College Hill West Historic District
The College Hill West Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2015, The Gombach Group.
The College Hill West Historic District is a well-defined and well-recognized neighborhood of single family homes located north of Oregon State University (OSU), in Corvallis, Oregon. It is generally bound on the west and north by contemporary houses and multi-family housing units. The eastern boundary is marked by a change in development types, which include commercial, medical, and university related sorority houses and fraternity houses. The southern boundary is formed by an area of demolished and low integrity historic homes immediately north of the OSU campus.
There are 262 tax lots within the College Hill West Historic District boundaries, on which there are 390 existing resources. This includes 254 primary buildings and 136 secondary buildings such as garages and back houses. Of the primary resources, only three were constructed prior to 1910, and an additional 24 by 1919, for 10% of the total. Ninety-two residences date from the building boom of the 1920s, or 36% of the existing resources. An additional 67 residences, or 26% of the homes in the College Hill West Historic District, were constructed in the 1930s. Thirty-four residences, 13%, date from 1940-1945. After 1945, few vacant lots remained in the west College Hill neighborhood; only 34 homes were built in the College Hill West Historic District after that year.
Overall Description of the College Hill West Historic District
The College Hill West Historic District is located northwest of downtown Corvallis and just north of the Oregon State University campus. Corvallis is the seat of Benton County and an important business, cultural and transportation center. It is situated on the west side of the Willamette River in the central Willamette Valley, on land that rises gently towards the foothills of the Coast Range Mountains.
The College Hill West Historic District contains 23 full blocks and seven partial blocks, primarily laid out on a grid system. The exception is Arnold Way which runs northwest to southeast. The core of the College Hill West Historic District is comprised of eleven additions, including a portion of the original College Homes, Hillcrest, Barber's Supplemental, Reitsma's, Hollenberg's, Miller's, Miller's Second, College Heights, Stimson's, the Supplement to Fairview, and a portion of Fairview. The northwest section is part of the West Corvallis plat, while the properties on the east side of Arnold Way lie within the Arnold Heights and Kerr's Addition. A small section of the College Crest Addition is located in the southeast corner. Changes in the types and styles of development delineate the boundary within the partial additions.
With a few exceptions, alleyways run north south down the center of the blocks. In some cases, the alleys provide access to a garage or off-street parking. The College Hill West Historic District is filled with mature landscaping and historic trees, particularly oaks, maples, sweet gums and sycamores. Landscape strips on the blocks within the 1936 Stimson's Addition were planted with sweet gum trees shortly after the plat was recorded.
The majority of resources in the College Hill West Historic District are residential in nature, and consist primarily of owner-occupied, single-family homes and related garages. However, a fraternity house, a former sorority house (now apartments), and a residence that has been converted into apartments lie in the northeast section. In addition, a few duplexes and rental homes are scattered throughout. The College Hill West Historic District also includes Harding Elementary School, an institute run by the Latter Day Saints, and Oregon State University's (OSU's) Asian Cultural Center. All of the historic resources within the boundaries are classified as buildings, and tend to have wood siding and rest on concrete foundations. Most of these resources are in good condition and retain a high level of integrity. However, due to its proximity to OSU, a number of houses are student rentals and have not been adequately maintained.
A variety of architectural styles are present amongst these buildings, which were constructed between the 1850s and 2000. Stimson's Addition, platted in 1936, has the most uniform streetscape, due to its later development. In general, houses range from the small Minimal Traditional to the larger Colonial Revival, and appear in both "high" and "low" versions of styles. Residences in the northwest and southeast tend to be larger, with more stylistic features. Restrictions placed on the lots in these areas identified minimum required setbacks and construction costs, thus ensuring "quality" and consistent development. These houses were built for members of the middle and upper class, many associated with the college, who could afford architecturally designed homes. Although residences to the west were also covered by restrictions, the restrictions were less stringent and generally related to the type of building that could be constructed. These houses tended to be smaller and more modest in nature, and were constructed more for the working class and those just beginning their professional careers.
Development of the West College Hill Neighborhood
The College Hill West Historic District developed on land that was originally part of the Charles Johnson and Joseph P. Friedley donation land claims. Two large plats underlie the western portion of the district. The 1889 Wells and McElroy Addition was bound by NW 23rd, NW Harrison Boulevard, NW 35th and NW Grant Streets. It contained 37 block-sized lots, ranging in size from 1.8 to 6.37 acres each. The 1890 College Homes Addition consisted of eight block-sized lots, 2.3 to 7.86 acres in size, located south of Harrison Boulevard and west of 30th Street. These additions were platted to take advantage of the current Oregon State University's relocation from downtown to its current site. Although property in these additions sold fairly steadily, little construction followed. Most of the parcels were re-subdivided into smaller additions with traditional 50x100 building lots in the 1910s and 1920s. That portion of the district lying east of 30th Street is comprised of four smaller additions and sections of another three, dating from 1907 to 1916.
