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Livng a dream in iron cottage

by: VERN UYETAKE, Mary Claire Brader spends time on the front porch of one of Lake Oswego’s most historic homes. Built in the 1880s, the cottage was once home to iron workers.

Mary Claire Brader likes to knit while sitting on her front porch of her cozy house as her little pug dog Lilla proudly carries around a teddy bear that is as big as she is.

The scene - which includes a flowery front yard and picket fence - is idyllic and quite exemplary of small-town America at its best.

Yet as Brader works and Lilla plays, they are surrounded by structures that positively dwarf their home, which is less than 1,000 square feet. Shooting up beside them are homes and condominiums costing hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars.

'Here I sit right in the middle,' Brader said.

But is Brader afflicted with a severe case of home envy? Heavens no. In fact, her outlook is the very opposite.

The home Brader lives in is called the Oregon Iron Company Cottage, and it has survived more than 100 years, as large and expensive new buildings go up around it on Wilbur Street. Just last May it received designation as a Lake Oswego historic landmark.

But Brader's home is remarkable for so much more. She says she wouldn't live anywhere else.

'This looks like the architypical cottage that every woman has in her soul,' Brader said. 'It's a woman's dream escape cottage because of its history, shape, quaintness and fenced yard. People like to come by here because they say it gives them some strength and courage.

'I'm a quantum theologian and caregiver, so it makes sense that I'm here to steward this amazing place. I've built three beautiful homes and I've never been in anything like this.'

But the home didn't look so 'amazing' when Brader first laid eyes on it three years ago. She found on the Internet that the City of Lake Oswego was offering the house for rent. It was very rundown and needed lots of work.

'The yard was a mess and inside it smelled like dog,' Brader said. 'But I knew I could come in and restore it. I knew I could come in and really make this cute. When I first moved in there were rickety old slates. I called the city and they were right here to help. They've been wonderful.'

What Brader didn't find out until later was that she had just rented one of the most historical buildings in Lake Oswego. The home has deep roots within the city's industrial beginnings in the 1880s, when it was built to house iron workers' families.

'It's one of Lake Oswego's treasures,' said Jeannie McGuire, a recipient of the Historic Preservation Merit Award and also a neighbor of Brader. 'It is extremely important in this city's history. It's the last remaining worker's cottage.'

As described by Paige Goganian, associate planner for the City of Lake Oswego, the Iron Cottage was built in a style typical of homes of that era: one-story roof, rectangular plan, moderately pitched gable roof, narrow four-over-four sash windows and little decorative detail.

Of course, it now has a bathroom instead of an outhouse in back, but it is still one of the best-preserved examples of its type in the city and its overall character is intact.

Brader said she discovered that the cottage has no foundation or insulation, yet somehow it has survived for more than a century and served as a residence for many families, long after Lake Oswego's iron era ended.

It didn't take long for Brader to discover that the cottage was a special place.

'A couple walked by here and the woman told me her grandfather had bought it,' Brader said. 'She told me they had raised 13 children there.'

One glance at the small Iron Cottage and it is obvious that family had outdone the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe.

However, as Brader sat on her front porch she found that people didn't need to have an association with the iron era to feel a special attraction to the cottage. They simply stop by and talk to her.

'People come by every weekend and say this is the cutest house,' Brader said. 'Two girls from the exercise center said they wished they could some sit on my porch and talk to me. It's staggering. People will actually speak out, and it's always been women. This place rings true to them.

'It's a gathering place, a healing place, a haven. People sit on the porch and want to talk about God. Who knew this would happen? I've taught mythology about places like this.'

Brader seems the right person to live in the Iron Cottage. She has been a teacher and healer for 40 years, and her specialty is helping people find 'their authentic selves' - something she can now do from her front porch.

The Iron Cottage is already quite magical, but in a few months it will be much better.

Not only will there be an installation of the plaque indicating the cottage's designation as a historic landmark, but the City of Lake Oswego plans to do a restoration project at the little house, says Brader. And Brader says she's very excited about it.

'They're going to completely restore the outside and re-landscape it,' Brader said. 'They're going to make it look like it did at the turn of the century, with a herb garden and old traditional shrubs.'

Although the Iron Cottage will look much spiffier, it will be the same place that exerts a mystical pull on people. Lilla is friendly, just don't mess with her teddybear. And Mary Claire Brader is there to offer words of wisdom and healing.