Nearly every house history researcher wants to see old photographs or drawings of their house. Who wouldn't, right? Unfortunately for Portland-area house history buffs, this can be one of the hardest bits of house history ephemera to track down! But don't despair; there are surviving photographs of some houses and it is possible (sometimes) to find them.
The challenge is that there has never been a comprehensive house-portrait project in Portland -- or any other city or town in our area -- so there is no treasure trove of photos of local homes that you can dig through. You might wonder, if there's no big archive of house pictures, where should you start? There are a few possibilities:
First, ask your neighbors or the people in your neighborhood association. People who live on your street may have their own old photographs of family events, parties, or other occasions which include your house in the background. And a bonus -- when you find that long-time resident and photo-saver, they may share stories about past residents of your house or other interesting neighborhood lore!
Houses sometimes appear in the background of photographs taken to record activity on the street. The city of Portland has a lot of photographs of infrastructure and maintenance work they've done over the years.
The Oregon Historical Society library is another treasure trove for house history researchers. Their collection includes more than 2.5 million photographs and negatives of people, communities, commerce, and life in the Pacific Northwest -- the photograph collection doesn't have a section devoted to house portraits, but you may find photographs of your street, or photographs indexed under the name of a former owner of the house. Some of the library's photographs have been digitized and can be viewed in the library's catalog, but most are available only by visiting in person (1200 SW Park Ave.; 503.222.1741).
NOTE: As of March 2021, the Oregon Historical Society and the Portland City Archives are both closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic. Contact them to see what services they can offer remotely.
Have fun hunting for a historic photo of your house!
Questions? Ask the Librarian.