The Incredible History Behind Meridian

Updated: Jan 13, 2020

When I first saw the building in December 2018

As a historical romance writer and a foodie who graduated from the Oregon Culinary Institute, the research I do enables me to understand a past that I will never be able to touch. This building personifies it and has the ability to be seen by all for what it is: an invaluable piece of history.

As the old saying goes...don’t ever judge a book by its cover.

My love for this building was VERY unexpected. The pictures did this building no justice and my interest in the building started when the realtor advertised that it was built in 1895. I squinted hard trying to figure that one out. Was it really? It looked like something from the 1970s...

Still...I had always wanted to own a Victorian part of history and had envisioned creating a restaurant around its history. So...I trudged over and looked at it from a purely curious stance. Unfortunately, the building had been sorely neglected over too many years and its exterior had been superficially altered, covering up what little beauty it had left. Not surprisingly, every floor tile and the ducts tested positive for asbestos and had old layers of lead paint.

It wasn’t until I began spending time with the building and peeling back its veneer (literally) that my imagination was captured. The original stairs built within the structure are no longer in existence but a cut out of its existence and a patching of wood can be seen in the upper floor.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps verified this.

Sanborn Maps, for those that aren't familiar, is the best building resource for historians and architects when trying to understand the building's date of birth, and its history. Many counties and cities didn't have building records or codes prior to the 1960's. So how does one investigate the history of a building if there is nothing on record about it?

Fire Insurance Maps. They were first created and used in London in the 18th century to assess fire risk. With the Home Stead Act and railroads and the changing landscape of cities, American Insurance companies followed British suit in the 1860's, giving us...the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

Unfortunately, they only assessed buildings every 4-8 years. So there are sizable gaps in making an accurate historical assessment of some buildings...which included my own. For instance, compare the 1884, Hillsboro, Oregon Insurance Map with the 1892 version of it and you will see a massive amount of building went on. My building is marked with the arrow.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1884

Sanborn Map of 1892, Yellow delineates wood, Red delineates brick.

Much like any historian, one has to connect certain dots to be able to pinpoint what MIGHT have been the exact year. I firmly believe that the building I own, known as Lot 5, Block 1 was actually built in 1891. Why do I believe this?

Let's start from the beginning.

I started delving into deeds, as it was the only hard evidence I could produce. Excitingly, I was able to trace the land origin to a certain bachelor by the name of Jacob Swanger. (Of course there would be a bachelor in this story!)

In 1850, congress passed the Donation Land Claim Act, allowing white males to obtain up to 320 acres of land with very little to no cost and another 320 acres if they were wed. Today, we all know the tragic story as to why it was done by the government. It seeded opportunities to grab as much land at the cost of Native Americans. At its time, however, a lot of British and German immigrants were taking advantage of the land grab.

One German bachelor by the name of Jacob Swanger was one of the first groups of homesteaders to arrive in the 1850's. The parcel of land that Meridian sits on, was only a fraction of his original homestead. Sadly, there are no pictures of him on record. Not much more is known about Jacob Swanger until one snowy night in January of 1880. 

Albany Register Newspaper, Albany, Oregon, January 23, 1880.

On that snowy night, Jacob Swanger was found brutally murdered in his cabin on the outskirts of Hillsboro. It shook the entire community and was splashed across many newspapers and counties, including the Albany Register, carving Jacob’s name into history. Harry Wintzingerode, the son of a prominent councilman was arrested for the murder and sentenced to hang but ultimately only served 27 years in jail. Because Jacob Swanger had no wife or children, his land and estate (including lot 5 of block 1), which was all appraised at $8,000, went to the State of Oregon.

And this is where history comes into play.

Thomas H. Tongue (1844–1903)

Mr. Thomas H. Tongue becomes the legal administrator of the Swanger estate. As a seasoned lawyer, he went on to become the 7th Mayor of Hillsboro and a congressman. He sold the empty parcel of Lot 5 of Block 1 (our property), to William D. Hare in 1886 for $788.65.

(September 1, 1834 – February 6, 1910)

A native of West Virginia, William D. Hare embarked on the Oregon Trail at 19, only to become the 8th Mayor of Hillsboro and a member of the Oregon Senate Notably, Hare’s second wife was Mary A. Anthony (who was a cousin of Susan B. Anthony!). In speaking to a friend of mine, Susan B. Anthony's family members apparently still live in the neighboring town here in Oregon. Small world.

Given it was sold in 1886 as only land and that the Fire Insurance Maps of 1884 still showed no building, it's a clue that the building did not exist in 1884 or 1885 or 1886.

