‘The Vista House’ – A jewel on the Columbia River

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Guy

I wasn’t necessarily planning on writing a blog entry this week, but I was inspired to when I saw “The Vista House” on a recent trip to Central Washington. I had to share what I saw.

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house


Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house


Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

They call this octagonal structure a “house” in the loosest sense of the word. It’s more of a monument/observatory perched 733 feet above the Columbia River below. Designed to withstand the area’s famous winds, the face of the building is faced with ashlar-cut sandstone, and the interior walls are Alaska Tokeen Marble and Kosota Limestone.

In other words, this thing ain’t going anywhere anytime soon.

According to The Vista House Web site, the building — which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places — was built between 1916-1918 by Multnomah County (Oregon), “as a comfort station and scenic wayside for those traveling on the Historic Columbia River Highway, which had been completed in 1913. It is also a memorial to Oregon pioneers. It was formally dedicated on May 5th, 1918.”

During the early part of this century, the building underwent a five-year renovation and was re-opened in 2005 to the public.

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house

The day we were there was a perfect time to take in the views the property affords. I will say it was pretty darn crowded, and be prepared to stop and start quite often on the way down the mountain, especially if you go by the popular Multnomah Falls trailhead. Don’t let the people and the huge, vicious dogs (see the picture) dissuade you from the journey, though.

Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house, dog


Vista House, Columbia River, Oregon, historic house



Good things — and houses — do come in ‘Tiny’ packages

By Dan Hiestand, Houstory Marketing Director

What do you get when you combine a love of cabins with an adoration of small spaces? Tiny House Blog, of course! If you have any kind of curiosity regarding unique living spaces, you’ve probably already heard of  this popular blog. However, in case you are interested and you haven’t, you’re welcome. Be warned, though: time will pass and you may neglect your family for hours on end.

tiny house blog, houses, unique houses, house history

Image from Tiny House Blog

The site was started by small space/cabin lover Kent Griswold in 2007. According to the Web site, “The goal of the tiny house blog is to discover the different options available for a person looking to down size into a tiny house or cabin. I will be looking at different type of construction, from logs, to yurts to modern and the unusual. I will also do book reviews, look at alternate energy for heat and electricity. I also want to hear your story so please contact me with your pictures and your own experiences in living simply and small.”

If this universe sounds interesting to you, and you enjoy hearing about people living the “tiny house” dream (in addition to seeing a ton of cool photos), check it out.

As the co-creator of The Home History Book  archival journal and a self-proclaimed house history nut, it may seem ironic that what draws me to the Tiny House blog is my belief that many people have too much space, and too much stuff. Admittedly, a lot of the houses that I have grown to admire are huge, and much bigger than I would ever prefer to own. However, I don’t hold it against anyone with a 6,000 square foot home — that’s their business.

With that said, I do think we would be well-served, as a culture, to live simply in terms of resource conservation, environmental protection and our day-to-day mindset. There is a lot to be learned from this ‘tiny’ sub-culture.

What do you think? Did you know about the Tiny House blog? Do you think people can — and should — live with less? Do you own a tiny house? So many questions, and you’ve got answers. Let’s hear em!

Top 10 Web sites for old house ‘DIYers’

This week, we borrow content from another house-themed blog — “The Craftsman: Writings for the Historic Home.” Author Scott Austin Sidler is the owner of Austin Home Restorations in Orlando, Fla.,

He recently put together a very nice piece on the “Best Web sites for Old House DIYers.” Even if you don’t own an old house, we recommend you take a look, as you can apply a lot of the themes that are touched on to any home.

Scott, who founded his company in 2010, has been around old houses for most of his life. He developed a fascination with them when his parents purchased a 1759 Colonial in downstate New York during his childhood.

As he states on his Web site, “The hand-hewn timbers, antique glass and overall sense of history intrigued him. The grandson of a painter, he began his first restoration in 2001 with a 1918 townhouse in Astoria, NY.”

Now, he works to preserve the historic homes of Central Florida. Thank you for the article, Scott!