Although the population of Corvallis doubled in the early 1900s, only two houses had been constructed in the College Hill West Historic District by 1908. (The third pre-1910 house, the c.1858 William McLagen House, was moved to the district in c.1910 from a location closer to downtown). The following year, a large area of land on the west side of the city was annexed, which essentially doubled the size of Corvallis. This was followed by the platting of seven additions that same year, three of which are in the College Hill West Historic District: West Corvallis, Fairview, and Miller's. West Corvallis, a replat of multi-acre lots in the 1889 Wells and McElroy Addition was the largest of the 1909 additions. It contained 20 blocks, half of which are within the College Hill West Historic District boundary. The individual building lots sold for $60 to $300 apiece and came with deed restrictions. These stated that only a residence and associated garage could be constructed or placed on the lot, and that the house must cost a minimum of $4,000. This was a considerable sum at the time, and equaled two to three year's salary. An amendment to the restrictions in 1927 prohibited fences over 8-feet high, or those made of close board or solid wood. This applied to all lots in Blocks 1, 5, and 9, which were located in the district and lay just north of Harrison Boulevard. A May 11, 1909 article in the Corvallis Times boasted, that the West Corvallis Addition "...is on high ground, well located, and is very desirable." Regardless, few lots sold until the 1920s and the area largely retained its agrarian feel.
In the 1910s, activity in the west College Hill neighborhood increased. Five new plats were filed and over 20 new houses were constructed. The new additions were all located east of NW 30th Street and contained uniform lots of 50'x100'. Plats included Miller's Second Addition (1911), College Heights (1911), and Hollenberg's Addition (1913), which would prove to be very popular with OSU faculty and staff. In 1912, the single-block Kerr's Addition was platted by J.A. and Louisa Kerr, fruit growers who lived near 29th and Harrison. Kerr later joined J.W. Rogers in platting Arnold Heights (1916). Deed restrictions in Arnold Heights allowed residential uses only, and set a minimum value of $1,200 for new houses. It was forbidden to construct or place a barn on the lots, and an owner in violation risked his property reverting back to the seller. These restrictions reflected the intent of the developers to convert the area from agricultural to residential uses.
By the early 1920s, several events occurred that led to a construction boom in the College Hill West neighborhood. First was a dramatic increase in enrollment at OSU. In 1918, the student population doubled from the previous year, reaching 2,874. This was coupled with a population increase in Corvallis of 1,500 between 1920-22. Third was the establishment of the College Hill School in 1923.
In 1922, due to crowded conditions, a survey was taken to determine the need for and location of future elementary schools. The results indicated that few students came from the central part of town, and, therefore, it was determined that the new schools would be located closer to the populations they served. Thus, the following year, two new schools were opened: Washington School at the north end of 11th Street and College Hill School, now known as Harding School, at NW 31st Street and Harrison Boulevard.
According to articles in the September 1923 Gazette Times, the new four-room College Hill School was being rushed to completion for the start of school on October 1st. All students in the "lower four and low fifth grades residing west of NW 22nd Street" would attend this facility. The school grounds included a covered play shed, so children could be outside in inclement weather. A few years after its opening, College Hill School was renamed Harding School, as part of a larger Corvallis movement giving presidential monikers to educational facilities. By 1938, the school had already reached its capacity and a contract for an addition was awarded to Charles L. Swain. The plans included additional classroom space and an auditorium, to be constructed over a full basement. Enrollment at Harding School was sufficient to warrant another addition in the late 1940s.
The increased enrollment at OSU and the burgeoning population created a demand for new housing. In response, two plats were filed in the west College Hill neighborhood in 1921. The Supplemental Plat of Fairview, containing just three blocks of varying lot sizes, is one of the few areas in the College Hill West Historic District without rear alleys. The Hillcrest Addition contained three blocks of building lots, two of which were subject to deed restrictions. These required owners to build a single detached dwelling costing at least $4,000, which included a basement and a setback of 20 feet from the street. (For reference, the annual salary of an OSU Animal Husbandry professor in 1922 was $2,500). Prohibited in the addition was construction or use of a building as flats, apartments, fraternity or boarding house, church, school, hospital, or business, as well as barns, chicken houses and wood sheds. These restrictions reinforced the development of the area as a site for higher quality residences.
A January 1, 1925, the Corvallis Gazette Times report on local construction activity from the previous year stated that "College Hill Grows." Of the 51 new residences built in Corvallis in 1924, 12 were located in the College Hill neighborhood, half of which sat within the district boundary. Construction was concentrated in the central part of the district, between NW Jackson Avenue and NW Harrison Boulevard. This was due in part to a large parcel, bound by NW 27th, NW 30th Street, NW Jackson Avenue and the northern property lines along NW Orchard Avenue, that remained unplatted until 1936.
In 1928, two small plats were sited between NW Jackson Avenue and NW Van Buren Avenue, from portions of Lots 2 and 3 of the 1890 College Homes Addition. Barber's Supplemental was on the west side of the current NW 32nd Street, while Reitsma's Addition was on the east side of the street. K.C. Reitsma was a local carpenter who is responsible for building a number of houses in the district. At the time these additions were platted, NW 32nd Street did not yet cut through this block. As such, no building occurred in these additions until the late 1930s.
Although more construction occurred in Corvallis in 1928 than in any other year prior to 1950, the fact that NW 32nd Street had not been extended resulted in little of the 1928 construction being located in the College Hill West Historic District neighborhood. Ninety-two of the houses standing in the district today were built in the 1920s. This accounts for the large number of Bungalow and Period Revival residences, two of the most popular styles in the 1920s. By 1931, the central section of the district was almost completely developed, with the exception of lots along NW 33rd Street. Development in the northwest section, however, was sparse, with most of the houses concentrated on NW 34th Street. To help promote development in the area, the May 29,1931 Gazette Times advertised "College Hill Lots in West Corvallis Addition: The Ideal Place to Build in The Newest Part of Town."
