Photo: James O. Wilson House, ca. 1891, 340 SW 5th Street, Avery-Helm Historic District, Corvallis, OR. The Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. The Wilson House was individually listed on the National Register in 1980. Photographed by User:46percent (own work), 2009, [cc-by-1.0 (creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed April, 2016.
The Avery-Helm Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2000. Portions of the content of this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [‡]
The Avery-Helm neighborhood is part of the Joseph C. Avery land claim filed in 1845. This land claim encompassed 568.35 acres at the confluence of the Willamette River and the Marys River, which runs through the southern part of town, just south of the Avery-Helm neighborhood. In 1847-1848, J.C. Avery chained off twelve acres of land near his cabin for town lots. Known as "Little Fields," this was the land that was to become Marysville (platted in 1851 and renamed Corvallis in 1853). These lots were located at the top of the rise above the rivers at the southern end of what is now 2nd Street. The district is located generally to the south and west of the Original Marysville plat (portions of two of these blocks are included in the district).
A number of architectural styles are represented in the Avery-Helm Historic District, representing the transition of the popularity of styles over time. Styles used during the 19th century in this neighborhood included Italianate, Queen Anne, and a vernacular version of Gothic Revival. The Queen Anne houses often incorporated Stick and Eastlake style detailing and ornamentation in the design. After 1900, a number of additional styles appeared in the neighborhood, including Colonial Revival, the Prairie Style, the Bungalow (most often with Craftsman detailing), the American Foursquare, and the 20th Century Period Revivals (including Colonial, Cape Cod, Spanish Colonial, and Tudor).
The most popular style of house in the Avery-Helm neighborhood was the Bungalow. The true bungalow is characterized by its one or one-and-a-half stories, a low-pitched roof with wide overhanging eaves and a wide front porch. The use of rustic materials, such as brick, shingles and stone are also characteristic of the style. Porch columns are often square or tapered, frequently resting on piers, and the porch is often partially enclosed with a knee wall. A number of stylistic variations appear on bungalows, including Colonial bungalows, Oriental bungalows, and perhaps most popularly, Craftsman Bungalows. The Craftsman bungalow, also known locally as the Western Stick Style, is characterized by exposed rafter tails and knee braces in gables and porches. Examples of each of these bungalow styles are found in the district.
The district, which includes nine full blocks and ten partial blocks laid out on a grid system, includes all of Avery's Second and the F.A. Helm's Additions and portions of Avery's (first) Addition, Avery's Third Addition, County Addition, and the Original Marysville plat. The neighborhood is defined, in part, by transportation routes. The railroad right-of-way along 6th Street defines the west edge of the neighborhood and the County Road to Philomath (now Highway 20/34) defined the southern edge of the neighborhood (the recent by-pass construction resulted in the loss of a portion of the neighborhood at the south ends of 3rd, 4th, and 5th Streets). In addition, the Territorial Road passes through the neighborhood as 3rd Street, along the current route of Highway 99 W. The first bridge across the Marys River was at the south end of 3rd on the Territorial Road. The neighborhood is also defined, in part, by the downtown business district, which lies to the east and north. Oregon State University lies a few short blocks west of the district.
Buildings in the district are primarily residential, including single and multi-family homes and apartments and auxiliary structures such as garages. There are a few commercial structures located within the district; most are of newer construction having replaced earlier housing stock. A majority of the historic houses are constructed of wood and sit on concrete foundations. Brick and concrete, as well as decorative wood elements, are used for decoration and accent. There is one concrete block house and one stucco house within the district. Various architectural styles are represented. The neighborhood is a combination of owner-occupied and rental units. The landscape of the neighborhood includes tree-lined residential streets and widened thoroughfares that access the downtown business district. The heart of the district is located along SW 5th Street, which dead-ends at the south end against the Hwy. 20/34 by-pass.
Construction of houses within the district was apparently limited during the 1850s, with only a few houses being constructed in the area. J.C. Avery's homestead was located on the north side of the Marys River at a spot where SW 4th Street and the highway by-pass meet. The only known remaining resource associated with his homestead is a black walnut tree that he planted in 1876, shortly before his death. The tree is located within the historic district. The only other identified house in Avery's Addition was the Hanna House, located on the southwest corner of SW 3rd and "B" Streets. It was moved in 1903 to make room for a newer house and was later demolished. There are no known remaining buildings from the 1850s located within the district.
