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Molalla Log House could return to Molalla

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Historic Molalla Log House was destined for the Oregon Garden. But those plans have fallen through. Now MAHS will decide whether to provide a permanent home for Oregon's oldest structure in Molalla.

PAMELA HAYDEN - Pioneer restoration expert Gregg Olson in 2008 atop the Molalla log house  before it was moved. Olson estimates the roof was put on not long after the original structure was built in about 1799. 
The fate of the historic Molalla Log House, thought to be the oldest home in Oregon, could lie in the hands of the Molalla Area Historical Society.

Iris Riley, president of the MAHS, said the refurbished Molalla Log House will not be going to the Oregon Garden, as has been planned for the past two years.

Riley plans to open a discussion with members of the MAHS at next Saturday's business meeting.

"I feel there is room for it on our property on South Molalla Avenue, next to the Dibble House," Riley said. "The building would come with the team that has been working with it, Pam Hayden and Gregg Olson, so it would not place a drain on our resources."

Riley said there is much to discuss, and encourages MAHS members to attend the meeting and make their voices heard. The business meeting will start at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 8.

PAM HAYDEN - Molalla Log House before it was moved for restoration. This may be Oregon's oldest house, estimated to have been built in the late 1790s by Russian pioneers.For six years, with the support of the Kinsman Foundation and Restore Oregon, Hayden, an architectural historian, and Olson, a pioneer construction/restoration expert, worked to unravel the mysteries of the Molalla Log House.

They discovered that the house may have been built even before 1805-06, when explorers Lewis and Clark built Fort Clatsop near the mouth of the Columbia River.

Hayden said Molalla Log House is probably the oldest house in Oregon.

"I think it's important for others to see that there may have been European settlers here prior to Lewis and Clark," she said.

If Olson and Hayden's theory is true, the building would add a new chapter to Oregon's early history.

According to their 200-page treatise on the Molalla Log House, the first European settlers in Molalla's wilderness may have built the log house around 1799.

That the log cabin was built by foreigners is clear. Olson said the construction is unlike any pioneer construction seen in Oregon.

Unlike typical pioneer construction, where chinking was used to fill in gaps in log cabin walls,

Hayden said these logs were hewn to stack so tightly together that there was no need to fill the spaces between them to keep out the weather.

The 25-foot-long Douglas fir logs, stacked 17 high, fit together like Lincoln logs. In fitting the corners of the cabin together, the builders used half dove tail notch, which was flat on the bottom and slopes, so that the rain could drain away from the logs.

Hayden said the half dovetail corner notching is similar to a finely crafted cabinet before the 1800s. The craftsmanship displays expertise in building with Douglas fir, a soft wood unlike the hardwood used by pioneers from the east and mid-west.

PAM HAYDEN - Molalla Log House during restoration in a Mulino storage building. Photo shows detail of the dovetail corners.
The roof design is also foreign to American builders and is believed to have been thatched.

The working theory has been that the log building was possibly built by Russian farmers who were sent overseas by Catherine the Great to settle in the Willamette Valley.

According to Hayden's research, the wood craft is centuries old, and the people who built it were highly knowledgeable. "It's so old it was built with no nails," she said.

In 1991, with Hayden's guidance, Clackamas County declared the log building a historic landmark.

By 2007, the roof had caved in and the structure was in danger of collapsing. Hayden worked with the property owner to donate both the building and money to save it.

In 2008, the deteriorating structure, which had served over time as a house, animal shelter, machine shed and the Fox Granary, was disassembled and moved to a storage facility in Mulino.

There, it was analyzed, preserved and restored by Hayden and Olson.

The house was later moved to storage at another location until a permanent home could be found. Plans were in place for the building to become an exhibit at the Oregon Garden in Silverton.

Now that those plans have folded, Molalla Area Historical Society could bring the now-famous Molalla Log House back home to Molalla.