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Fairview jailhouse declared historic structure

SUBMITTED PHOTO: ECHO - Harold Newman presides over the dedication of a new Fairview city park in August 1977. The jailhouse is directly behind Newman. Also shown is the north side of the old city hall.To modern eyes, the squat, slate-colored structure on Northeast Fairview Avenue displays all the historic grandeur of a glorified tool shed. On state forms, its official architectural style is listed as “utilitarian.”

But the gloomy, two-cell jailhouse was once proof positive of Fairview’s increasingly citified ways.

Now, 101 years after its construction — and thanks to the hard work of local historians — the defunct city jail is Fairview’s first-ever building to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It was all volunteer hours. It took four volunteers and it took eight years,” explained Danielle Utter, executive director of the East County Historical Organization. “We have a personal connection, and a historical connection to the building.”

ECHO board member Lael Larger submitted the jail’s application in February. The National Park Service and U.S. Department of Interior accepted the nomination on June 3.

Fairview’s jail was built in 1915, just a few years after the city was officially incorporated into Multnomah County in 1908.

The mayor, A. E. Whitney, had run on an anti-crime platform, and the City Council had recently passed a slew of morality ordinances. “Bawdy houses” and prostitution were prohibited, as was vulgar language, gambling, carrying a concealed weapon and the sale of tobacco to those under 21.

By February 1915, it was not only a crime to be drunk, but even to possess intoxicants in the “dry” city. City elders went so far as to shutter dancing houses on Sundays, out of fear that residents might stay footloose and fancy-free on the Lord’s designated day of rest.

The new laws carried the threat of jail time. Unfortunately, Fairview had no jail.

So on July 27, 1915, the City Council passed Ordinance 82, calling for the construction of a 10-foot by 20-foot jailhouse next door to City Hall. The cost was not to exceed $400.

OUTLOOK PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - The wooden sign above the door Fairview jailhouse was carved by Oren Olin, a former Fairview city councilman and the city's first chief of police. Maybe Fairview’s residents were cowed by the new laws — or maybe they just kept their vice hidden — but it turned out that the town had little need for a jailhouse.

ECHO researchers have found only one verified occupant of the jail over its century-long history. A certain Roy Erison was arrested on Sept. 12, 1916, and spent the night behind bars before being handed over to the sheriff the next morning.

There’s no official mention of his crime, but local lore has it that Erison was so desperate for a drink that he stole a bottle of vanilla extract.

“Although Fairview remained a quiet town with little crime ... (the jail) stood as a testament to the stability of the citizens of Fairview and to their vision of coming together as a law-abiding society,” Larger wrote in her application to the National Register.

Today, ECHO hosts tours of the jail and the Heslin House Museum every third Saturday of the month from noon to 4 p.m. The cost is $3, but admission is free for residents, ECHO members and children 17 and younger.