In the mid-1930s, enrollment at OSU was again on the rise, placing a demand on housing by its students and faculty. The College Hill West Historic District neighborhood presented a convenient and quality option. In fact, representatives of the University would walk prospective instructors and staff through the area, as an example of housing they might procure. Interestingly, city directory research indicates that many of the new faculty who rented rooms or homes in West College Hill would later purchase or build a home of their own. Also, children who had grown up in the neighborhood chose it as the location for their homes as adults.
The final plat recorded within the boundary was Stimson's Addition in 1936. Stimson's was the first addition to be platted in Corvallis since the beginning of the Depression. It contained over three full blocks of land and comprises the southeast section of the district today. Lots were sold with restrictions dictating residential use and prohibiting outbuildings, and the minimum value for new construction was $2,500. (At the time, this was equal to the annual salary of an engineering professor at OSU). Sweet gum trees were planted in the landscape strips and have matured to the point of creating a canopy across the street. Property in Stimson's Addition developed fairly briskly and is characterized by Colonial Revival houses.
In 1937, newspaper advertisements and articles continued to promote the West Corvallis addition. One described available properties on NW 34th, 35 and 36th streets as being the most desirable in the tract. Another claimed that the building restriction of $4,000 had tended to make it one of the city's finest home sections. An article on home building stated that the College Hill section, west of Arnold Way, was being enhanced by the addition of several homes of "the better variety," costing $8,000-$10,000. Sixty-seven of the existing residences in the College Hill West Historic District were constructed between 1930 and 1939.
By the early 1940s, the neighborhood was fairly well developed, although lots were still available in Reitsma's, Barber's, Stimson's and the West Corvallis Additions. A few vacant lots also existed along the south side of NW Johnson Avenue and on NW Harrison Boulevard, across from Harding School. Thirty-four residences in the College Hill West Historic District date from 1940 to 1945. Minimal Traditional and War Era Cottages were the most common, although Period Revivals and early Ranch influences are visible. Approximately 87% of the residences within the College Hill West Historic District were built before 1946. An additional 34 houses in the district, approximately 13%, post-date 1945.
In general, the College Hill West Historic District is architecturally quite similar to its appearance in 1945. The majority of houses continue to be single-family and owner occupied. Although some have been altered or added onto, the work is typically compatible with the original structure. Most owners in this neighborhood take pride in their homes and have made special efforts to guarantee quality craftsmanship. A number of rental houses are also present, primarily along Arnold Way, in keeping with the area's history of renting to OSU faculty and students. A few of these houses have been converted to duplexes and/or experienced unsympathetic alterations. A few intrusions have also occurred in the form of contemporary residences.
Architectural Styles & Periods
A variety of architectural styles are represented in the College Hill West Historic District, reflecting both the popularity of styles over a period of time and the broad time span during which development of this area occurred. However, a few properties lack any particular stylistic distinction and are generally described as vernacular. An example is the hipped roof, single story cottages that were common at the turn of the century. The following architectural styles and periods are the most prevalent in the College Hill West Historic District.
The American Foursquare was popular from about 1900 until 1925. It is characterized by its two-story square or rectangular shape and hipped roof, usually with at least one hipped dormer. There is almost always a front porch, although its detailing varies and may include Colonial, Prairie or Craftsman influences.
The Craftsman style appeared shortly after the turn of the century and was influenced by the work of Gustav Stickley and the Arts and Crafts movement. The Craftsman ideal of simple, directly revealed craftsmanship was the result of a number of early 20th century tendencies, such as the rise of the middle class, the increase in individual home ownership, and a growing interest in nature and "natural living." Characteristics of the style include the use of local natural materials, wide overhanging eaves with exposed rafter tails, a tendency toward a horizontal emphasis, and an open floor plan with connection to nature through the many windows and porches. The term Craftsman refers to both a decorative style as well as a house type, and as such refers to house forms such as Craftsman Bungalows, Craftsman Foursquares, and Craftsman Cottages.
The Bungalow was one of the most popular house types in Oregon and was particularly predominant between about 1905 and 1935. Often referred to as a style, it was actually a house form that was adaptable to various styles. The true bungalow is characterized by its one or 1-1/2-story plan, a low-pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves, and a front porch. A number of stylistic variations of bungalows were built, with the most popular being the Craftsman Bungalow. The style is characterized by brackets, exposed rafter tails and knee braces in gables and porches, and square or tapered porch posts frequently resting on piers. Porches are often partially enclosed with a knee wall and shed or gable dormers are common. Horizontal lapped wood siding and wood shingles are the most typical wall cladding, although there are examples of stone, brick and stucco.
By the 1910s, several styles based on earlier prototypes became popular. Often referred to as the 20th Century Period Revivals, they included Colonial, Cape Cod, Mediterranean, Norman Farmhouse, English Cottage and Tudor styles. Most houses built in these styles were smaller and less architecturally sophisticated than their ancestors. They were, in large part, popularized through catalogues and mail order companies. Although the majority of these houses were constructed in the 1920s, their use continued through the 1930s and 1940s. Colonials are symmetrical, one to two stories in height, with three to five bays across the front. They are usually side-gabled, covered in clapboard, and include multi-pane windows and an interior chimney. The entry is generally centered and has an elaborate surround, such as a sidelight with transom or a porch with classical columns and a full entablature. The Cape Cod version is modest, with one or one-and-a-half stories, and frequently, a side entry. In the 1930s, end wall chimneys were quite common. The Williamsburg sub-type features gabled dormers, and often incorporates shutters and flower boxes into its design.
