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Portland’s oldest homes offer windows to the past

Learn about some of the oldest homes in the City of Roses and where to see them for yourself.

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The James Stephens House at its original location, looking east from the Willamette River, circa 1865.

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There’s something about the onset of cooler, darker days and the knowledge that we’ve left summer firmly behind us that inspires certain mental imagery. The flurry of raven wings across a rising moon at dusk. Mist swirling among the boughs of trees nearly devoid of their leafy raiment. A house, large and mysterious, squatting in shadows — and clearly old.

Old homes are captivating. They’ve witnessed people come and go and the tales they would share if they could speak are instead ingrained in their boards and bricks like seasoning, unquantifiable but still perceptible.

Though West Coast cities aren’t all that ancient compared to other parts of the world, Portland is home to dwellings that have, relatively speaking, seen their fair share of human history. They enrich the city’s landscape and stand as silent windows to the past.

These are some of the oldest houses still standing in Portland.

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The Tigard/Rogers House was built by pioneer Andrew Tigard, the brother of the founder of Tigard, according to city planner Nicholas Starin.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

Tigard/Rogers House

Tucked along the corner (but still clearly visible from the road) of Southwest Shattuck Road and Hamilton Street in the Bridlemile neighborhood, this home is — perhaps — the oldest in Portland. We say “perhaps” because the home is listed in the Oregon Historic Sites Database as having been built in 1855, but PortlandMaps (a platform for property information and other data supplied by the city of Portland) says it was built three decades later in 1885.

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The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is located near where the James Stephens House originally stood.

Photo by Finetooth

James Stephens House

Originally built along the east bank of the Willamette River in 1862 or 1864 (or 1868, according to PortlandMaps), this stately Italianate home was moved in 1902 to its current location at 1825 SE 12th Ave. to make way for railway development. Today, it’s marketed as the oldest house — and “Airbnb” — in Portland. Fun fact: James Stephens, a farmer from Virginia who moved to Portland and built the house, established the first commercial ferry between settlements on the east and west banks of the Willamette River.

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The Humboldt neighborhood’s John Palmer House was listed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1978.

Photo by Cambrie Juarez, PDXtoday

John Palmer House

Though one can see little apart from the ornate roof and front-facing facade from the sidewalk, this grand Victorian at 4314 N. Mississippi Ave. is a feast for the eyes. Elevated above street level, it was built in 1890, formerly housed the Multnomah Conservatory of Music, and has served as a bed and breakfast and wedding venue. Signs at the property now suggest that it’s used as a nonprofit center for healing and spiritual well-being.