story of the lean-to. Realizing that we couldn't all go in at once, we tiptoed in, one at a time, barely breathing, and inched out with family stamp collections and a number of other items that needed to be saved.
Troutdale Mayor Sam Cox was part of the group. He looked around and observed that if the lean-to collapsed it would crush most of East Multnomah County's historical minds in a pile of very old rubble.
A month or so later, the lean-to collapsed. Later the buttery, a little brick milk house, also fell apart due to old age.
But the house and grounds still stand. The gardens there, and at Fairview's Heslin house, are tended by volunteers from the East County Historical Organization, or ECHO, in Fairview.
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