Because the 1860s was a period of growth and development in Corvallis, it is likely that a few more houses were constructed within the district boundaries during this decade. The only identified house was that of Bushrod W. Wilson, a local carpenter-builder who served as the County Clerk for years. His house was located on the southwest corner of SW 5th and Jefferson. It was demolished in c. 1915 to make room for the construction of the Kiger House. There are no identified houses from the 1860s still standing within the district boundaries. Additional houses were constructed in the 1870s, four of which still stand within the district. All were vernacular houses, a couple with some Gothic Revival stylistic elements. All four of the houses are of the Front-gable with Wing variety; two of the houses have been remodeled. Three of the houses are located in Avery's Addition; the fourth is located in the unplatted portion of the district at the intersection of SW 5th and "C" Streets. Two additional resources from the 1870s are extant. The first is the aforementioned black walnut tree, planted by J.C. Avery in 1876. The second is the railroad corridor along 6th Street (the portion between Washington and Adams Streets is within the district boundaries).
A number of houses were constructed between 1880 and 1900, a period of prosperity in Corvallis. These houses included both vernacular and stylistic architecture, including Italianate and Queen Anne (some with Stick and Eastlake detailing). Although the exact number of houses constructed within the district boundaries during these years is not known, there are fifteen extant resources from this period.
The period between 1900 and 1929 was, by far, the period of greatest construction within the district, reflecting the overall growth and prosperity experience by Corvallis during these years. The automobile and the bungalow were introduced shortly after the turn of the century, two innovations that left their marks on the district. Of the numerous houses constructed during this time period, the vast majority was bungalow style houses, most often with Craftsman style detailing. In addition to houses, a number of garages were constructed and carriage houses converted to shelter the new automobiles. Although some of the houses constructed during this time may have been demolished or moved, most are still standing. There are a total of 102 resources from this period in the district. The one lone, historic commercial building in the district was also constructed during this time period. The Corvallis Soda Works building is a vernacular, one-story structure located on the northwest corner of SW 2nd and "B" Streets. It was also during this time period that apartment houses and rental units became popular. As Corvallis developed into a "genuine college town" the demand for rentals increased. Apartments also became a popular option for single, working-class persons. Because of the district's proximity to the college and nearby commercial and industrial ventures, apartment buildings and boarding houses began to make their debut and a number of single-family homes were converted to apartments or arranged so that boarders could be taken in.
Although construction during the Great Depression and World War II was significantly less than the previous three decades, a number of houses and garages were constructed during this time. In addition, conversion of homes to apartments or rentals continued, especially during the war when rentals were in demand for servicemen, and their families, stationed at nearby Camp Adair and following the war when the enrollment at the college soared. Following the war, Corvallis and the district again witnessed a resurgence of construction prosperity. There are twenty resources constructed between 1930 and 1949 in the district. It is not known how many earlier houses were converted to rentals during this tune period, but there may have been a significant number. By 1949, there were very few vacant lots in the Avery-Helm district. Most of those that were vacant had a house on them during an earlier time period. Since 1949, development within the district has resulted in further demolition of older houses and the construction of newer apartment buildings and business enterprises. In some cases, older houses have been altered and remodeled for different uses.
Most of the historic neighborhood, however, remains intact. The areas of greatest change have been the edges of the neighborhood nearest continued commercial development and along the main thoroughfares (3rd, 4th, and Western Streets). The north edge of Avery's Addition has slowly eroded as new commercial development creeps into the area. Much of the district, however, is isolated in a pocket blocked by the railroad on the west and the new highway by-pass on the south. Because of the dead-end streets, there is limited through-access and therefore little incentive for further commercial development.
A number of architects and builders have been identified with the Avery-Helm Historic District. Among those that designed and/or constructed homes in the neighborhood were Adolph F. Peterson, S.G. McFadden, Charles Heckart, Earl Heckart, Ira A. Worsfold, R.H. Dobell, Taylor Porter, Charles McHenry, and Levi Mellon.
Most notable, perhaps, are Charles Heckart, who was one of the most prominent and prolific contractors in Corvallis, and A.F. Peterson, who not only designed Queen Anne houses in Corvallis, but was responsible for the Armory at Oregon Agricultural College and courthouses in Sherman, Gilliam, and Wheeler counties. R.H. Dobell was a professor at the college. Levi Mellon, a partner in the firm of Mellon and Gendron, helped to pioneer the use of the "Miracle Hollow Block" concrete block wall construction.
