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Lake Oswego Preservation Society plans to lease workers cottage

Pending council approval, the historic structure will become a small museum

SUBMITTED PHOTO - The historic Iron Workers Cottage sits on Wilbur Street in Old Town, where exterior renovations are currently in progress.The Lake Oswego Preservation Society is one step closer to having a new home: the historic Iron Workers Cottage in Old Town.

Dating back to the days when Lake Oswego was a mining town, the 700-square-foot cottage is the only surviving example of the type of housing used by iron workers and their families in the area.

Last week, the Development Review Commission approved a plan to make final renovations and upgrades to the structure on Wilbur Street, and to grant code exemptions to allow the preservation society to use the property for institutional purposes.

COLVER“It’s the newest and smallest museum in Lake Oswego,” says Marylou Colver, the society’s founder and president. “We’ve got lots of ideas for interesting exhibits.”

All of the other worker cottages in the area have been lost, Colver says, but the one in Old Town was bought by the City in 2003 and has survived — albeit in a state of increasing disrepair. Several years ago, City officials convened a future uses group that recommended opening the structure to the public. The City requested proposals for what to do with the cottage, and LOPS won with a plan to convert it into a museum.

“It brings the human element into the industry that shaped this town,” says Colver. “You’ve got the Iron Furnace, but this kind of puts a face on the industry.”

Colver says the majority of the cottage will be used for a series of rotating public exhibits, with a small amount of space set aside to serve as a meeting room for LOPS and other community groups, such as the Old Town Neighborhood Association.

“It’s not going to be a house museum, but a museum in a house,” says Colver. “We’re not going to try to recreate the life of an ironworker.”

Instead, the group plans to display a new exhibit every 6-12 months. The first exhibit will focus on the iron industry, but subsequent exhibits will cover other historical topics from Lake Oswego and the surrounding area. For the iron industry exhibit, LOPS will display photos, tools and other artifacts from the time period, with the goal of providing a “fun but educational” experience.

“It gives us an opportunity to put on display (several) City-owned iron artifacts that are currently just in storage,” says Colver.

Admission will be free, with upkeep costs covered though donations, LOPS membership fees and a gift shop. In addition to the exhibits, LOPS intends for the museum to become part of future walking tours. The workers cottage is one of seven sites on the City’s Iron Heritage Trail, which in turn is part of the Willamette Falls Area Heritage Trail, so Colver says she hopes the cottage can encourage more heritage tourism.

“We’re also looking forward to welcoming groups of students,” she says. “In grade school, they cover local history — they tour Old Town and visit the furnace (at George Rogers Park).”

Before LOPS can move in, the cottage has to undergo the last in a long series of renovations. The structure has been shored up and the foundation has been stabilized, but there’s still some exterior work to do, including the addition of a fence, an upgraded parking area, a light pole and ADA access ramps. Colver says LOPS was involved in planning the renovations, and both the society and the City tried to find a balance between making the cottage safe and maintaining the “historical aspect” of the structure.

“They’ve done a fabulous job stabilizing and restoring the cottage,” says Colver. “It’s amazing that it has survived (before the renovation). There was a lot of dry rot, and it’s on a brick foundation.”

LOPS’s lease on the property was negotiated a year ago, but still needs to receive final approval from the City Council, which is expected to take up the issue in September. Assuming the final hurdle is cleared, Colver says LOPS hopes to move in by the end of the year.

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..