Learn More About Your House's History

Now that we have national recognition of Irvington’s historic significance, all of us living here have become more aware of our homes’ histories – the colorful stories that make our “place” unique.  But how can you learn more about your house?  There are some great on-line tools to learn more about your house.

A good starting point for your research is the Oregon Historic Sites Database  which is the official State of Oregon database containing information on all designated historic properties in the state, including all 2800 buildings in the Irvington Historic District.  Unfortunately, the database search tools have some problems, and the information you’ll find is coded, so here’s some clues to help you find your way:

  • To find an Irvington property, select the “City:” as “Portland”
  • Type in the Street Name (put just 18th for 18th Avenue or Siskiyou for Siskiyou Street) and select NE as the “Dir:”).  This will bring up a long list of properties listed by street address.
  • Under “Property Name” you may find a person’s name – that’s who the researchers believe to have been the first real owner and occupant of your house. 
  • “Yr Built” tells you when your house was built, based on the best available records. 
  • “Elig” tells you if your home is considered “Contributing.” The code is “EC”,  this means your house retains its exterior historic integrity.  Or it may be “Non Contributing.” The code is “NC”, this means it was built after Irvington’s historic period of significance that ended in 1948 or it was altered and is no longer historic in appearance. 
  • If your Eligibility code is ES, that means your house has been individually listed on the National Register because of its special historic importance.
  • Click the “form” button to get even more detail: This displays the full detail for your house from the database. 
  • Note especially the box labeled “architect and builder”.  The architect is known for well over 300 homes in the District and will be listed here.  Builders (who may also have been the architect) are known for about 800 homes, also listed here.
  • Finally, note the “primary style” box.  Here you’ll see how the architectural historians categorized the style of your house – possibly bungalow or Colonial Revival, among many others.  In some cases, you’ll see additional information in the “comments/notes” box. 
  • If you see the code “CG” there, that means that your garage was built during the historic period and is considered “Contributing” too.  You may also find more details there about the early owners or sources of information about your home.

Armed with the names of the original owners of your home and an idea of when it was built, you can tap into two of the great research tools provided by the Multnomah County Library on their website. You’ll need a library card to access these – but that is free.  The full list of research tools is found under the Research Tools and Resources tab on their website. 

Look for the Digital Sanborn Maps option.  The Sanborn Maps were once used by insurance companies to determine fire insurance rates.  Maps for 1908/1909 and 1924/1928 show Irvington and give you a clue as to when your garage was built and how your original front porch might have been laid out.   Here’s a helpful hint to save you some time: In the 1908/1909 Sanborn, you’ll find Irvington in Volume 3 in pages from 282 to 296.  In the 1924/1928 Sanborn, you’ll find Irvington in Volume 6 and you’ll need the Index page to help you find the page where your home is shown.  The Sanborn Maps show the original (pre-1933) street address of your house.  That is the key you need for the second great resource for tracking down history: the On Line Oregonian Historic Archive. 

In the Oregonian Historic Archive you can do a full-word search in every issue of The Oregonian newspaper from 1860 to 1981!  Try searching for the name of the first owner of your home if you found it in the state database.  Or try putting in your home’s original (pre-1933) address.  You may be surprised at what you find!  We discovered that the basement of our house was operated as a speak-easy in the early 1920s during Prohibition and caused neighborhood complaints for “drunken men and maudlin women” carousing nearby late at night!!

Have fun with your search!

By Jim Heuer, Irvington Historic Preservation Committee