The Avery-Helm Historic District is located on land that was once inhabited by Calapooia Indians and which, in 1845, became part of a 568.35-acre claim taken by Joseph C. Avery at the confluence of the Willamette and Marys Rivers. Avery, who was one of the first Euro-American immigrants to settle in this area, was a native of Pennsylvania. In 1846, he built a log cabin on his claim and in 1847, his wife, Martha, and their children joined him. During the winter of 1847-48, Avery chained off twelve acres of his land for town lots and called the area "Little Fields." The discovery of gold in California lured him to mining in the fall of 1848. Following a second trip to the gold fields in 1849, he brought back a stock of general merchandise and opened a store. He established a postal station, known as Avery, and served as the first postmaster and general postal agent for Oregon and Washington. He also operated a ferry across the Marys River.
In February 1851, he platted the town of Marysville. The town was renamed Corvallis in 1853 after some confusion with a town called Marysville in California. Avery was credited with creating the name "Corvallis" by compounding the Latin words for heart and valley. In 1851, he established a sawmill and grist mill on the south banks of the Marys River. Avery was a prominent citizen in the community where he donated land for the County Addition which funded the construction of public buildings (1854), donated a building for use as the State Capitol (which was briefly located in Corvallis in 1855), and platted three additions to his original Marysville plat. He was elected to represent the district for two terms in the state legislature and was one of the original incorporators of Corvallis College. He was also an early supporter of the Corvallis and Eastern Railroad, although the line was not completed before his death in 1876. A merchant marine ship built in Portland was christened the Joseph C. Avery in tribute to the founder of Corvallis in the late 1940s.
The Avery-Helm Historic District is primarily a residential neighborhood whose development reflected the development of the town of Corvallis. The first lots within the district were sold and houses built in the Avery's Addition in the 1850s. New construction continued in the 1860s and 1870s and increased after the arrival of the railroad in 1880. A number of new homes were built between 1880 and 1900. The neighborhood experienced its peak period of development between 1900 and 1929, mirroring the overall growth of the community. Development in the 1930s and 1940s was at a rate similar to the growth rate in Corvallis. Today there are no resources remaining from the neighborhood's earliest period of development. Houses built in the 1850s and 1860s were demolished or moved years ago. There are, however, a handful of resources remaining from the 1870s. These include four houses, the railroad corridor, and a black walnut tree planted by J.C. Avery. There are fifteen houses and related outbuildings in the district dating from the period of 1880 to 1899. The majority of houses and related outbuildings in the district were constructed between 1900 and 1929. There are 102 resources remaining from this time period. From the period of 1930 to 1949, there are twenty extant houses and outbuildings. Of the 165 total resources in the district, only twenty were constructed after 1950. Nearly 88% of the resources in the district is historic and of those, 74.5% are considered contributing resources.
The Avery-Helm district was shaped directly and indirectly by the overall development of Corvallis. The neighborhood was, in part, defined physically by natural and developmental boundaries. The Marys River to the south and the Willamette River to the east contained the neighborhood from its beginnings. The development of the business core in the Original Marysville plat and the government center in the County Addition provides some boundary to the north and to the east of the district—boundaries that became more definitive as time passed and these blocks filled with commercial and business enterprises. The railroad provided a boundary on the western edge of most of the neighborhood. Those boundaries continue, in large part, today, although the boundary previously provided by the Marys River is now provided by the Highway 20/34 by-pass.
As a neighborhood representative of the broad spectrum of Corvallis residents, it was indirectly affected by commercial, professional, industrial, transportation, government, church and school development in the community. There are houses in the district that were constructed by merchants and their employees for their families. There are houses in the district that were constructed by doctors and lawyers for their families. There are houses in the district that were constructed by persons involved in city, county and state government for their families. There are houses in the district that were built for college faculty and staff and houses that served as boarding houses and apartments for college students. There are houses in the district that were constructed by persons who worked in various industries, worked for the railroad, were farmers, and were ministers of churches. There are few, if any, aspects of Corvallis' history that are not represented by the development in this district.
Because the district developed over several years in conjunction with the overall growth and development of Corvallis, it not only represents the broad spectrum of community residents, it represents a wide range of architecture as well.
‡ Michelle L. Dennis, Historic Preservation Consultant, Avery-Helm Historic District, Benton County, OR, nomination document, 1999, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.z
2nd Street SW • 3rd Street SW • 4th Street SW • 5th Street SW • 6th Street SW • Adams Avenue SW • B Avenue SW • C Avenue SW • D Avenue SW • Jefferson Avenue SW • Pacific Highway West • Route 20 • Route 99 West • Washington Avenue SW • Western Boulevard SW