The Carman House
Historic Carman House donated to the LOPS.
In February 2023, the Wilmot family, descendants of the original owners, gifted the Carman House to the Lake Oswego Preservation Society. It is now our mission to preserve the Carman House and tell the important story of the Carman Family.
The Carman House is the most significant remaining structure from Lake Oswego’s earliest European-American history. Completed in 1857, twk years before Oregon became a state and seven years before the first iron furnace, it stands as a reminder of early Oswego before we lived where we played, and walk-in closets were ubiquitous.
The house was built in the Vernacular Style, a simple design with one and a half storeys. In the earliest known photograph of the house the porch has Gothic Revival details (see image at top of page) with an upper balcony and railings. These elements were eventually replaced with simpler classical revival columns and a sloped shingled porch roof. Though there were changes to the style of the porch, the bulk of the house has retained its original design.
Interior details appear to date from late Victorian to the early 1900’s in the oldest portion of the house. Newer sections of the home are more contemporary.
Waters Carman was originally from Pennsylvania, but gradually made his way west through Illinois, to California to try his luck in the gold rush, finally settling in Oregon in 1849 and working at the mill owned by Albert Durham, the founder of Oswego.
Lucretia Allyn Carman (nee Gurney) had been married to a surveyor, Gustavus Gurney and traveled with him by wagon train from Ontario to the Portland area. Shortly after arriving in Oregon Gustavus was caught in a swift current while fishing in the Columbia and died. Afterwards, Lucretia worked as a maid for the Durham family in West Linn until her marriage to Waters.
The first wedding ceremony ever held in the town of Oswego was Waters and Lucretia’s in 1853. The Carmans claimed 326 acres through the Donation Land Claim Act1 and called their property Springbrook Farm. They were living in either a small log house or shack when they enlisted the help of a neighbor, Charles W. Bryant, to construct their house. Construction began around 1855. There is some speculation that the original 1853 residence was incorporated into the larger house.
The second owners of the house were Mary Lucretia, daughter of Waters and Lucretia, and her husband Richard Benjamin Wilmot. They were teachers, and took on the operations of the Clackamas County Springbrook School in addition to their farming. Remarkably, descendants of the Carmans and the Wilmots have lived in the house for the past 160+ years even as most of the original 326 acres were sold off.
The Wilmot Family Trust, descendants of the original owners, partnered with the Lake Oswego Preservation Society to preserve the Carman House that was once at the center of a legal dispute between them. In 2014, at the request of the owners, the Lake Oswego City Council voted 4-3 to remove the historic designation placed on the house in the 1990’s.
Eventually reaching the Oregon Supreme Court, the case set a
precedent that affects properties across the state. The Court ruled that only the original owner at the time of the historic designation has the right to object. Subsequent owners, who acquire the historic property, cannot opt out of the designation.
The negotiated agreement that followed signified that the house and a buffer be donated to LOPS to preserve and the remaining property will be developed with much needed housing.
Our plans for the house – so far
We are in talks with granting organizations and the Historic Preservation programs at Clatsop Community College and University of Oregon. We will continue to reach out to develop partnerships with groups and individuals who can help us ensure that the house is restored to the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for Historic Preservation. And we are looking into options for its use. It is zoned residential and it is likely that it will continue to be used as a residence, but we are looking at all options.
Our first step is to list the property on the National Register of Historic Places. This adds protection and opens up granting opportunities.
We will eventually place a Conservation Easement on the property through Restore Oregon, the statewide preservation organization. This will ensure that the house is monitored annually and protected in perpetuity even if we no longer own it.
We will need to create a detailed preservation plan. This is more complex than it sounds and will involve a Historic Structure Report and detailed treatment plan. This is where we may initially partner with one of the schools.
The house sits on its original stonework foundations and it is unknown how much stabilization work will be required.
What it takes
As you can imagine, this is all very expensive. The chart to the left shows what the property will cost us before we even get to the preservation which we hope will be grant funded. But grants will not cover our insurance, legal fees, National Register Listing, or the Conservation Easement.
We are asking you to help us preserve this important piece of our history. I just want to take a moment to tell you that we are still an all volunteer organization and this is perhaps the hardest working board of directors in Oregon. So when we ask you for support, it’s not going towards salaries, bonuses, etc. Your donations go 100% towards our mission. And this year our mission is the stewardship of the Carman House.
So please, support the oldest house in Lake Oswego so that we can pass it forward for future generations.