Historic Homes of Washougal consists of five 3-inch binders holding information on more than 325 residences in the town of Washougal, plus a few in rural areas
WASHOUGAL – Home is where the heart is. And the heart of Two Rivers Heritage Museum research volunteer Madeline Mesplay inspired her to find and share the rich history of Washougal through documenting the first owners of local homes. Thanks to Mesplay’s curiosity and diligence, there is now a wealth of information available about many early Washougal residences built before 1940.
Historic Homes of Washougal consists of five 3-inch binders holding information on more than 325 residences in the town of Washougal, plus a few in rural areas. Each individual property contains a photo, address, plat description, name of the first property owner, genealogical information and, in some cases, who the builder was.
“I learned to do land research in Oklahoma with tribal Allotment records,” Mesplay explained. “Later I volunteered at the Clark County Historical Museum and was trained to do urban land research by Brad Richardson.”
Mesplay was volunteering at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum when a local woman came in and requested information on the history of her house. “I had no ability to help her,” Mesplay admitted. “So, it spurred me to start this project. I believe that people desire a connection to places in their lives. This was one way to encourage that to happen.”
The research work began more than two years ago with drives through Washougal surveying houses and neighborhoods. She then took her work online to Clark County GIS (geographic information system) where she located original town plat maps. She studied them to find what was on each street and the addresses.
She then took two trips to the Washington State Archives in Olympia to research Tax and Assessment Records from the early 1900s to about 1938. “This was during COVID so I made appointments and they would round up the information I wanted to look through,” she said. “The books were huge! I had to hand write the information I wanted and take photos of source documents that I could later transcribe. I was only allowed to bring 3×5 cards, a pencil, and a phone to the research area. They require this so that documents cannot be snuck out.”
Once she determined the locations that she had original owner information on, she set out through the various Washougal neighborhoods by plat and took photos.
“Some of the houses I photographed and researched were not the prettiest or fanciest,” she explained. “They represent a good cross section of the community. The information tells the stories of how the town developed, what people did for a living and snippets of their lives. I was curious about who lived in these houses, what their occupation was, how their life dovetailed with the history of Washougal.”
Many interesting and historical stories were uncovered during Mesplay’s work. “A home on B Street was owned by Dr. Richard L. Smith,” she said. “He practiced medicine until 1914 and was also mayor of Washougal a couple of times. While researching information on him, I learned he committed suicide. The town was left without a doctor and had to work to find someone to replace him. The new doctor was Dr. Henry W. Clearwater and he practiced here until 1941.”
Another home on B Street was where city leader Fritz Braun Jr had lived. “It is a beautiful Roman brick house featuring very expensive Philippine mahogany woodwork,” she said. “I was able to locate a family who had lived there, and they happened to have a photo of the house before everything was built up around it. It sat amongst a large filbert orchard.”
To request an appointment to access this research and the wealth of Camas and Washougal historic and family information archived at the TRHM, leave a message at (360) 835-8742 or use the contact form on the museum website www.2rhm.com.
The TRHM is open for visitors on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. through October. Group tours of eight or more can be arranged by calling the museum. Prices are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, $2 for students and free for children under 5 and CWHS members.
Information provided by Two Rivers Heritage Museum.