Few people in Corvallis know that the Caton House on the corner of 4th & Polk Streets is the oldest in Corvallis that’s still on its original land? It was built between 1857 – 1859: before Oregon was a state. Likely built by Levi Phillips, records from the time are vague, it was built in the Greek Revival style.
Jesse Caton left his home state of Missouri in the company of the famous Applegates to brave the Oregon Trail. He was among those who drove the first wagons down the Blue Mountains. On New Year’s Eve of 1848 he met and married Precious Starr. She had arrived via the Oregon Trail earlier that year. They lived in several areas of Western Oregon before buying a house & tract of land (Lots 1 & 2, Block 16) from Levi Phillips in Corvallis in 1859. Originally, as was the norm, the property was a farm. Located on Blocks 16 & 17 of Dixon’s second addition to Corvallis, Jesse lived in the house until his death in 1863. In 1865, Precious married a teacher and part-time farmer, Silas Shedd, whose brother was president of Chicago-based retail giant Marshall Field & Co. The family occupied the property until 1913 when Jesse’s daughter & son, Ida Forston & J. L. Caton, sold the property to Anna M. Irwin. The house changed hands several times until Sarah J. Brown sold it to Stella Brown on January 17, 1925. Stella Brown, a 25 year old Corvallis bootlegger, quit claim to the property on February 16, 1937 and left Corvallis. Over the years porches were added on the east & west sides, then enclosed to become part of the interior. On October 30, 1940 Paul & Marion Gathercoal bought the house and property (for the sum of $800) from the City of Corvallis. According to Marion the vacant house was not fit for habitation. There was no indoor plumbing, so they lived in a travel trailer in the yard while renovating the house. Paul plumbed the house, putting a bathroom on the first floor. He also restored the fireplace and changed the stairway to make room for the bathroom. They sold it to Paul’s brother Jim & Cleona Gathercoal on November 13, 1944. Jim was a local architect and added onto the house, connecting the house and the carriage house. The clear fir flooring is still intact! The house changed hands again in 1953 when it was purchased by Robert Irwin, founder of the Corvallis School of Ballet. He & his family lived in the house for about 50 years. Bob added a workshop on the northwest side, and had the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Nearly 30 years on, the house had fallen into terrible disrepair. Having sat vacant for about 6 years, Bob’s son & daughter-in-law, Tom & Jill sold the house to Brian & Kris Egan on April 20, 2007.
The Egans own Corvallis Custom Kitchens & Baths, a design/remodel firm. They worked on the house for a year repairing and restoring it to it’s original beauty, and converting the inside into their showroom & offices. “The Corvallis Historic Resources Commission was a pleasure to work with. They were happy that we planned to rescue the Caton House and we worked well together to get the plans just right.” Said Kris. “We also got a lot of help from Mary Gallagher and the Benton County Historical Society, and Larry Landis of the OSU Library.”
Interested in a tour of the historic Caton House? call Brian or Kris at 541-758-6141.
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