We’d love to know your thoughts! Let us know — do you have other sites you’d add to this list?

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

Bring your home’s history to life using these simple photo tips

By Rick Read — Special to the Houstory Hearth

Occasionally, the Houstory Hearth will feature guest authors who have knowledge and expertise related to the world of Houstory Publishing. This week, we feature Rick Read. Rick has nearly 40 years of experience as an award-winning TV producer. He is also an avid still photographer and genealogist and was, for five years, the research aide for the Whatcom Genealogical Society (Washington state).

One of the great aspects of the Home History Book archival journal is that it encourages you to take note of the changes that occur in your home over time. And what better way to demonstrate those changes than to compare old and recent photos – “then” and “now” photos. You can make the comparison even more dramatic by taking your “now” photo from the exact location at which the “then” photo was snapped. I will refrain from becoming too detailed here.

If you want the details, check out this great Web site.

I am using a “then” photo furnished by Jeff Jewell of the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, Wash. (There’s an interesting story about this photo – I hope to share it with you in the future.) The first thing you’ll want to do with your “then” photo is to scan it and print a large black and white “work print.” This print will become your guide for lining up your “now” photo. Printing in black and white will also help you focus on the details of the photo.

Take a close look at the photo. Note the relationships of features that might still exist today:

  1. How the front left part of the porch exposes the house behind the subject house
  2. How the vertical end of the porch railing (on which the young boy is sitting) lines up with the window behind the rail
  3. How much of the building in the back right of the subject house is exposed

You may find it helpful to draw a grid pattern over your “then” photo. The horizontal and vertical lines can be helpful when lining up your “now” shot. Avoid using relationships to transient items, such as the height or width of a tree. You’ll quickly discover that these relationships will only lead to frustration.  Another thing about vegetation: winter can be a better time for taking “now” photos, as any leaves that block your subject will be gone.

THEN PHOTO — CLICK TO ENLARGE 1995.0001.019938; photo by Jack Carver; courtesy Whatcom Museum

Once you’ve made note of several physical relationships on your “then” picture, you’re ready to take your “now” shot. You will find a tripod especially helpful for this process. It’s tough to hold your camera in one hand and your “then” photo in the other, while trying to get the shot lined up properly. Keep in mind, too, that the position from which the “then” photographer took his photo may have changed. He may have positioned himself on a hill that is long gone, or he may have been standing in what is now the middle of the street. (You might want to take a partner with you to serve as a lookout.)

When you’ve found that “sweet’ spot, click away. Take a few shots, move slightly and take a few more. Continue to refer to your “then” shot, as you make adjustments. You can present your finished photos side by side or as a blended image.

Check these Web sites for more examples:

* Leningrad Seige — Then and Now

* Normandy 1944 — Then and Now


Whichever display method you choose, you’ll have some great images to add to your Home History Book archival journal and to share with future owners of your home.

If you have knowledge in a topic our readers may be interested in — such as historical preservation, home genealogy or homes in general — and are interested in writing a guest column for us, please let us know! Contact us at info@homehistorybook.com.

POLL: Do you have any significant home renovations planned for 2012?

As we progress into 2012, we at Houstory Publishing are curious: What changes do you have planned for your home this year? Maybe you’ll be painting the bedroom, replacing your kitchen cabinets or putting in new wiring? Or perhaps it will be something even more demanding — such as the addition of a new wooden deck, or a comprehensive living room makeover?

We want to know what your plans are, and so do other house lovers! Make sure to take the poll below, and leave a comment with some specifics.

And if you do have renovation plans, hopefully your project won’t end up being a nightmare.

Renovations are important components of your house’s story, so make sure you are safely recording and preserving them somewhere! Take photos (before and after); log key dates; cite materials used (such as paint colors) and document any other information you think may be beneficial for those who may live there in the future.

They will thank you for your efforts later.


