Historic home in Slabtown seeks buyer

The historic McFarland house on the west side of River Road is on the market for the first time in fifty years

COTTAGE GROVE, Ore - The earliest settlers in Cottage Grove staked their claims, one after another, from 1849 through the 1850’s in the Coast Fork precinct. James H. McFarland, one of the pioneers who crossed the plains from Missouri, settled his family's claim in 1853, and also purchased about 80 acres, downtown, north of Main Street today, from Henry Small in 1859.

McFarland's son, David, whose cross-gable home built near River Road, is a prime example of the earliest, innovative, gothic vernacular architecture in the region. Its milled siding from old growth timbers suggest that it was built sometime after 1875, making the home one of the first in the area, which is still standing in its original location.

Its current owners are looking for a buyer for the property after their mother, Karen Larson, recently passed away, fulfilling her lifelong wish to finish living her life in the historical home she purchased with her late husband, Daryl Larson back in 1973.

The home has been in the family's possession for fifty years and it’s one that Becky Venice hopes can go to an investor that will keep the house intact. There is also pressure coming from the mortgage company which holds the loan, to be paid back in full, within a very short amount of time.

“[Larson] didn’t want anything to happen to that house. And I feel more responsible to make sure it doesn't get torn down or something bad to happen.” Venice said. “The house goes back all the way into the late 1870’s, it’s something that should be preserved.” Larson dedicated her professional life to education, inspiring countless students as a teacher at Cottage Grove High School.

Venice is President of the Cottage Grove Museum and lives in the neighborhood where the McFarland home sits. When she was providing company for the gravely ill Larson, Venice learned that the bank was insisting on a 30-day sale after Larson’s death, and it was stalled by a potential buyer who recently backed away from the offer.

“That’s why I was really anxious to help find someone.” Venice said, as she revealed, hoping that by spreading the word about the home's sale, an angel investor interested in preserving it may help secure a sale. It's been Venice’s goal to help find a buyer, since she learned of the complexities in the loan and repairs needed from Larson before she died on June 1.

At the time of Larson’s death, the home was placed on the market, and it’s currently for sale at $340,000 under Jane Dixon’s real estate team. Though the old McFarland home needs maintenance, overall, Venice believes that the materials used to build the house were sourced locally, and the strongest you can find.

In the 1870’s, the west side of the river, Slabtown, was known for the Hazelton Mill, near Silk Creek, which was then called Hazleton Creek, the likely source for the rough-cut lumber used to build the McFarland house. Most of the earliest vernacular homes were constructed using nine materials or less.

The rough sawn boards used for the home's balloon framing were designed and built to last, though modern upgrades and deferred maintenance have caught up with its age.

With zoning revisions adopted by the City Council in 1980, the city designated Larson's home as a historical site, giving the city control over the home's future by requiring that any exterior renovation, relocating, or destroying of the building be approved by the planning commission.

It is also noted that the planning commission and the City Council can hold up any proposed demolition for up to 300 days while efforts are made to acquire the property publicly, according to an article written about the home in the Eugene Register Guard, when the McFarland farmhouse at 628 Birch Ave was placed as a “historical site” in Cottage Grove, along with the Cottage Grove Museum, and another home at 704 Birch Ave built in 1902.  

Though the ownership of Larson’s home is in question, the status of its place in Cottage Grove could be protected under Cottage Grove's historical preservation code, if it’s considered a National Register resource. The home is listed on the Oregon Historic Sites Database as being in Oregon’s Inventory of Historic Properties, where it was still considered eligible in an inventory survey completed in 2006.  

According to the City of Cottage Grove’s Historic Preservations Overlay District forwarded to The Sentinel by Public Works Director, Faye Stewart, it states under Additional Protections for National Register Resources that, "the City of Cottage Grove and any person, group, or government agency may propose a National Register resource to be considered for additional protections."

Further code states that, "If there is also a standard in the demolition or relocation of a locally significant historic resource which allows community members or the city time to find an alternative solution to the demolition or relocation of the significant historic resource."

"This gives the approval body the ability to approve, approve with conditions, delay, or deny the demolition or relocation of a significant historic resource. Demolition or relocation of historic resources erodes the historic fabric of the city of Cottage Grove according to the ordinance and shall be denied unless adverse circumstances require such actions." 

“We love the old place.” Daryl Larson was quoted saying in the 1980 Register Guard article, “As far as we know, we’re going to be here the rest of our lives.” It was a prediction that came true for the Larson's. While Karen also understood then that the home's historical significance meant that she saw it as a sort of a shrine for the town’s pioneer family.

She revealed in the July 6, 1980, article written by John Thompson, “This is all that’s left of David McFarland’s property, we're interested in saving the property as a whole, it's a big lot.” Larson said. At nearly an acre, it’s considered one of the last intact parcels of the McFarland property, at the foot of Mt. David in Cottage Grove.