The Tudor was one of the most popular styles in Oregon following World War I, and was prevalent from 1910-1935. Characteristics include a steeply pitched gable roof, often with a front facing gable or gable dormers. Houses are generally a story and-a-half or two stories in height and covered in stucco, often with half-timber detailing or vertical projections. Arched openings are common, especially at the front entry, as are prominent chimneys.
The Norman Farmhouse was another common style during this time period. Houses feature steeply pitched gable roofs, with steeply pitched porch or entry gables, often with one slope that extends close to the ground. Their asymmetrical massing is usually one and-a-half stories tall, and covered in wood shingles or brick, often with stucco detailing. Other characteristics of this style include round-arched and segmental-arched window and door openings, with windows featuring small panes.
In the late 1930s and the 1940s, two housing styles were popular, the War Era Cottage and the Minimal Traditional. The War Era Cottage is typically a one-story, hipped roof structure and is often square or rectangular in shape, although some examples are complex or irregularly shaped. Eave overhangs are shallow or non-existent, as are porches, but occasionally there is a small entry porch hood. Windows are relatively wide and are often located near the corners of the house.
The Minimal Traditional was a stripped down version of the period revivals that preceded it in the 1920s. It is usually a side-facing gable form of one or 1-1/2 stories, sometimes with a slightly projecting front-facing gable of smaller proportion. Porches, if any, are very modest and decoration is quite restrained. Distinguishing features may include an exterior chimney, often with wide sloping shoulders, and windows with multiple panes in the upper sash. Both of these styles were usually wood frame construction clad in various wood siding materials, including horizontal boards of varying widths and wood shingles.
By the mid-1940s, the Ranch house was growing in popularity. Generally, the style is exemplified by a single story, ground hugging profile, with a low pitched gable or hipped roof with wide overhanging eaves. Windows are large and often grouped to create a "window wall." Floor plans are usually open and include a family room and an attached garage. The street facade is relatively anonymous, while patios, courtyards and gardens are placed to the rear of the house. Construction may be wood frame or masonry, with sheathing of horizontal wood siding, wood shingles, brick, stone, stucco, or a combination.
Associated Builders and Architects
A number of local architects and builders have been associated with the construction of houses in the College Hill West Historic District. The list includes C. Heilmann, H.E. Nordeen, K.C. Reitsma, G.S. La Dow, John D. Stokes and others.
K.C. Reitsma is responsible for the construction of a number of houses in the district from 1920-40s. For a time, he owned the west half of the 200 block of NW 31st Street, and most of his work is concentrated in and around this area. Reitsma is credited with building the houses at 236 and 244 NW 31st Street, 205 NW 32nd Street and 3105 NW Jackson Avenue.
John D. Stokes is credited with the construction of houses at 3558 NW Polk Avenue and 3009 NW Johnson Avenue, both built in the mid-1930s.
C. Heilman is credited with the design of the houses at 3560 NW Tyler Avenue, 506 NW 34th Street and 429 NW 36th Street.
Throughout the 1930s, George Abraham was responsible for the construction of a number of houses in College Hill, such as 218 NW 31st Street (1930) and 529 NW 35th Street (1939).
Architect John Virginius Bennes was responsible for the 1926 Bexell House (listed on the National Register), at 3009 Van Buren Avenue, as well as 21 buildings constructed on the OSU campus between 1909 and 1939.
Charles Heckert, one of the most prominent builders in Corvallis, constructed the houses at 231 NW 30th Street and 405 NW 33rd Street.
R.D. Kennedy was a local architect who designed many of the fraternity and sorority houses in Corvallis, including the 1928 Pi Beta Phi House, at 3002 NW Harrison Boulevard.
W.B. McCallum was the contractor hired to build 321 NW 31st Street, 437 NW 31st Street and 440 NW 34th Street.
Philomath contractor J. Thomsen built residences at 125 NW 30th Street, 439 NW 31st Street, and 521 NW 35th.
In the 1940s, G.S. and Julia LaDow purchased the four lots comprising the west side of the 300s block on NW 33rd Street. Mr. LaDow, a contractor and builder, is credited with the subsequent construction of the houses at 320, 326 and 340 NW 33rd Street.
Another prominent builder from the 1940s was H.E. Nordeen, who constructed the residences located at 3045 and 3155 NW Johnson Avenue.
The College Hill West Historic District is a well-preserved residential area, developed primarily from 1905 to 1945. The development of the neighborhood is illustrative of the general growth and development that occurred in Corvallis in the first half of the 20th century. This area also contains a significant collection of historic architecture that has maintained a high level of integrity.
The neighborhood is clearly significant for its association with broad patterns of community development in Corvallis. Houses date from the turn of the century to those associated with suburban development. The growth of this neighborhood was also closely tied to its association with Oregon State University (OSU), which lies to the immediate south. Numerous OSU faculty, staff and students have made the College Hill West Historic District their home, and this relationship is one of its defining characteristics.
While a number of houses within the College Hill West Historic District would be eligible for listing on their individual merits (four have previously been listed on the National Register), as a group the district represents a distinctive and significant collection of period housing. This neighborhood contains primarily single-family residences dating from 1905-1945, falling into three major categories of architectural styles: Bungalow and Craftsman, Period Revivals, and the Early Modern styles of the 1940s.
