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Vancouver man donates 19th century piano to McLean House
As Clifford Nelson searched for a new home for his antique 1868 square grand piano, there was one thing he knew for sure.
"I wanted it to go someplace where other people could appreciate it, and it wouldn't be turned into a desk or buffet or something like that — which has tended to (happen a lot)," said Nelson, who lives in Vancouver, Washington. "(Old pianos) just been lost through the years because of that."
Square grand pianos, which are actually rectangular in shape — with the strings running horizontally to the keys — peaked in popularity during Victorian times and are often very ornate in ornamentation.
Having narrowed his search by that criteria, Nelson ultimately settled on West Linn's historic McLean House — a spot that not only promised to protect the piano but also held ties to some of Nelson's closest family members.
"My dad, Douglas Nelson, who we donated this in honor of, and my mom, Faye Nelson, were very good friends of (McLean House volunteers) Don and Judy Nelson (the couples were not related)," Nelson said. "And when Judy died, and my dad died several years later, my mom and Don started spending a lot of time together. A lot of the things they've done have centered on the McLean House, and (the house) didn't have anything like this."
And so it was that Clifford Nelson formally donated the piano to the McLean House in early February. It was one of two vintage pianos Nelson had at his home, and as his family prepared to move to a new prairie-style home he realized that keeping more than one piano was no longer feasible.
"I'd planned on that being something that stayed in the family, but it didn't work out that way," Nelson said. "It's found a great home."
Nelson and his wife originally acquired the piano at the estate sale of a piano teacher in Multnomah County. An appraiser found that it was built in 1868 by a New York company, Haines Bros., whose instruments were known as "college pianos" because of how often they were found at universities across the country.
Nelson had the piano restored about 10 years ago, and it arrived at the McLean House in remarkably pristine condition. The house had one piano already, but Nelson's piano is a special antique that volunteers won't treat lightly. The hope in the near future is to plan events — like singing old songs — around the piano.
"I've known the other piano as just something to play on," longtime volunteer Mike Watters said. "This is a monument; this is a story within itself. So each time it's played, it's going to be tunes from the past."
"(Nelson) had actually never been in the house before, but he was excited to come here and bring it and make it part of (the house)," McLean Park & House General Manager Diane Harju said. "We're actually going to order a plaque honoring his father."
Nelson will surely appreciate that, since he saw the donation primarily as a way to honor his father's memory.
"He taught me so much, everything from woodworking to study habits," Nelson said. "Everything I'm able to do, I really owe to my dad, so that's why it was important."
A new roof
Almost a full year after it was severely damaged during a windstorm, the roof at the city-owned McLean House was replaced in mid-February, according to Harju.
"Everything's finished except the gutters," Harju said. "There were multiple holes in the roof, so the City was able to find the funding to redo the roof."
As part of the City's Earth Day celebration, the McLean House will also welcome volunteers for a clean-up day on the property April 21.
"We've got some pathways that need gravel … (the work) can be both inside and outside," Watters said.
"I'll let people clean up anything," Harju said with a laugh.
Learn more about the McLean Park & House at mcleanhouse.org.
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