Jump to 1891.

Picture taken sometime between 1892-1899. Our building is the one with the wooden balcony on the far left.

Hare sold lot 5 (our building), along with lot 8 (the Morgan and Bailey Building pictured on the far right with the tall cornice) for $6,000 to Dr. Francis Alonzo Bailey. The expense hints that brick buildings had already been placed on both lots. The Fire Insurance Maps of April 1892 show our building and the Morgan and Bailey Building in Existence. It was therefore most likely built in the summer of 1891, given most building in the Northwest happened during the summer (with the assurance of better weather).

Dr. Francis A. Bailey (1839-1920)

Now this is where history comes full circle. Dr. Bailey, who bought the building along with several business partners, was a leading physician who had evaluated Swanger's Murderer and found him mentally unfit to stand trail. Dr. Bailey went on to serve as the 9th Mayor of Hillsboro (I'm seeing a pattern of mayors here...). He was also the great grandson of General James Wilkinson who was appointed by Thomas Jefferson to oversee the War of 1812 against the British and was the first Governor of the Louisiana Territory in 1805.

James Wilkinson (March 24, 1757 – December 28, 1825)

Dr. Bailey’s mother was the granddaughter of General Wilkinson.

Interestingly, in 1891, Dr. Bailey’s oldest son, Francis, graduated from medical school and started practicing alongside his father, hinting at the possibility that it might had been a present to his son. This speculation comes in play knowing that both buildings (The Morgan & Bailey and our building) had not been built or on the Sanborn map in 1888, yet both appear in 1892, leading me to believe they might have been built in tandem and that Dr. F.A. Bailey might have overseen the construction of our building.

However, in 1893, Dr. Bailey sold our building to a certain Mrs. Margaret A. Powell. From newspaper articles, the Powells were followed avidly by the public (due to Mr. Franklin S. Powell being a first generation ox driven pioneer of Monmouth who went on to serve as a politician). The papers often announced their picnics and appearances, further hinting at their prominence. The Monmouth Harold Newspaper of 1916, mentions Mrs. Margaret A. Powell (who was related to Franklin S. Powell) and hints that she emigrated into Oregon by a long ox-team route and was of the age of 71 to 76.

Tenants of the building during this era might have included, Mrs. Hattie Crandall and Miss Minnie Willis (dressmakers), who advertised in the local newspaper. Needless to say, my building was very fashionable *waggling brows*

Hillsboro Argus, August 1895

In 1895, shortly after this advertisement was printed, Mrs. Powell sold the building to Judge Erasmus D. Shattuck

Erasmus Darwin Shattuck (1824–1900)

In 1861, Shattuck had been appointed United States District Attorney by President Lincoln for Oregon (as referenced in the Oregonian on July 27, 1900) but only stayed on for several months before resigning. In 1898, he sold the building to Ira Shattuck (his daughter). In 1903, Ira Shattuck sold the building to L.E. & Jabez B. Wilkes. The Sunday Oregonian printed a year earlier before the purchase (April 13, 1902), shows a listing of New Oregon Corporations, which included the newly founded Wilkes Brothers Abstract Company, mentioning L.E. Wilkes and J.B. Wilkes as the incorporators. They created Atlases and Maps including the Atlas of Washington County of 1909.

I still haven't finished compiling its entire history, but in 1953, Dr. Ralph Harvey purchased the building from Emma Schwenn and Myrtle B. Brink (they are the family of the lawyers that were gold painted onto the windows of the building that was hidden beneath the fake facade).

Dr. Harvey practiced as an Osteopathic Physician and Surgeon in Hillsboro for almost 60 years, retiring in 2007, making him the longest owner of the building since its inception. With the full support of his amazing children, Dorothy, Jim and Barbara, I was able to not only purchase this sliver of fantastic history but realize a dream I have been holding onto since I graduated from Culinary School.

Needless to say, this building’s historical significance to Hillsboro and to the state of Oregon itself is as boundless as trying to piece together all of its prominent owners. So why am I naming it Meridian? Because back when maps for Hillsboro, Oregon were being created, the street, 2nd Avenue, was actually named Meridian on the map. So I am bringing it back to its roots, so to speak.

MERIDIAN: THE HISTORIC TEA HOUSE, which will be launching its business once rehabilitation to both the outside and inside are finished, will feature not only Hillsboro’s history but that of the world. The building is integral in helping recreate what I am most passionate about: history. Between renovations and new discoveries, I promise to share it all! Until next month, dream with me and thank you for your support and love!

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