|The circa 1885 Hobson-Gehlen General Merchandise Store is being nominated to the National Register under the existing “Historic Downtown Area of Stayton, Oregon” Multiple Property Submission (MPS) of 2006. Locally significant in the areas of Commerce and Architecture, the building meets National Register Criterion A under this MPS for its long association with the commercial development and activities in the community, and as the oldest remaining commercial building in Stayton. Built circa 1885 by William H. Hobson for use as a general merchandise store, the building ownership was transferred in 1896 to Theodore Gehlen who, with his sons Charles and Nicholas, ran the Gehlen General Merchandise business until his untimely death in 1904. From 1904 until 1924, Charles, Nicholas and John Gehlen continued operating the business at this location. Following the Gehlens’ sale of the building in 1924, the building was used variously for auto-related purposes and a welding shop, through the mid-twentieth century. Criterion C is also applied, as the building is the only remaining wood-frame commercial building in Stayton, displaying influences of the Italianate style that was popular during the 1870s and 1880s in Oregon, encompassing its approximate date of construction. Despite some alteration it continues to illustrate its late-nineteenth century construction through both interior and exterior materials and design details. The Period of Significance spans the years from circa 1885 to 1955, the years during which it served as both general merchandise store (c 1885-1924) and auto-related business (1925-1955 and beyond).
The Hobson-Gehlen General Merchandise Store is locally significant in the areas of Commerce and Architecture.
In the area of Commerce, the subject building is locally significant as the earliest remaining representative of downtown commercial development in Stayton, and the last remnant of the community’s nineteenth century commercial core. The original location of one of the city’s longest-standing mercantile businesses, the building is an important survivor of the community’s nineteenth-century commercial endeavors. When the Gehlens sold the building in 1924 and relocated their mercantile business to the growing 3rd Avenue, the Hobson-Gehlen Store was converted for use as an auto-related business, which it continued to house through much of the mid-twentieth century. Spanning both Periods of Significance identified in the MPS (1866-1900 and 1901-1955), the building exhibits the physical features and indicators of both of its distinctive periods and various commercial functions. Its position at the west end of Florence Street on N. 2nd Avenue was historically a prominent one in the middle of the early commercial and industrial area of Stayton; no other buildings of this early period of development survive. Historically, the area immediately surrounding the Hobson-Gehlen Store consisted of a mix of commercial, industrial and residential development, much of which has since disappeared. The only contemporaneous building remaining is the circa-1895 residence located immediately to the north of the store.
In the area of Architecture, the Hobson-Gehlen Store is significant as the only extant nineteenth-century wood-framed commercial building in the city. Despite some alteration, the building clearly reflects its circa 1885 Italianate stylistic influences on the exterior through the elongated, one-over-one-light wood sash windows and eave details, including a vertical-board frieze and decorative brackets. Many historic interior features also remain intact, including the basic spatial arrangement, wall and ceiling finishes, and most notably the curvilinear, theater-like mezzanine with its original turned balustrade. As noted in the MPS, all of the early commercial buildings in Stayton were wood framed, many with false fronts. Of the sixty-five identified in the early 1880s by an early resident, fifteen were retail or service buildings in the downtown. Today, one remains, the Hobson-Gehlen Store.
Wood-framed commercial buildings were commonplace in mid-nineteenth century Oregon towns. In most communities, the transition from wood to masonry (usually brick) in commercial construction occurred due to fires that would ravage large tracts of closely-placed and flammable wooden downtown structures. Stayton did not suffer such a devastating fire, but turned to masonry in the early twentieth century as a preventive measure, utilizing locally-manufactured concrete block: “The streetscape of 3rd Avenue was particularly dramatic where frame, one and two story, nineteenth century buildings lined one side of the street, and new two-story masonry buildings lined the other.” As the town expanded the early wood-framed buildings were replaced with larger masonry blocks, forming the streetscape apparent today. By the early- to mid-twentieth century, Main Streets throughout Oregon displayed few, if any, nineteenth-century, wood-frame, commercial buildings. Those that do remain provide an important reminder not only of the period architecture, but of the needs of the community at the time, reflecting the types of businesses and building functions that were common for the period but may no longer exist.
