How to Research Your Home and Understand Portland’s Built Environment

By Abby Morgan

As we see Portland change before our eyes, there is a number of proactive ways to invest in learning about and understanding the historic built environment through archives and community events this summer. Do you live or work in a historic property and want to know more about it? The opportunities to investigate are boundless, but below are just a couple of ways to get started. 

National Register of Historic Places

A free resource offered and operated by the National Park Service since 1966, The National Register of Historic Places is a national program that recognizes districts, sites, structures and buildings of historical significance. Homes listed on the NRHP can be designated for many reasons including architectural design. Their digital archives are available for viewing, for free, online. Is your home listed on the NRHP? If the previous owner took the steps to list your property on the register, then you are already off to a great start with your research. All you will need to do is search your property address in their index. Each historic designation is accompanied by a nomination form that dives into the property’s history. 

Not on the register but have a solid case to nominate your home? Start the process with NRHP or contact the City of Portland’s Planning and Sustainability Office about additional steps: 503-823-7700.

Oregon Historical Society- Address: 1200 SW Park Ave., Portland, OR 97205

Context will help your search. Cast a wide net by looking into census data, land and property records, et cetera before narrowing in on information about your property. Offered online or in-person, the Oregon Historical Society’s Davies Family Research Library is free and open to everyone. Make an appointment to visit their archives by emailing libreference at ohs dot org or calling 503-306-5240. 

Multnomah County Library

Like OHS, Multnomah County Library has a wealth of resources at your disposal. Check out their compiled list of house history research tools or join in on a guided tutorial. On Wednesday, July 10th from 2-4pm, learn how to research your home through The Historical Oregonian at their Central Library Computer Learning Center (801 SW 10th Avenue, Portland, OR 97205). Free; class registration required. (https://multcolib.org/events)

Architectural Heritage Center – Address: 701 SE Grand Ave., Portland, OR 97214

The Architectural Heritage Center’s mission is to “preserve the historic character and livability of our built environment, and to promote sustainability through the re-use of period homes and buildings.” While AHC occasionally offers research workshops and lectures, their summer programming is filled with walking tours of Portland’s historic districts. Though city-wide, if you’re interested in exploring neighborhoods near the Eliot, AHC will host walking tours of the Historic Albina and Boise-Mississippi neighborhoods at the start and end of the season. Cost per tour is $20 for the general public and $12 for AHC members; registration required. (visitahc.org/walking-tours/)

Historic Albina Tour 

Offered once or twice a year – check the website for future dates

The Boise & Mississippi Avenue Tour

August 17, 2019 from 10am-12pm

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