Founding of Corvallis
The first European settlers to arrive in Benton County were part of the emigration of 1845, and included Joseph C. Avery, a native of Pennsylvania. That same year, Avery staked a claim of over 560 acres at the confluence of the Willamette and Marys Rivers that stretched for almost a mile inland to the west. The discovery of gold in California lured him into mining during the autumns of 1848 and 1849. The trips proved profitable enough for Avery to purchase a stock of general merchandise. Upon his return, he opened a store in the granary located near his cabin and also established a postal station, initially known as Avery, in 1850. He served as the first postmaster and general postal agent for Oregon and Washington.
In February 1851, Avery platted the town of Marysville and also established a sawmill and gristmill on the banks of the Marys River. The name was changed two years later after confusion with a town in California of the same name. Avery is credited with creating the name "Corvallis" by compounding the Latin words for heart and valley.
Development of Corvallis
In 1851, a number of events occurred which spurred the initial growth and development of Corvallis. First, a bill was passed by the Territorial Legislature naming Marysville as the seat of Benton County. Later that year, William F. Dixon platted Dixon's Addition at the north end of the Marysville plat. Also, the first steamboat arrived, establishing Marysville as a principle shipping point. The following year, the Legislature authorized a Territorial Road, which eased transportation between the town and nearby farms. By 1852, commercial development in Corvallis included three general stores, a grocery and liquor store, a hotel, a tavern, two blacksmith shops and a log school. Within a few years, these businesses were joined by livery stables, a saddlery and harness shop, a book store, a meat market, a drug store and a restaurant.
Avery and Dixon both donated land to create the County Addition in 1854. Monies received from the sale of lots were used to construct public buildings, such as the 1855 county courthouse. Within a few years, both Avery and Dixon had each platted another addition. In 1857, Corvallis was incorporated as a city, the fourth in the state. Within a few years, it had a population of over 500, and by 1870 the number of residents increased to 1,220. Industry developed in the 1850s and 1860s to serve the growing population. As was typical of early settlements, it included sawmills, a gristmill, a planing mill, a sash and door factory, a tannery, a furniture factory and a cabinet manufacturer.
Schools and churches also began to appear on the landscape. Early Corvallis students were educated in a log schoolhouse, until a new school was constructed in 1856. The town was divided into two school districts in 1867, and the construction of two new facilities followed. The Corvallis College was chartered in 1857-58 by the Methodist Episcopal Church, and its first building appeared the following year. In 1868, it was designated as Oregon's agricultural college, based on the provisions of the 1862 Morrill Act, which created an agricultural university in each U.S. state. Also by the late 1860s, four congregations had established churches in Corvallis: the Baptists (1852), First Presbyterians (1860), Catholics (1861) and Evangelicals (1867).
In the 1870s, Corvallis continued to grow, but at a slower pace. Specialty businesses, such as tailors, dressmakers, shoemakers, a jewelry shop, a bakery, and a barber began to appear.
Professional offices included four doctors, a dentist and a lawyer, and the first bank in town was established in 1879. Industry also began to diversify, with efforts to build steamboats and a brewery. During this time, a number of social, fraternal and recreational activities were organized; some of these social groups built their own meeting halls.
Plans to construct a railroad through Corvallis began in 1870, but did not materialize until 1879, when tracks were laid. The first train of the Western Oregon Railway Company, a subsidiary of the Oregon & California Railroad, arrived in January 1880. A right-of-way down the center of 6th Street was granted to the railroad in 1879, and these tracks are still used today. The completion of the railroad led to considerable community growth in the 1880s and 1890s. A record number of new businesses opened, new industries developed, and a new city hall and courthouse were constructed.
In 1883, Corvallis College established a Department of Agriculture, the first in the Pacific Northwest. In 1885, the state gained control of the college and officially changed its name to State Agricultural College. The college moved to its new campus in 1889 and constructed an administration building, now Benton Hall. The relocation of the campus, coupled with the growing population, was the impetus for a number of new plats to its northwest. This included the 1889 Wells and McElroy Addition and the 1890 College Homes Addition, which underlies a large portion of the College Hill West Historic District.
The Corvallis Street Railway Company began operating lines in the Avery-Helms neighborhood in 1890. The horse-drawn streetcars served to connect rail passengers with downtown hotels. The company changed to motorized steam powered cars, which traveled at a top speed of eight miles per hour.
In 1890, the population of Corvallis had reached 1,527. The community had its second bank and the Benton County Flouring Mills had been established on the river. Other new industries included a box factory, a cigar factory, a foundry and the Corvallis Ice Works. Within a two-year period, five new churches were constructed. The Panic of 1893 ended the boom for Corvallis, and growth slowed considerably. By 1900, the population had only increased to 1,819.
The first two decades of the 1900s were again a period of growth and prosperity. By 1910, the population had reached 4,552, a 150% increase from the last decade. In response to this growth, the city annexed a large area of land on the west side in 1909. This property sat north of the college campus and essentially doubled the size of Corvallis. The annexation was followed by the recordation of seven new plats, three of which are included in the College Hill West Historic District: West Corvallis, Fairview, and Miller's.
Corvallis became a genuine "college town" during this period. In 1908, the name of the college was changed to Oregon Agricultural College and, by 1912, there were 18 buildings on campus and over 2,800 students. The campus continued to grow during the 1910s and 1920s, and in 1927 was renamed again, as Oregon State Agricultural College. As the college grew, so did the need for faculty and staff housing. The College Hill West Historic District area was popular due to its proximity to the campus.