There appear to be no extant comparative properties within the local Stayton context. According to the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office database of identified historic properties, this is the oldest building of any type remaining in the community. At the county level, the Hobson-Gehlen Store appears to be the oldest identified wood frame commercial building surviving in Marion County, with only three others identified. These include the following:
Commercial Building 21781 Main Street NE, Aurora ca 1890 Eligible Contributing
Nichols, Mrs. Leda N., House 1391 Broadway NE, Salem ca 1890 Non-contributing - residence converted to commercial use
Russell Building 201-203 N. Water St., Silverton ca 1890 Contributing/Historic District
The commercial building in Aurora is of similar scale to the Hobson-Gehlen Store, but without the Italianate stylistic features that help date the subject building to the 1880s. The Aurora example is a false-front type, with a storefront altered with modern windows and a deep, full-width front porch.
The Russell Building is a larger building, consisting of two asymmetrical storefronts flanking a central entrance access to the upper floor. It is not a false-front building and does not exhibit the stylistic details (i.e. of the Italianate style) seen on the Hobson-Gehlen building. It appears to retain good historical integrity, and is a contributing property in the Silverton Commercial Historic District.
According to the “Historic Downtown Area of Stayton” Multiple Property Submission,
...the registration requirements for commercial buildings in Stayton vary according to the subtype. In general, however, buildings should retain the character-defining architectural details and be reflective of the workmanship and design intent. Buildings should also occupy their original location, exist within a setting that was consistent with their historic environment and retain their historic feeling and association.
With regard to wood-framed commercial buildings, the document goes on to state that,
Due to the relative rarity and reduced integrity of the surviving wood-frame commercial buildings, listing is possible only if the building retains character-defining interior and/or exterior features. Building alterations that occurred during the Stayton Multiple Property Submission's period of significance does not preclude a resource's nomination but may actually contribute to the building's significance as reflective of larger architectural trends or movements. In some cases, a resource may be nominated only if rehabilitations are undertaken to retain existing historic materials. If replacement of fabric is necessary, missing or damaged architectural features should be replaced with in-kind materials. If no physical evidence for these features remains, then their presence can be verified through historic photographs or other documentary evidence.
The Hobson-Gehlen Store retains a high degree of integrity of location, workmanship, materials, feeling and association. The building’s interior is particularly good, retaining integrity of design, workmanship, materials and feeling. In the area of design the building displays the subtle alterations made in the mid-1920s and as a result, clearly reflects its circa 1885 design and function as well as its auto-era, post-1920s appearance thus illustrating larger trends of commerce in the community (from small-scale mercantile to auto-related business). The store’s immediate setting has changed due to the loss of many of the surrounding wood-framed buildings that were present in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Although some of the characteristic features of the Hobson-Gehlen Store have been lost or removed - namely the false front and some of the storefront detailing - the building still conveys its early construction date and ongoing commercial function. Clear evidence of the lost design features and overall appearance remain in at least one historic photograph, and these elements could be accurately reproduced if desired. (Photo 4)
The building was specifically called out in the MPS, and the assessment made at that time suggested that,
The Hobson/Gehlen building may also be significant under Criteria [sic] B for its association with an important community leader and merchant. As the city's lone nineteenth century example of false front commercial architecture, the building has been extensively altered. The building, however, offers an opportunity to explore the transition from frame to masonry building in Stayton.
Although not being nominated under Criterion B, the building is associated with William H. Hobson (1847-1932), an early and successful businessman, politician and community member.
Born in Jackson county, Missouri, March 14, 1847, he was brought to Oregon by his parents that same year. In 1848 they came to Oregon City and soon after the father took up a donation land claim near here [Stayton], being one of the first settlers in the locality.
Mr. Hobson attended the district school and later attended Sublimity college... He returned to Stayton in October, 1871 and with his father he opened the first store here. He continued in the mercantile business for 50 years.
In 1875-6 Mr. Hobson, in partnership with Uriah Whitney, built the Stayton flour mill, which they owned for many years. Later Mr. Hobson and Whitney, in association with Thomas Simms, Lee Brown and John Shaw founded Mill City, building a large sawmill there.
In 1895 he was elected as state senator from Marion and Linn counties and served for eight years. He...served as postmaster, mayor and at the time of his death [in 1932] had been school clerk for many years.
The Hobson-Gehlen Store has been altered since Hobson’s construction and eleven year period of ownership, but does appear to be the last remaining resource in the town of Stayton associated with Hobson. In part because of the alterations that occurred in the mid-twentieth century, decades after Hobson’s ownership, the building’s National Register eligibility is strongest under Criterion A for its clear association with Stayton’s commercial development, and under Criterion C as the last remaining wood-frame commercial building in the community.