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Historian writes definitive book on Tigard history

Summerfield resident Barbara Peterson's new book came out in April


by: BARBARA SHERMAN - DOING WHAT SHE LOVES - Barbara Peterson holds her new book in the Summerfield Clubhouse shortly after its release by Arcadia Publishing.Barbara Bennett Peterson is the definition of a history buff.

The author of 18 books, Peterson has written about presidents, native tribes and powerful women in America and China.

She has received five Pulitzer Prize nominations for her historical works and spent 30 years as a professor of American history at the University of Hawaii.

But now the 70-year-old Summerfield resident has turned her attentions to something a bit closer to home - the history of Tigard.

Peterson's newest book, "Tigard: Images of America" was released April 1. The book tells the story of the area's earliest settlers to the present day.

"I like to teach the community about their history," Peterson said. "Everyone should be interested in their histories."

Peterson was approached by a librarian at the Tigard Public Library, who asked if she would be interested in delving into the city's past.

The book has been a labor of love for Peterson, who spent three years researching the city's past for the book.

"I loved working at the library in the local history room," Peterson said. "I just started doing more and more research on Tigard."

Local history isn't new for Peterson. Since moving to Tigard in 1998, Peterson has worked on several projects with the Tigard Public Library and the Tigard Historical Association to preserve local heritage.

In 2012, she published a book detailing the history of Summerfield, where she lives with her husband.

by: BARBARA PETERSON - SAVORING HISTORICAL PHOTOS - Barbara Peterson's book on Tigard includes this black-and-white photo that shows an early Tigardville baseball team.A volunteer at the Tigard Public Library, Peterson works with patrons on genealogy projects to track down their family history. The Tigard Historical Association's resident historian, Peterson has led an effort to record the oral histories of longtime residents.

To date, Peterson has recorded about 50 interviews with residents about Tigard's earliest days.

"That has been going on for years," she said.

The book, she said, is a combination of those two loves - preserving Tigard's history and looking into the city's family history.

Told primarily through photographs, "Tigard" begins with the history of the Atfalati Kalapuyas, the Native American tribe that lived in the area before the appearance of the first European settlers, then traces Tigard's roots through its earliest days when it was founded as East Butte in the 1850s.

When the first post office was opened in Charles F. Tigard's general store in 1886, the town was renamed Tigardville. The "ville" was dropped from the name 20 years later - when the railroad came through town - in order to differentiate it from nearby Wilsonville, and Tigard was born.

Most of the photos came from the Tigard Historical Association and the local history room at the Tigard Public Library.

Published through Arcadia Publishing, "Tigard" is the latest in a series of Portland-area communities to be chronicled in its "Images of America" series.

So far, Beaverton, Aloha, Lake Oswego, Newberg, Portland, Hillsboro and Forest Grove have all had their histories published through Arcadia.

Books like these are important, Peterson said, because they help people feel more connected to their surroundings.

"When you know its history, it makes you rooted in the community," Peterson said. "History lays the foundation for the community. I think empowering (people) through history is really important. It gives them a sense of who they are. It affects their health and their well-being. It is much better to know who you are, and history helps that."

If Peterson could sum up the city's history, she would do it in a single word - elegant.

"The rural area was very elegant, from the very beginning," she said. "They supported the railway coming in, they had clout and money and a good life. It was so sophisticated."

When Peterson began researching the history, she said she expected life in what was then rural Oregon to be hard, but those ideas were quickly thrown out.

The turn of the century was a good time for Tigard, when farmers could afford luxuries, like taking family portraits, Peterson said.

Those portraits, several of which are featured in the book, are part of the early families' legacies, according to Peterson.

"(Portraits) are so important to the family," she said. "Before every family had a camera, your portrait hung on the wall, and they were passed down to generations. That's how you knew your grandfather or your uncle."

Tigard made a name for itself as a destination for a variety of things, Peterson said.

"This has always been a green area where people came to get fresh vegetables and dairy and other things people from Portland or Lake Oswego came out to get," she said. "It's also a recreation area."

In the 1940s and 1950s, people flocked to places such as Roamer's Rest along the Tualatin River to swim.

Modern-day Tigard is very different from those early days, but Peterson said the ideas of "neighborliness" and hard work have remained through the decades.

"Today, Tigard is very much suburbia, but there are still such wonderful things in Tigard like Cook Park, the wonderful library, Broadway Rose Theatre Company," she said. "We're a good community."

Peterson added that she gets excited about local history because it impacts everyone.

"Every single person in the community is important," she said. "They all have an important story and contributed in some way. We may recognize certain family names, like 'Tigard' or 'Gaarde,' but there are also people who have lived here their whole lives or done public service, teaching or preaching."

"Tigard" is available for $21.99 by Arcadia Publishing.