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Looking Ahead: A.T. Smith House Vision

The A.T. Smith House is an important part of historic Forest Grove. Ever since Mary Jo Morelli saved it from being burnt for fire department training in 2001, Friends of Historic Forest Grove has worked hard to preserve and restore it.

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Written by: Tom Beck
Date: February 6, 2021

The A.T. Smith House is an important part of historic Forest Grove. Ever since Mary Jo Morelli
saved it from being burnt for fire department training in 2001, Friends of Historic Forest Grove has worked hard to preserve and restore it. The house was designated one of Restore Oregon’s “Most Endangered Places”. Abigail’s Garden was created to enhance the front of the property.

There were two years that took FHFG into and out of a proposed capital campaign. It culminated with FHFG hiring a local architect to develop a plan that could offer a firm financial future. Unfortunately, that plan for a conference center ran afoul of FHFG’s goal to restore the house to its historic importance, and we paused to rethink our way forward.

The FHFG Board of Directors decided in early 2020 to begin afresh with the appointment of an Ad Hoc Committee for the A.T. Smith Property, chaired by Mary Jo.

The Friends of Historic Forest Grove is dedicated to three key area of activity: 1) furthering the education and appreciation of the historic nature of Forest Grove from its founding to today, 2) maintaining the Old Train Station (OTS) as place to appreciate historic Forest Grove, and 3) the restoration of the A. T. Smith house and its adjoining property to allow it to be a center of understanding the origins of Forest Grove. Each of the areas involves a different balance of human effort and monetary expense. Education is based on our volunteer labor; OTS is also heavily founded on volunteer efforts, but as with Education, it needs limited funding needs. The ATS property, however, is quite different. Here volunteer labor is essential; however, capital needs are primary to successfully fulfilling our mission in this area.

Since the Friends first became involved in the AT Smith property in 2001, we have spent $197,845 on the property and the restoration of the house. We have made considerable progress in the 20 years, especially now with the stabilization of the foundation, which was completed in December. Before outlining the work ahead, let me quickly provide an overview of the last 20 years effort put in by the many volunteers.

Prior to 1991 the property was owned by the Zurcher family as part of their farm. In that year, the City of Forest Grover rezoned the northern part of their property to industrial in creating the Taylor Industrial zone. Plans to locate the trash transfer station in this area and for the Forest Grove Fire Department to burn the house as a training session in 2001 brought Mary Jo Morelli into the picture, where she worked with the state appointed a legal Conservator to the Zurcher Family Trust for the area around the AT Smith house. Later that year the Friends bought 2.2 acres surrounding the house with a loan. We then set up a AT Smith property committee to work on repaying the loan and on the preservation of the house.

The next eight years work was done to maintain the building, and in 2007 we solicited a report on Historic Structures to guide our restoration work. With great effort by the Friends we managed to pay off the loan and became full owners of the AT Smith property.

The economic challenges of 2008-12 kept our work to a minimum, but then we were able to buy the 3.3 acres between the house and Elm Street, which finally gave us access to the street. Consulting with the City on how to develop our property, we came to an agreement to sell the city the 3.3 acres for a City park. We accomplished a change to the Taylor Industrial Park C,C&R’s which would allow recreational use. The City then rezoned both properties from Industrial to Institutional, which is a zone for school, hospitals, and parks.

From 2015 our work picked up speed. The house was designated an Oregon Most Endangered Structure, we began work on Abigail’s Garden to enhance the front of the property, and Marcus Hazelett became our caretaker on the property. The next two years took us into and out of a proposed capital campaign. We hired Paul Falsetto to develop a plan that could offer a firm financial future. Unfortunately his plan for a conference center ran afoul of our goal to restore the house to its historic importance, and we paused to rethink our way forward.

The Board of the Friends decided in early 2020 to begin afresh with the appointment of an Ad Hoc Committee for the AT Smith Property to be headed by Mary Jo. She recruited Terri Durfee Erskine, Kerry VanderZanden, Amy Tracewell, and myself to develop recommendation for how to complete our goals for this property. Along the way others were consulted, and we have now developed our report, which is before the Board.

We began by asserting our belief in the goals of 1)“retaining the historic integrity (of the house) as an educational heritage facility through a combined approach of preservation and restoration focusing on the years between 1854 – 1874 as the period of significance”, and 2) Encouraging visitors to explore a wide cross-section of perspectives of how, why and when historical events occurred on the West Tualatin Plains, prior to house construction by exploring and incorporating the Native American habitation of Wapato Lake and West Tualatin Plains on the Smith property. This second goal allows the possibility of adding a new feature on the lower part of the property, which could broaden our education goals and bring in new partners to provide needed funding. As work is completed on each of these goals, our educational work would be an on-going effort, which would be especially aided by the enhancement of the property surrounding the house.

AT Smith House Basement with original foundation

Discussions with the City have let to the conclusion that work on the City park is a few years in the future, but we are hopefull of achieving some staging of that work to beautify the property from its current undeveloped condition in the near future.

The details of the restoration in our report show (available on our websit) that we intend to begin with further work on stabilization and securing the doors and windows, which would allow us to remove the fencing that surrounds the house in order to achieve a more visitor friendly appearance. Further projects to restore the interior would be developed individually to allow us to focus on obtaining grants.

We envision a process whereby work on a major capital campaign with two foci: 1) goals of to fund the actual work and 2) to

 fund an endowment to meet our longterm needs for administering and maintaining the property. We believe each goal could run to one million dollars. An endouwment of a million dollars would yield $40,000 annual to spend. These goals are both ambitious and necessary. We believe that they will not be met all at once or soon; therefore we will be selecting indiviual projects that can be funded by particular granting agencies. Again some of these initial projects are listed on our websit.

Alongside the work on fundraising and restoration work, we look forward to continuing our efforts to maintain Abigail’s Garden, which Carol Taylor has agreed to head, as well as our annual cleanup and maintainence of the entire property.

As with all of the work of the Friends, each volunteer has a focus, and we foresee those whose focus is the AT Smith property to spearhead the work to fulfill our commitment to have a beautiful 1854 farmhouse for our neighbors and friends to visit.

About the Author: Tom Beck is a member of the FHFG Board of Directors.