A number of changes in the 1900s and 1910s affected the look and development of commerce in Corvallis. First, the traditional commercial district expanded to the west from its core on 2nd Street. New businesses constructed masonry buildings, unlike their wood-framed predecessors. In addition, development was influenced by the introduction of the automobile. "As new businesses developed to meet the demands of changing society, the fixtures of the 19th century began to disappear. Gone were the livery stables, the blacksmiths, the general stores, the Opera House and a number of small specialty shops. Industry also began to change. The importance of flouring mills was diminished as were carriage and wagon factories, the ice works, and others" (Dennis 1999: 8.4).
In place of these, the lumber industry began to play a larger role in the economy. In 1909, the McCready Brothers established a sawmill on the north side of the Willamette River, and became one of the largest employers in the area. Agricultural pursuits also began to increase and diversify during this period, and included fruit growing, poultry and egg production, and dairying.
The 1910s also witnessed the establishment of a number of social clubs and organizations promoting the well being of the community. In addition to the Commercial Club and the Benton County Citizens League, there were the Village Improvement Society (VIS) and the Civic Improvement Committee. These organization were responsible for promoting paving projects, sewer improvements and the gravity flow water system. The VIS responded to the nationwide "City Beautiful Movement" with street clean-ups and landscape improvements.
In 1915, the Southern Pacific Railroad distributed a publicity brochure on Corvallis as a means of promoting emigration by train. This may have contributed to the immense growth that followed. From 1920 to 1922, the population increased by 1,500, leading to a housing boom. Most of this building occurred in the additions platted during the previous two decades, although some infill did occur in the older sections. 1921 was a banner year for home construction, with 173 houses built. Of these, 35 were located in the College Hill area. A number of the new plats during this period were supplements, or replats, of College Homes, Wells and McElroy and College Hill. This includes both the Hillcrest Addition and the Supplemental Plat of Fairview, located in the district boundary.
In 1922, due to crowded conditions, a survey was taken to determine the need for and location of future elementary schools. The results indicated that few students came from the central part of town, and, therefore, it was determined that new schools would be located closer to the populations they served. The following year, two new schools were opened: Washington School at the north end of 11th Street and the College Hill School at NW 31st Street and NW Harrison Boulevard.
The appearance of the business district changed dramatically in the 1920s. Early wood storefronts along 2nd Street were being replaced with multi-story, multi-use, masonry structures. Individual specialty stores were being replaced with department stores. Before 1922, there were three chain department stores in Corvallis, but by the following year, there were ten. These included JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, and JM Nolan and Sons, the only locally owned chain. The automobile had proved its popularity by this time, evidenced by miles of paved roadway and streets lined with gas stations, tire dealers and repair shops. In 1920, an auto park was established in City Park, and in 1925 the Benton Hotel was constructed to serve travelers on the recently completed Pacific Highway.
Growth slowed considerably in the early 1930s, as the Great Depression brought new construction and business development to a near halt. In 1933, only three new building permits for residences were issued in Corvallis. However, two major public buildings were completed, the Corvallis Post Office and the Corvallis Public Library. The lumber industry remained stable and agriculture strong, as they would throughout World War II. This was especially true for the poultry industry, as Corvallis was the largest shipper of baby chicks in Oregon at the time.
Little church construction occurred during or immediately after the Depression, due in part to the fact that most congregations had expanded into large, masonry buildings in the previous two decades. Education-related activity remained a bit stronger. In 1935, Corvallis High School was constructed on NW 11th Street, while a 1938 Public Works Project was responsible for an addition at Harding School. During this time, the enrollment at OSU was on the rise again, placing a demand on housing by its students and faculty. The College Hill West Historic District neighborhood presented a convenient and quality option and development resumed in the district in 1936.
Economic conditions began to improve in Corvallis in the latter part of the 1930s. Building activity began to increase, and, in 1936, Stimson's Addition was platted, the first new addition in Corvallis since the start of the Depression. The addition is located in the southern section of the College Hill West Historic District. By 1937, Corvallis was leading the state in new home construction, yet still lacked adequate affordable housing. That same year, commercial building activity was also increasing, with four permits issued.
In 1940, the population of Corvallis had reached 8,392, a slight 10% increase over the past ten years. Still, construction remained brisk, with 70 new houses and 11 new commercial buildings receiving permits. Additions from the early 1940s were located in south Corvallis near Lincoln School and in areas adjacent to the country club. "Construction continued through World War II, in large part as a response to the increased need for housing for servicemen, and their families, stationed at nearby Camp Adair" (Dennis 1999: 8.5). Housing became scarce, and many older homes were converted into apartments to help meet the demand.
After the war, Corvallis experienced another period of growth. The population increased from 8,400 in 1940 to 16,000 in 1950; an increase of 93%. In 1945, real estate activity was at an all-time high, due to a high turnover in residential properties. It was the biggest year yet for improved property sales in both number and price. The city had recovered from the Depression, weathered a world war, and moved into the modern era.
Development of Oregon State University
In the legislative session of 1857-58, the charter for the establishment of Oregon State University (OSU) was issued. Originally named Corvallis College, the institution was a non-sectarian school operated by the trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church. It consisted of a single, two-story building constructed in 1859, near the site of the current city hall. Initially, it offered only elementary and preparatory courses, but by 1865, a college level curriculum had been added.