My Hutong Heartbreak: Beijing’s destruction of ancient neighborhoods slowly ending a way of life

Back in July 2004 — while taking a break from my job teaching Taiwanese school children English — I took a trip to Beijing. I remember one day my girlfriend (and now wife) rented bicycles, and were fortunate enough to spend the better part of the morning exploring some of the city’s hutong. For those who may not know what the hutong are, they are old traditional alleyways and courtyard homes that once existed all over the city.  The below video (the first of four chapters) does a beautiful job illustrating their place in the city’s ancient history. Fascinating stuff.

As we pedaled along, I remember women hanging laundry; families preparing food through open windows; colorful doors and a feeling of community. These alleyways seemed to stretch on forever. It was a kind of history — with buildings dating back many centuries — that I couldn’t fathom, being from the relatively “new” Western coast of the United States.

Simply put, I was in awe.

Honestly, the next time I thought of the hutong was just prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Hearing that these remarkable communities — so full of life — were being ripped down in advance of the games to develop structures such as office buildings and roads felt like a kick in the gut.

Fast forward to a recent article in the Atlantic on the continuing and devastating destruction of the hutong in Beijing, and the sadness has retuned again. It’s easy to forget that historical preservation struggles happen all the time, all over the planet unless you are constantly reminded of them.

Rainy Beijing --- July 2004

Of course I’m not arguing that all new development is inherently wrong. However, it is important that the decision makers put forth a good-faith effort to acknowledge the development’s impact on the historical, environmental and general welfare of the community in which they are building — and not just trying to make a quick profit or a superficial cosmetic upgrade.

Sadly, from what I’ve been able to find,  it seems as if the latter reasons are the primary motivating factors in the case of the hutong.

While the rise of the Chinese economy and its place on the world stage has been flabbergasting, it has obviously come at a price, as The Atlantic author Jonathan Kaiman shares in the article.

“At the height of the city’s headlong rush to modernity in the 1990s, about 600 hutong were destroyed each year, displacing an estimated 500,000 residents. Seemingly overnight, the city was transformed from a warren of Ming dynasty-era neighborhoods into an ultramodern urban sprawl, pocked with gleaming office towers and traversed by eight-lane highways,” writes Kaiman.

For many, this loss of history is a tough pill to swallow. Some groups, such as the Beijing Cultural Heritage Protection Center (CHP), are doing their part to stem this tide.
If you are interested in the hutong, and historical preservation, please see an important video series on the hutong produced by Beijing-based videographer and photographer Jonah Kessel.

— Dan Hiestand, Houstory Publishing Marketing Director

What’s the value in researching the history of a new home?

While it may not sound as intriguing as researching the beginning history of a 100-year-old property, researching your newer home’s story is not only easier — it tends to be a lot more accurate. That’s because you are the one who is relaying the story — a first-person account.

Documenting changes as they occur today will be helpful -- and valuable -- for homeowners tomorrow.

You are the best “historical” resource available and your knowledge of your home’s beginning and access to original documents and photos will be invaluable to future residents. Unlike owners who move into a 150-year-old home, for example, you have been there from the beginning and can provide a complete history. You — unlike anyone else — are in the perfect position to provide all of the information about your home’s early history with little or no research. You may have photos of your home during construction, before the landscaping was installed, of moving day or the first night you spent in your new home. These photos and stories will provide a wonderful and unique historical record for both visitors and residents in your home today and in the future.

Imagine their practical value, not to mention the historical interest they will generate 100 or even 10 years from now. For more information on researching your home history, visit www.homehistorybook.com.

If you love your home and you love history, you’re at the right place

Welcome to the first edition of The Houstorian’s Hearth blog, and thanks for visiting.

Let’s just get this out of the way right now: This may be the only posting for a little while, as we are not quite ready to poke our heads out of the door on a regular basis just yet.  But, soon enough, we will be regularly updating it with information on all things home genealogy, including but not limited to: historical preservation (specifically regarding property and documents), historical home real estate listings, home genealogy conferences, contests, events, scrap booking, book binding, the latest in home history research information and technology, renovation and construction practices as related to home genealogy…you get the picture.

Please check back soon!