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Picture this: Gresham man compiles a pictorial history

by: Jim Clark Though he has lived in Gresham nearly 30 years, George Miller learned new things about his town by looking at its old pictures.

Though he has lived in Gresham nearly 30 years, George Miller learned new things about his town by looking at its old pictures.

'I didn't know that Johnson Creek ran right next to Powell Boulevard…or that East Hill and that area was the Multnomah County Fair. I didn't know the (Bull Run) pipeline ran right down First Avenue,' he says, listing new items in his 'photographic memory.'

Miller's book, a pictorial history of Gresham printed through its Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing, arrived at local retailers on Monday. It contains about 200 historic photos of Gresham, its people, their cars, the buildings, the disasters and - a favorite of the retired meteorologist - weather.

This is Miller's third book.

His first two were about weather, one focused on the Pacific Northwest, the other on the weather faced by the Lewis and Clark expedition. Naturally, for this Arcadia history, he has found pictures of some whopping snowstorms.

Arcadia's Images of America series specializes in local histories. The trick is to find someone in each community willing to take up the project of a book. Arcadia found Miller, and Miller found trusty cohorts at the Gresham Historical Society to walk him through their photo collections and help with identifications. He also got some photos from the Oregon Historical Society.

'I don't know anything about clothes and styles,' Miller said, 'but Utahna Kerr (Gresham Historical Society) could look at a picture and what they were wearing and say, 'That's about 1890.' '

Miller's other two sources were the historic museum's central memory bank, Tom Metzger and Martha Luscher Ruegg.

'You should have heard them when they got going over what businesses were where when,' Miller said. 'It would go on for an hour. Someone needs to sit down and record those two.'

Because of their help, Miller's picture captions have meaty details about life in Gresham and what was happening at the time. Each chapter is prefaced by a brief history. And the identifications on the photo are as accurate as Miller and his sources could make it.

'Sometimes the names were on the back, but then they didn't say from left to right, or right to left,' he said. He could write another book on how to take care of and identify your old photos.

Miller has an eye for picking the most interesting of Gresham's old images. He learned that cars attract readers, so vehicles enliven city scenes. Farm scenes show vintage equipment. And some are just plain poignant. A picture of the 4-H sewing champions at the county fair, all girls in bobby sox and cotton dresses, brings a smile.

He is pleased with Arcadia's technical abilities in bringing out detail in the old photos. Now, he is at work on another book for the company centered on Kelso, Wash., where he was born and raised.

'You don't get rich at this,' he says. 'I might end up being able to buy a good bottle of Scotch.'

And he is splitting his earnings, 50-50, with the Gresham Historical Society.

Publishing books has kept him out of trouble since he retired from the National Weather Service in 1994. And his wife, Janice, helps with the grammar and style. The two have been married 48 years and have two sons and two grandchildren.

Meet the author

• George Miller will introduce his book, 'Gresham,' at the annual membership meeting of the Gresham Historical Society at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 30, at Linnemann Station on the Springwater Trail at Southeast 190th Avenue and Powell Boulevard.