Charles and Martha Brown House
Backstory and Context
Charles Brown and his brother George contributed significantly to Stayton’s early history and industry. Their father, Leander Brown, was Stayton’s first mayor before the town was incorporated.
Charles was an accomplished and admired millwright, businessman, inventor and he and his brother George became reputable house builders in Stayton.
Charles’ invention of a hydraulic pump for the Lee Brown and Sons mill pond headgates served the water-powered family sawmill on the Stayton Ditch and was featured in “Scientific American.” The radiant heating system and water system in his 1903 family home was unique to the town. By 1903 the Brown brothers had built several houses in Stayton, seven of which survive today. Their reputation as conscientious builders was firmly and prominently established.
Charles married Martha Staiger, a Waldo Hills farmer’s daughter, and built for her this elegant Queen Anne house at the corner of First and High Streets. The house was “one of the finest in the county” according to the December 19,1903 edition of the Stayton Mail. Their three children (Lee, Giles and Ruth) played creatively on what was then a small farmstead and later continued the sawmill operation. Son Lee and Martha ran a successful bat and bedding company powered by the Stayton Ditch.
The Charles and Martha Brown house is built of vertical grain old-growth fir and cedar. Unusual architectural elements, windows, doors, and moldings were produced at the family mill two blocks south of the house. Family lore has it that Italian craftsmen were brought down from Portland to complete the elegant living room and parlor. These two front rooms are asymmetrical, with front doors at odd angles and offset walls meeting at the front vestibule under a gallery porch on the second story. An architect called this modification of the plan “forced perspective”.
Charles’s sometimes surprising interpretation of the Queen Anne style was not only attractive visually, it was the first house in Stayton to be plumbed, wired and fitted with his state of the art radiant heating system during construction. The original shingle roof was painted (probably a color called “Old Pilgrim Red”). Water was provided from two sources: the octagonal 106’ high water tower at the sawmill, and a pitcher pump on the utility porch. Interesting also is the fact that the house was hammered together with square (cut) nails as well as modern round nails.
Other features of the house include multiple styles of twenty doors – eight of them exterior, and four in the master bedroom. This room is especially daring structurally. Half the room, a fourteen foot span, has no allowance below the ceiling for a bearing wall of the two story part of the house.yet it has not sagged in over hundred years. The cellar is a cleverly built “fruit room” and interesting post and beam supports for the center of the house and the central chimney.
The house first changed ownership three years after Charles died in 1925. Martha moved to another house in Stayton (next to her former father-in-law’s house on Second Avenue), and leased the family house to a registered nurse from Mill City, Alice Kendrick, who opened Stayton’s first hospital in 1929. In the following years, up until 1936, the house was extensively modified for hospital use, and unsympathetic but utilitarian additions were built on the west and north sides of the house. After the hospital closed in 1938, several owners (John and Leola Nightingale; Wendell and Kathryn Weddle; Larry and Denise Huntley) lived in the house and continued to modify, remodel and redecorate it to keep up with the times.
The last attempt to revive the house was in 1987 when its owners took several positive and hopeful steps, but the house continued to deteriorate faster than they could afford to repair it. The house sat empty for several years in the 1990s, continued to deteriorate and appeared even more shabby and hopeless. The porches were falling away from the house, the roof on the hospital additions leaked for years and vandals had broken out most of the windows, including all of the priceless etched glass transoms.
Then, in 2000, the Stayton Cooperative Telephone Company purchased the property, and subsequently agreed to sell it to the newly formed, non-profit Santiam Heritage Foundation.