Banks, HISTORY, News

Wilkes House demolished Friday morning

The Wilkes House, a roughly 150-year-old home believed to be among the oldest homes in Banks and Washington County is being demolished.

With a handful of Banks Historical Society members and supporters, occasional passing bystanders, and members of two law enforcement agencies standing on the side of Cedar Canyon Road, an excavator with a Five Star Builders logo, which has offices adjacent to the property, tore out vegetation, and then began tearing into the structure of the old home.

“How callously and quickly 150 years of Oregon Trail pioneer history, of Native American history and culture and beauty can be torn down with an excavator,” said Banks Historical Society volunteer Jennifer Newton, standing by the house with sounds of demolition punctuating her remarks. Newton has been spearheading a fundraising campaign to preserve the house and property.

“And how little thought has gone into that,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking to see it. We’ve tried to save this house, we’ve done everything we knew how to do to try to save this house,” she said.

An excavator demolishes the Wilkes House on Friday, July 5 2024. Photo: Chas Hundley

“There’s a meeting scheduled for next week with the city council to discuss what to do with the house, and the owners have decided to come today, on the Friday after the Fourth of July when city offices are closed so people aren’t around,” Newton said.

In a phone call with the Banks Post, a city of Banks employee said their offices were open today. City offices were closed on July 4 for the holiday.

A Tuesday, July 9 city council work session meeting agenda lists “Wilkes House Discussion” as the third item. The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. and will be held at council chambers and online via Zoom.

In an email from the city attributed to Banks Mayor Stephanie Jones, Jones said that the property owners chose to demolish the house.

In a bullet point-list, Jones distanced the city from the demolition.

“The house has no official historical designation,” Jones said, adding that the city doesn’t own the property or house, that the demolition did not require land use approval from the city, and that the city has no regulatory role in demolitions.

Public records obtained by the Banks Post show that permits for the demolition of the house and a shed on the property were obtained by Five Star Builders on July 3.
An email and phone call to Five Star Builders were not immediately returned.

“The property owners did not coordinate with the City in doing this work on their property,” Jones said.

Law enforcement talks with contractors at the Wilkes House July 5, 2024. Photo: Chas Hundley

“The beautiful, 150-year-old landmark home belonged to the Wilkes family, the Banks area’s first permanent Euro-American settlers who came on the Oregon Trail with the Barlows in 1845,” a press release issued by the group in late June read. “They made their land claim – on which most of the City of Banks now sits – in 1847. Historical records indicate the Wilkes family lived harmoniously alongside the Atfalati-Kalapuya people, who used the land along Dairy Creek for their summer encampments. Recently uncovered historical information, first-person accounts and Native American objects found in an archeological survey in the area indicate there was a rich, cultural exchange that took place on this property, and a more formal archeological exploration is warranted,” the group said.

Efforts to save the home, which have included months of background work by the Banks Historical Society yielded an offer to allow the society to move the building off the site.

Eventually, the site is slated to become a water treatment plant that will end up in city hands as part of a proposed 30-acre development that could include up to 160 homes by David Weekley Homes.

Officially dubbed Sunset View, it’s locally known as the Westside Development.

The Oregonian earlier reported that Newton had said the treatment plant should be built elsewhere in order to preserve the home and Banks’ largest continuous canopy of heritage trees. Newton also said that moving a historic building from its property makes it much more difficult to acquire grants and be placed on historic registries.

On July 3, an excavator placed near the property raised concerns that the property owners, Lone Oak Land & Investment LLC and Wolverine Financial LLC, were planning to demolish the home over the holiday weekend.

“I hope we can save this house, but we’re getting worried as an excavator rolled onto the property this afternoon,” said Newton in an email on July 4.

Numerous attempts by this newspaper to reach phone numbers and email addresses associated with two owners of the site, Lone Oak Land & Investment LLC and Wolverine Financial LLC, were unsuccessful over the Independence Day holiday and were not returned July 5.

“Historical Society members have tried to reach the owners on numerous occasions, and past conversations were to no avail,” Newton said in a July email to the Banks Post.

Before Friday’s demolition began, and during demolition, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police were on scene after someone called police over what Banks Historical Society volunteer Ayla Hofler said were her remarks that she may “hop in the excavator bucket if I needed to.”

Banks Historical Society volunteer Laurelen Jabbour showed up prior to the start of demolition with a binder stacked with statutes from the state and federal level that she said should halt the demolition, and walked through them with the gathered law enforcement officers.

Law enforcement on the scene said that their role was to keep the peace, and instructed onlookers to stay behind a line of red tape. After conferring several times with workers on the site, a Washington County Sheriff’s Office deputy said their demolition permit from the county appeared to be in order, and demolition began.

“I think it was sneaky,” Linda Borst said from the window of her vehicle. She pulled over and saw the demolition as it was happening, expressing concern for the water in adjacent Dairy Creek and her belief that it was money that drove the decision to demolish the building. “I think they tried to do it on the weekend so there’d be less coverage or fuss. I think it’s awful,” she said. “It makes me cry.”

“It was worth saving, it had value,” she added.

Chas Hundley is the editor of the Banks Post and sister news publications the Gales Creek Journal and the Salmonberry Magazine. He grew up in Gales Creek and has a cat.

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