Corvallis College became Oregon's official agricultural college in 1868, under the provisions of the Morrill Act of 1862. This Act authorized the sale of federal land in each state to raise funds for the establishment of an agricultural college. The State of Oregon made arrangements with the Methodist Episcopal Church to use the buildings and faculty at Corvallis College for this purpose. The Morrill Act required the designated college to purchase or establish an experimental farm. As the college was in debt at this time, Benton County citizens purchased 35 acres west of town for the college farm, now the current location of OSU. The Morrill Act also stipulated that the agricultural institutions meet standards for instruction that emphasized mathematics, natural science, English, languages, military exercises, agriculture and moral philosophy. B.L. Arnold, college president, divided the curriculum into two "departments," the Literary and Scientific, and was joined by three other instructors in teaching all of the classes.
In 1883, the College established a Department of Agriculture, the first in the Pacific Northwest. Two years later, the State of Oregon acquired full control of the Methodist operated school and changed its name to State Agricultural College. The Hatch Act of 1887 established agricultural experiment stations at land-grant institutions and provided $15,000 per year in federal funds to support operations. College president Arnold immediately established a station on the land formerly donated by county residents. Over time, fifteen branch experimental stations were created across the state.
In 1889, the school received an appropriation of $30,000 for a new administration building, now known as Benton Hall. It was constructed on the college farmland, which was then designated as its new campus. That same year, the state legislature appropriated additional funds for the purchase of 155 acres of land west of 26th Street. The State Agricultural College received additional appropriations throughout the early 1890s for the construction of the Chemical Laboratory, the Armory/Gymnasium, a heating plant and a men's dormitory, among other facilities.
In 1907, then-president William J. Kerr established four major schools at the College: Agriculture, Engineering, Home Economics and Commerce. The following year, with 1,400 students and a campus with twenty-four buildings, the name of the college was again changed to Oregon Agricultural College. Within a few years, Forestry, Pharmacy and Education departments had also been created. By the 1918-19 academic year, enrollment had doubled to over 2,800 students. This increase had ramifications beyond the campus, as student organizations began to convert large residences in town for their use. At the time, ten fraternity and five sorority houses had already been constructed in adjacent residential neighborhoods.
By 1921, Oregon Agricultural College is said to have been the second largest agricultural college in the nation, with over 3,000 students in attendance. The 1920s were a prosperous time for the college, with many new buildings constructed. In 1927, with enrollment over 3,400, the institution's name was changed again, to Oregon State Agricultural College.
The Depression forced the newly established State Board of Higher Education to reconsider having two universities, the Agricultural College and the University of Oregon in Eugene, located in such proximity to one another. In 1932, a plan was established to eliminate duplications in courses, equipment, departments and publications. Oregon State College, its new moniker, would focus on physical and biological sciences, while the University of Oregon would concentrate on the liberal arts. The Depression also saw enrollment drop from 3,060 for the 1931-32 academic year to 1,960 by the 1933-34 term.
However, by the end of the 1930s, enrollment had far surpassed pre-Depression figures, with 3,785 students in 1936-37. Due to a subsequent housing shortage for female students, the College requested rooms in local homes, with or without board.
As with the Depression, World War II was responsible for another "bust and boom." In 1944-45, enrollment dropped to 2,375, then jumped to 7,133 by the 1946-47 academic year.
Since its inception, the College Hill West Historic District neighborhood has always had close ties with Oregon State University. As the university grew, instructors, staff and students inevitably sought housing in adjacent neighborhoods. OSU helped promote this bond by walking would-be instructors through the neighborhood, as a showcase of where they might live. Not just professors, but also the institution's presidents, secretaries, janitors and students resided in the west College Hill area. In fact, city directory research indicates that over 50% of the homes within the district boundary were occupied by an OSU employee at some point during the historic period. To this day, the neighborhood continues to have a strong association with the university.
Development and Significance of the College Hill West Historic District
The College Hill West Historic District is a residential neighborhood whose growth reflects the development of the city of Corvallis, and to a lesser extent, the development of Oregon State University, particularly during the period from 1905 to 1945.
OSU, then the State Agricultural College, relocated to 155 acres of farmland west of downtown, now its current campus, in 1889. Capitalizing on the development potential represented by the college, two large additions were platted north of its new campus. The 1889 Wells and McElroy Addition and the 1890 College Homes Addition underlie the western portion of the historic district. Their block-sized lots ranged in size from approximately 1.5 to 6.5 acres, and although property in these additions sold at a stable pace, little construction followed.
In 1909, a large area of land on the west side of the city was annexed, which essentially doubled the size of Corvallis. This was followed by the platting of seven additions that same year, three of which are in the west College Hill neighborhood. Once individual buildings lots became available, land was purchased and residences were constructed steadily.
As this area was opened to development, the name "College Hill" also moved into use in this western part of Corvallis. The 10-block College Hill plat was filed in 1895 and was located roughly between NW King's Boulevard, NW 25th Street, NW Monroe Street and NW Fillmore Street. This area, located just blocks to the east of the College Hill West Historic District, began developing 15 years prior to College Hill West and is characterized by earlier housing styles and some larger scale development such as fraternity houses and a hospital. The name "College Hill" was applied to the newly expanding area to the west as early as 1916-17 when the College Hill Faculty Club was built at 2807-09 NW Jackson Avenue. It continued to be the name commonly used to describe this area, extending as far west as NW 36th Street, throughout the historic period and is still in use today.
In the 1920s, following a population jump in Corvallis, a building boom of sorts occurred in the district. Oregon State University experienced an increase in enrollment during this same period, boasting 3,400 students by 1927. Additional faculty and staff were required, and consequently, additional dwelling units. House construction slowed, but remained steady, during the Depression years of the 1930s. This paralleled the growth rate being experienced by the city of Corvallis.
