150-year-old desk owned by former Hillsboro mayor returns to city
As Hillsboro continues to expand and develop, many of its longer-tenured residents feel as though the city's rich history is being lost.
But they're starting to think of new ways to connect people to that history.
On Monday, Jan. 6, about 20 longtime Hillsboro residents gathered at Le'Stuff Antique Mall to view a handcrafted desk. The desk is not just any old piece of furniture — it dates back to the mid-19th century and was owned by one, possibly two, of Hillsboro's most prominent political figures of that era.
The event marked the beginning of a new effort by members of the Hillsboro Historical Society and other local history buffs to host talks about people and artifacts of early Hillsboro.
"It's kind of my personal mission to keep the past alive even when I feel like the city isn't trying to," said Dirk Knudsen, a board member of the Hillsboro Historical Society, who organized the event.
Local historians believe the desk that was on display Monday belonged to the founder of the 147-year-old Hillsboro Pharmacy, and four-time Hillsboro mayor, Dr. F.A. Bailey.
"I just love standing here imagining Bailey writing prescriptions on this," Knudsen said.
Knudsen organized the event with Jeff Nelson, owner of the antique mall, and members of a coffee group that meets every morning at the Hillsboro Pharmacy, the city's oldest business.
The desk will be temporarily on display with other historical information about Bailey in the front window of the antique mall at 243 E. Main St. across the street from the Hillsboro Pharmacy.
It was a homecoming for the desk.
In 2018, Knudsen's friend was in Lake Oswego buying an antique clock from a collector when he spotted a desk he thought Knudsen might be interested in.
"He said, 'Dirk, there's a desk in that guy's house, and I think he wants to sell it. It was Dr. Bailey's old desk,'" Knudsen said. "That got my wheels turning."
Knudsen went to the collector's house, and the first thing that struck him was that the desk didn't look like a typical desk, he said. It's more of a cabinet — like something that could be used to store medicines and medical equipment — with a flat surface at the front, Knudsen said.
Inside the desk was a piece of paper describing how the desk traded hands between several antiques dealers in Oregon before being purchased by the Lake Oswego collector in 1996. When he purchased it, the collector called a woman named Lloyd Dorothy Shaw, who owned it before she sold it to the dealers, Knudsen said.
Shaw told the collector her grandparents purchased a house that contained the desk in Gaston in 1890. She said her grandparents learned at the time that the desk had been made for Bailey.
Knudsen said the story checks out, because Bailey took in boarders and taught at a school in the Watts area, near Forest Grove and Gaston, in the late 19th century before moving to Hillsboro and opening the Hillsboro Pharmacy in 1873.
According to the collector, Shaw also said her grandparents thought the desk was later owned by Thomas H. Tongue, another Hillsboro mayor who became a state senator and U.S. congressman.
"It makes sense that the desk could have changed hands between them," Knudsen said.
Bailey's wife was quoted in an 1892 interview saying that she and Bailey were Tongue's neighbors in Hillsboro, Knudsen said.
Knudsen also believes the desk was Bailey's because it's made out of old Oregon fir. Nelson said he got the desk professionally analyzed to determine the wood and its age.
"They really concurred that the timeframe for it being build was pretty correct," Nelson said. "Mid- to late 1850s."
After learning that the desk could be connected to these historical figures, Knudsen said be became determined to get the desk back to Hillsboro.
The collector originally bought it for $2,500, but Knudsen convinced the collector to sell it for $700 if he promised to return the desk to Hillsboro.
Knudsen still couldn't justify buying the desk for $700 and he had no room for it, he said.
"That week, I was at the Hillsboro (Pharmacy) and was telling a gentleman there about it," Knudsen said. "A man leaned over and asked me how much I needed. I told him. His name is Warren Schumacher."
Schumacher told Knudsen he and the other members of the Hillsboro Pharmacy morning coffee group would raise the money for the desk if it could be displayed somewhere on East Main Street, where Bailey rose to prominence.
Schumacher said the coffee group was honored to help restore a piece of Hillsboro's history to the community.
"Hillsboro is changing so fast that it's losing its understanding of its roots," Schumacher said. "We're trying to give it some foundation and root, because we think that would be cool for any new move-in to be invited to our downtown."
During Knudsen's presentation about the desk at the antiques mall, he told Bailey's story — as people interjected to point out additional details they knew about Hillsboro's early history. When he and Nelson pulled the cover off the desk, the audience ooh-ed and aah-ed.
Knudsen also described a sense of urgency to connect new residents and children to local historical information.
Knudsen has taken artifacts such as old trapping equipment into third-grade classes, and he was struck by how little the students knew about the Native peoples of the Tualatin Valley.
"We don't have anywhere in our city that commemorates much of our early history at all. We don't have anything for our Native people," Knudsen said. "I'm just trying to help root people in the past. How many people might learn something from this desk?"
People interested in attending talks on Hillsboro's history can follow the We Remember Hillsboro Oregon group on Facebook.
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