In 1868, John Roberts, an important figure in the region's history, built a small cabin on isolated land in what would eventually become the heart of Gresham's favored residential area. While Roberts' home was initially humble, marriage and kids led him to enlarge it to 11 rooms, and bestow upon the building the moniker "Elkhorn Ranch."
Now Alice Duff, chairwoman of Gresham's Historic Resources subcommittee, is concerned the oldest home in the community is in danger of disrepair and demolition. A rental property for years, Elkhorn Ranch has a code violation of $350 filed against the Portland-based realtor. Windows are broken, the porch is rotting and the home's exterior paint is chipped .
"I have kept an eye on it as I periodically drive by and noticed it looked derelict and vacant," Duff said. "My concern is demolition through neglect or, if it remains vacant, the risk of vagrants or homeless people breaking into the house and burning it down."
"Gresham: Stories of our Past, Campground to City" shares information about the early days of the community. Put together by the Gresham Historical Society and published in 1994, it tells the history of Elkhorn Ranch.
The 21-year-old Roberts bought the 160 acres of land, with help from his father, from his uncle for $500. That land is currently bordered by Powell Boulevard and Division Street to the south and north, and Wallula and Birdsdale avenues to the west and east. It was there he constructed Elkhorn Ranch and lived with his wife Ruth Wilson.
The Victorian-style home was inherited by one of their daughters, Effie, and her husband Frank C. Hodge. Effie's son, John Hodge, was born in 1913 and was raised in Elkhorn Ranch, working on the 38 acres of farmland. Hodge recounted six to eight cows, three horses and chickens while growing up.
When Hodge married, and began to raise a family of his own, he built a house on the same property right around the corner from Elkhorn Ranch.
Elkhorn Ranch is on Gresham's local landmarks list (Class I), but not on the National Register of Historic Places like the similarly storied Hamlin/Johnson home. The designation means any significant changes to the property must go through an approval process. The Historic Resources Subcommittee will make a recommendation to the city land use hearings officer on a course of action, and that hearings officer then makes the final determination.
Owners of historic homes can make minor changes, like fixing a gutter or window, but anything that would "change the historical character of the structure must be approved."
During the next subcommittee meeting, which will occur in early March, Duff plans on discussing Elkhorn Ranch and whether there are additional steps that can be made to further protect the site. For her, maintaining Gresham's history is vital.
"It's a matter of having a background and ties to the past," Duff said. "This is the oldest structure in Gresham, which makes it special."