Walking map highlights Washougal history

Researcher to present map, history of ‘kit houses’ April 22

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Two Rivers Heritage Museum volunteer Madeline Mesplay Madeline Mesplay has done extensive research on homes and buildings in downtown Washougal built before the 1940s. (Contributed photo courtesy Rene Carroll)

Two Rivers Heritage Museum’s lead researcher, Madeline Mesplay, will introduce a walking map of historic downtown Washougal and talk about the history of east Clark County kit houses at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 22, at the Washougal Community Center, 1661 “C” St., Washougal.

The map contains information from Mesplay’s “extensive property research,” which fills five large binders, and “will take people past pre-1940s homes and buildings and feature short introductions of the people who lived and worked there,” according to a news release.

“We hope history lovers will enjoy using the map to take a stroll through Washougal’s history,” said museum volunteer Rene Carroll. “Madeline’s full body of research is a real treasure, like many treasures that can be found at the Two Rivers Heritage Museum. Our community is fortunate to have the museum and volunteers like Madeline who document and preserve our history for everyone to enjoy.”

The map was created by Mesplay, Carroll and museum volunteer Gretchen Hoyt, and designed by Lori Reed Creative, a Washougal-based marketing and graphic design agency.

Copies of the map will soon be available at the museum, Washougal City Hall, the Washougal Community Library and the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce.

“The map looks good,” Mesplay said. “Rene worked really well with (Reed Creative).”

Mesplay started working on the map in late 2022 at Carroll’s request.

“I was so impressed when I read through Madeline’s extensive research of early Washougal homes and their first owners,” Carroll said. “I knew this was something that other people would enjoy as well. The challenge was how to bring three-ring binders to life. A map of a specific area seemed to be the answer.

“Madeline and I worked together to identify the map’s one-mile loop that encompassed some homes that had interesting first owners. I did the photography, and we enlisted the help of museum volunteer Gretchen Hoyt to write the descriptions and fill in some information on downtown businesses.”

Mesplay said that she created the map to foster a connection between Washougal residents and the history of their hometown.

“In 1900, there were only about 100 people here, and the population grew over the years, and a lot of people are rooted here and some aren’t, but they seem to like it,” Mesplay said. “I think it’s just interesting to see the development of how people made this area into a community. They worked together to get stuff done. I think about all the effort that people put into building houses — your neighbors were helping, you hired people in town that had a team of horses. There was cohesion.”

Mesplay has also conducted extensive research on kit houses in Camas and Washougal. The houses, which residents ordered from manufacturer catalogs and assembled from pre-cut materials upon delivery, were especially popular in the United States in the early 1900s, according to Mesplay.

“They were kind of a response, I think, to a couple of things,” she said. “One was the amount of lumber that was available back east and here and all across the United States. And then you had a demand from people coming back from World War I who wanted to have their own place of their own — they didn’t want to sit around for a long time sharing a room in their family’s home or in a boarding house or something like that. (Kit houses) were very popular.”

Mesplay’s interest in kit houses dates back several decades.

“When my husband and I were going to college, we lived in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and we rented a house which had a pointed (roof) and pillars and columns,” she said. “It was kind of a Greek-looking house, but it was just a plain old house. We discovered it was a kit house many years later. It was built in 1908, I think. It was shipped from Sears, so that meant it came from Chicago on the rail, was offloaded, then built.”

Mesplay moved to Vancouver in 1989 and has served as a volunteer at Two Rivers Heritage Museum for five years. Now retired, she has focused on her interest in research and finds her work at the museum “very rewarding.”

“I (come across) members of the public who are looking for something — a house or a particular family or some historical fact or something like that, and I get to help them out. That’s what I like doing,” she said. “And (I like to) solve a mystery sometimes, be a sleuth.

“I grew up on a farm in Indiana. Even though all my relatives have died (or moved away), the farm is still there. Somebody else has it, but it’s still ‘my’ farm. It’s my ‘place.’ There’s a lot of people here that have a ‘place’ — they have ancestors that came on the wagon trains and things like that. Maybe by (highlighting those places), connections can be made.”