During the 1940s, the population of the community nearly doubled. This pace was matched by the amount of construction that occurred in the west College Hill area. Between 1940 and 1945, nearly the same number of homes were constructed as in the entire 1930s. A 1948 aerial photograph shows that, with the exception of 200 block of NW 32nd Street, very few vacant lots remained in the district.
Most of the original resources constructed in the district remain today. If only residences are considered, the following patterns emerge. Only three existing resources in the College Hill West Historic District were built before 1909. Twenty-four houses date from 1910 to 1919, for 9% of the total. A building boom in the College Hill West Historic District specifically and in Corvallis generally, is reflected in the 92 existing residences dating from 1920-1929, representing 36% of the district's resources. As expected, activity dropped somewhat in the 1930s. Sixty-seven residences date from this time, or 26% of the total. Building construction was brisk in the early 1940s. An additional 34 resources, or 13%, date from 1940 to 1945. Approximately 79% of the resources within the district boundary are considered Historic/Contributing.
The College Hill West Historic District was shaped directly and indirectly by the overall development of Corvallis. Its proximity to Oregon State University, which lies to its south, prompted growth in the neighborhood and provides a distinctive boundary. High traffic streets and more recently developed neighborhoods lie to the west. Changes in style and types of development mark the northern and eastern boundaries.
While deed restrictions placed on certain additions dictated higher quality residences, both historically and today, the College Hill West Historic District has been home to a cross section of Corvallis citizens. Its mix of larger, high styled houses and smaller, more modest residences, as well as its combination of owner-occupied and rental units, has made this neighborhood highly inclusive and diverse. College presidents, bankers, and professors have all lived in the College Hill West Historic District. It has also been home to secretaries, janitors, welders and students. There are few aspects of Corvallis' history that are not represented by the individuals and families who have constructed homes and lived in this district.
Architectural Significance of College Hill
The architecture of the College Hill West Historic District reflects the development of housing types, styles, and materials in Corvallis in the early 20th century. Although the majority of residences in the area were constructed within a 40-year period (1905-1945), they exhibit the wide range of styles popular during that time. The houses in the College Hill West Historic District also range widely in size and degree of architectural detail. Residences along the eastern and southern boundaries tended to be more modest in size and detailing, appropriate for their small building lots. The larger, higher styled homes are concentrated in the western section and the 1936 Stimson's Addition, where the purchase of one-and-one half lots was not uncommon. Most of the resources in the district are in good condition and retain a high level of integrity.
A variety and degree of architectural styles are found in the College Hill West Historic District. The majority of houses in the eastern section, and especially along Arnold, were constructed in the 1910s and 1920s. Fairly modest Bungalows and Craftsman style homes prevail, although a few high style examples exist. Residences to the northwest and in Stimson's Addition reflect the increasing popularity of Period Revivals in the late 1920s and 1930s. Many variants, such as the Colonial, Tudor and Norman Farmhouse, appear in both highly decorative and minimalist versions. Houses built in the post war years of the 1940s tend to be Minimal Traditional and War Era Cottage styles. Many of these exhibit decorative characteristics and influences common in earlier styles, such as the Tudor arched doorway, or entry hoods supported by Bungalow styled brackets.
There are four individual properties within the College Hill West Historic District that are currently listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Bexell House, 3009 NW Van Buren Avenue; the Fairbanks House, 316 NW 32nd Street; Pi Beta Phi Sorority House, 3002 Harrison Boulevard; and the Schuster House, 228 NW 28th Street.
Benton County deed records.
Benton County plat maps.
City of Corvallis building permit records.
City of Corvallis Planning Department. Cultural Resource Surveys: 1996, 1998, 2000.
Clark, Rosalind. Oregon Style: Architecture from 1840 to the 1950s. Portland, OR: Professional Book Center, Inc. 1983.
Corvallis Times, 5/11/09.
Corvallis Daily Gazette Times: 9/11/23, 9/26/23, 1/1/24, 1/1/25, 10/10/28, 1/20/31, 5/29/31, 4/18/36, 5/15/37, 5/26/37, 6/16/37, 6/22/37, 7/20/37, 9/24/37, 4/23/38, 7/2/38.
Dennis, Michelle. Avery-Helm Historic District National Register Nomination, 1999.
Gallagher, Mary Kathryn. Historic Context Statement, City of Corvallis, Oregon, 1993.
Groshong, James W. The Making of a University, 1868-1968. Published by Oregon State University, 1968.
Maxson's City Directories: 1934, 1937, 1938, 1940, 1947.
Martin, Brace. History of Corvallis 1846-1900. Unpublished Master's Thesis, Department of History, Oregon State University, 1938.
Oregon State University. 2000 Fact Book, (online) Oregon State University Archives, aerial photographs from Harriet Collection (#1723) 1932-3, ca.1942, ca.1952.
Oregon State University Archives, photographs of Harding School from the Munford Manuscript Collection.
Polk City Directory for Corvallis: 1951.
Sanborn Map and Publishing Co. Fire Insurance Map of Corvallis, 1927.
US Dept. of Agriculture aerial maps. 1936 (1013 AAA-DFJ) and 1948 (DFJ-4D-90).
† Sally Wright and Leslie Heald, Historic Preservation Consultants, Heald & Wright, College Hill West Historic District, Corvallis, Benton County, OR, nomination document, 2001, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.