Tax Number 1SW C2000; Lot 1 in Fairmount Addition
By Skip Buhler, FHFG Research team
Built in 1912, the H.N. and Ellen Robinson House is a tall Craftsman home, located in what is now the Fairmount Addition of south Forest Grove, but what is historically known as part of Alvin T. Smith’s Donation Land Claim, in Forest Grove. After A.T. Smith passed away in the 1880s, his wife Jane M. Smith continued to manage the large estate for several decades, before selling this corner of their land claim to Daniel Thomas in 1911. The land was just south of the City limits, and so was not included in census reports for the town, at least until the mid-1950s. Sometimes the property would even be included in the village of Carnation. Because of this, and for a host of other reasons, the property has long been misidentified, and continues to be on the City’s website in 2022.
Daniel Thomas owned the land for just a year, though he may have been leasing it from Smith for some time, because it was already known in the papers as the Thomas ranch, in 1912, the year when Thomas sold the acreage to Homer N. Robinson.
Robinson came with his wife and children to the Grove from Minnesota in 1911, and he was primarily a farmer, but was also involved in real estate…Born in Wisconsin, Homer was a Modern Woodmen of America officer, among other things. He and his wife Ellen regularly held large gatherings on their farm, as well as having family reunions, and “watermelon feed” parties for the whole town. Homer was known for his work with the Methodist Church in town; he was in charge of church building maintenance, he was on the Board of Trustees there, and wrote a detailed history of the church. Ellen was a housewife, taking care of the large house and children, though she too held frequent gatherings, for woman’s clubs, such as the Methodist aid society. Most of their children were becoming adults when they moved in, though the house was always full. Their daughters Irene and Lucille lived here, and after graduating from high school in 1918, Lucille went the PU where she was an active Kappa member, and she went on to teach “Romance languages” at the High School during the mid-1920s. Lucille later moved to Vancouver, WA, where she taught for 25 years. The Robinson’s son Vinton graduated from FG high school too, and went to work for the State Highway commission; son Harold was an honor student at Corvallis; and son Charles graduated from Oregon Ag College then enlisted for the service, training at the Presidio, winning an infantry commission, but they came home regularly for visits. Charles later became a state horticulturalist and fruit inspector. Daughter Irene, who was two years older than Lucille, married Lynn Sabin of Portland (When Irene died in 1949, Lucile married Lynn. Lucille died in 1996, at the age of 96).
Ellen’s father Thomas P. Baldwin, a veteran of the Civil War, in the “Hold the Fort” regiment of Minnesota volunteers, passed away in the house that first year 1912. When his wife Ellen passed away in August 1924, Homer began efforts to sell the house. (Homer Robinson remarried in 1930, to Mary E. Beach). He was still listed at the house in the 1928 phone directory. The house finally sold to Emmet C. and Mira Keehn in 1929. Like the Robinsons, the Keehn’s were from Minnesota, arriving here that same year. They had a farm in David Hill district, but like Robinson, Emmet was later involved in real estate, working at 2228 Main. Their daughter was Alice Sorbel. The Keehn’s sold the house in 1932 or 33, to John M. and Nores E. Sweet. Originally from Ferndale CA, The Sweets lived here at least through the WW2, as John’s draft card gives the Second St (aka Birch St) address. Their daughters Doris, Dorothy, Carol and Ladine, went to Forest Grove schools. John worked as a road grader. After they moved to Redmond around 1946, the Sweets opened a bowling alley.
The House was then sold to Arthur S. and Edna Ellis, of Portland Oregon (not Alfred S. Ellis, as had been reported in past inventories). The Ellis family turned around and sold it to their friends the Melin’s. Albin and Lima Melin had a tavern and market in Portland, and the Ellis couple had lived with them at some point. Neither the Melin’s nor the Ellis’s seem to have lived in the Robinson house…The Melin’s sold the property, with a list of other parcels around the Forest Grove area, to Joseph Leibee. Leibee had the parcels for less than a year before selling out to Daniel Moore in 1951.
The Moore’s had a similar story to the Robinson’s and the Sweet’s. After moving here from Prineville, Oregon, The Moore’s raised filbert trees, but rented out the land to farmers, like Mr. Byers, and Gene Vandehey, who raised row crops. After he retired from Vandervelden Brothers machine shop, he became involved in real estate. In 1972, the Moore sold the farmland to the east and south to developers, who subdivided their farmland, named it Fairmount addition, and annexed it to the City. They lived two more decades in the house, before moving to Jennings-McCall. Their son remembers that there was an old dairy barn, that wasn’t far from the back porch. The barn became very unstable after the Columbus Day storm, and was taken down. But his dad has removed the dairy part of the barn, and converted the second story of the barn into basketball court, which was frequently used by neighbor kids. He also remembers the huge ancient oak, that was later removed due to disease.
When Laurel and Julian Medinger purchased the house from Dennis Moore in 1996, it needed a lot of work to make it livable. The house had apparently sat vacant for a year and had seen significant pest and water damage. They gutted the ground floor, installing all new plumbing and electricity. The refinished the attic, making it a full living space.
As noted in the Tour of Historic Homes pamphlet from 2008, the Medinger’s “started with a major remodel of the kitchen, bathrooms and a large portion of the first floor. Their most recent remodeling project is the back porch/utility room. It has a lovely fireplace in it which has, to this point, been under-utilized. The Medinger’s believe the room was originally intended as a ‘smoking room’…When tearing out the built-in coat closet, to their surprise they found a ‘secret’ door leading to nowhere. They haven’t been able to find out where the door originally led to.” They also discovered an outdoor fireplace under ivy and weeds, that looked like a Mayan ruin. Over their long residency here, the Medinger’s have been thoughtful and loving caretakers of the House, and it may have not survived without their foresight and perseverance.