House on Hold

Further renovations of the historic Bybee House on Sauvie Island is on hold until grant money comes through, a master plan is devised, and dedicated volunteers step up to the plate.
by: Gini Bramlett, TheBybee House on Sauvie Island has been kept in shape by grants Metro has applied for over the past few years, although last year, they were turned down for the money needed to continue the renovations. Laurie Wulf, property management specialist for Metro, who has been working on the historic home, is hopeful the grant will come through this year.

Laurie Wulf walks through the slightly chilly Bybee House, in the Howell Territorial Park on Sauvie Island, with hopefulness and a sense of pride. Wulf is a property management specialist with Metro Regional Parks and Greenspaces who, over the past several years, has invested her own sweat and tears into preserving the historic two-story home. She walks from room to room explaining what has been done in each to keep things from further deteriorating and bringing the home back to its original glory. Some of the rooms appear to have had recent painting done and a few rooms even have outlets and heating vents installed into obscure niches so as not to detract from the historic value. Another room needing obvious attention displays aged and discolored wallpaper peeling off the high walls. Metro occasionally uses the rooms for meetings, but very little else.

As she continues through the house, Wulf talks about the various larger maintenance projects that have been done over the past few years, including installation of a new furnace in 2001 to prevent further deterioration, and exterior painting which is ongoing. 'Just to get the paint off one side of the house costs $6,000,' said Wulf. 'I use propane burners to burn off the paint so as not to damage the original wood. I've already spent like $20,000 on the outside.'

Stumbling blocks

Many other projects, such as roof replacement and a necessary barn bathroom remodel, are still on the drawing board. 'The roof has to be replaced at some point,' said Wulf. 'There are no leaks but it wasn't put on properly.' Another project Wulf is working toward is interpretive signs. 'I would love to see interpretive signs for the house and grounds,' said Wulf. She says plans are drawn up but they have not yet been implemented.

Therein lies the problem.

Over the years, Wulf has applied for and managed to secure grants allowing her to work on restoring the old house, and for the most part she has been successful. But, last year, that didn't happen. She is hopeful that this year's grant will come through.

Another problem is that a master plan, written several years ago, was turned down by island residents and other concerned citizens citing too much paving. They were also concerned about the increased traffic that could be generated by some of the uses identified in the plan. In a small community already inundated with an overflow of summer traffic, they had reason to question. 'They were dead-set against any asphalt trails or asphalt in the parking area,' said Wulf. A proposed concrete restroom facility that would detract from the historic sense of the farm was also me with disapproval.

Over the years, island residents and advocates have worked hard to maintain the country setting that has drawn people to the unique island paradise for decades. By allowing paved parking lots and concrete structures like public restrooms, the farm's country flavor and historic value would be lost.

Wulf has hopes that in time, things will come together, ideas can be agreed upon, and the house will again be utilized. She'd like to see activities similar to the historical tours and demonstrations at the historic Phillip Foster Farm just north of Estacada. The historic farm is in use from late spring to early fall for public and private tours led by volunteers dressed in period costumes. Demonstrations of ironworking and other period activities take place seasonally. The farm also boasts a replica of a country store where visitors can shop.

A flurry of activity

Wulf keeps hoping and working towards that end. Plans for creating a new master plan are in the works, although where the money will come from is not clear.

In spite of plans for the house being on temporary hiatus, the grounds are a flurry of activity, including that of an adjacent parcel bought a few years ago and leased to Sauvie Island Organics, a subscription farm. Occasional weddings also take place during summer months, the annual Fourth of July Marathon is held on the grounds as well as other special events.

Salsa! Salsa! Salsa!, a celebration of food, farming and the land, was hosted last September by a partnership that included Sauvie Island Organics, Sauvie Island Center and Janus Youth Programs' Food Works Farm. Seed-saving demonstrations, field projects, salsa tasting and music were held at the park and on the adjacent property. Wulf is hopeful the event will happen again this year.

Local schools regularly bring students for work parties to do restoration work on the grounds as well, planting native plants and removing invasive varieties.

Sauvie Island Center is a nonprofit organization that partners with Metro to help foster sustainability. One of the center's projects, the Food Works, under the auspices of the Janus Youth Program, allows at-risk students to plant, grow and sell food they raise themselves on the property. The group also uses the barn on the property for storage.

Volunteer naturalists are trained by Metro to help lead environmental education programs for kids who visit the farm on field trips and summer programs.

A contract with Ford Farms on the island keeps the property mowed and, in return, the Fords feed the mowed organic hay to their cattle. Ongoing outdoor projects include planting oak trees and hedgerows of native plants. Nathanial Marquiss, a park and open spaces ranger with Metro, tends the apple orchard on the property.

In the meantime, Wulf waits for the money from another grant to continue her restoration work in the house. A new master plan will get things moving to utilize the historic home's potential, and a little help from a few passionate people could make it all come together.

To contact Wulf, call 503-797-1554 or email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.