St. Helens Historic District Walking Tour
The map below will guide you through a section of St. Helens that was accepted as a Historic District by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1984. Much of the narrative describes the structures as they appeared at that time. Some have been demolished, but most are still standing and may have been updated in appearance. In some cases, historic images have been added to the descriptions and the maps. Also, stories about notable people and events are included. The best way to experience this tour is to use your smart phone with GPS enabled. The map icons are keyed to the significance of the structure and/or commercial uses. Please do not disturb the residents. You can also navigate through the map on your computer, just click on any house or building icon.
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DISTRICT OVERVIEW: The buildings in the Downtown Historic District are a dramatic reflection of the development of the city and the people who were influential in this process. Only a few scattered buildings of wood construction, mostly residential, remain to represent St. Helens before the fire of 1904. After the fire, almost all of the commercial buildings were constructed of stone, concrete or brick. Residential structures, however, continued to be built of wood but are distinguishable from the earlier residences because of their style of architecture, Bungalow and Craftsmen, the then latest in architectural fashion.
Generally, the homes along the high rock cliffs which overlook the Columbia River on either side of the commercial district tend to be the residences of St. Helens' prominent citizens, physicians, attorneys, businessmen and government officials. The other residences in the district tend to be more modest examples of the Bungalow and Craftsmen styles and the homes of less prominent citizens. It appears that some of these may have been built by the McCormick's for mill employees.
It appears that most of the commercial and residential buildings were designed and constructed by local designers and contractors. A designer of particular note locally is Jesse Doughty who came to St. Helens in 1925. "His sister-in-law, Gabriel le Delepine, a surgical nurse in Dr. L.G. Ross' hospital here, wrote him in 1925 that St. Helens, with a series of mills opening, was on the threshold of major growth and there were indications they would need the services of an architect. " Self-taught, he was only qualified as a "designer", but commercial buildings were his forte. He designed 9 buildings in the Downtown Historic District. An editorial at the time of his death in 1949 stated, "Mr. Doughty, in his capacity as the only practicing architect in this vicinity, was more closely identified with the growth of St. Helens in the past 25 years than, perhaps, any other man. Many of the buildings and civic improvements made in that period were the product of his labor".
The major contractor during St. Helens' secondary period of development is J.H. "Hollie" Cronkite. He came to St. Helens in 1907 and worked for Eldridge Crouse until 1911 when he went into business for himself. Cronkite constructed many residential as well as commercial buildings, often collaborating with Doughty after his arrival in 1925. Among the buildings in the District constructed by Cronkite are the Hewitt Building, Gray Building, Title Co. Building, Columbia Theater, Shinn House, Cronkite House and Dillard House. He was especially proud of his work on the McCormick's St. Helens Shipyards where he constructed the sheds, mills and docks. He also constructed many of the sawmills in the area.
St. Helens' secondary period of development came to a close with the Depression years of the early 1930's. Because major transportation systems passed it by, the railroad in 1884 and the highway in the 1920's, it has been isolated from the effects of modern urbanization. Very few buildings have been constructed in the Downtown Historic District since the Depression .(only nine in the past 40 years) so that the District architecturally retains the 1920's character of its boom era. St. Helens' Downtown Historic District, then, is an enduring and excellent example of the early settlement patterns of the northwest overlayed with the development of local indigenous industries before the financial collapse of the great Depression.