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Jefferson's Conser House will hold open house for Festival of Flowers
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Jefferson's Conser House will hold open house for Festival of Flowers

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JEFFERSON – The Conser House has had a prominent place in this small town ever since it was built by pioneer and businessman Jacob Conser, who became the first mayor of the city and an Oregon Territory legislator.

The 1854 home was the first structure in Jefferson that wasn’t a log cabin, and it also was a hotel and a stage stop for pioneers who would take Conser’s Ferry across the Santiam River, said Mark Manning, chairman of the city’s Landmarks Advisory Commission.

The building at 114 Main Street later housed Jefferson’s library for 80 years. But when the library moved to a new and spacious structure adjacent to City Hall last fall, it became vacant.

Members of the Jefferson Historical Society would love to see the city-owned building become a local museum.

“We’re made with history. This community is history. This Main Street is history. We don’t want to let it go. We just love it too much,” said Karen Wells, Jefferson Historical Society board chairwoman.

During Jefferson’s annual Festival of Flowers, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, the Conser House will transform into a living history display for an open house.

Leadership students from Jefferson Middle School will dress in period clothing, and temporary historical exhibits and antique furniture will be displayed, as well.

Residents also will be able to participate in an informal poll on the future of the Conser House, and whether it should be turned into a museum, office or business space, an event center or other options.

“With the (Festival of Flowers) car show, we’ll have a lot of people in Jefferson. It gives them the opportunity to see things here,” said Frank Ball.

He and his wife, Patti Ball, are volunteers with the historical society, and last week, they helped move antique furniture, on loan from Danner & Soli Event Rental and Design, into the Conser House.

Wells said the city and community seem receptive to a museum in the house. “But we have to show proof,” she added.

Regardless of what becomes of the Conser House, the structure needs renovations, and the historical society and the city of Jefferson have both applied for grants.

Conser also owned the first sawmill in the area, and that means that the house, while in need of upgrades, is still usable today. “The quality of construction that Conser did with this house is so ahead of its time,” Ball said.

The Jefferson Historical Society has had a small museum in one of the rooms at the Jefferson Community Center for about 15 years, Wells said.

A larger space, however, could showcase more exhibits and artifacts about the town.

Manning said that at about 11 a.m. on Main Street during the Festival of Flowers, historic preservation awards also will be given for the Witten House and the location of Conser’s ferry.

The Witten House is a pioneer home and former apothecary that stands next door to the Conser House.

The Conser’s Ferry location is currently the boat ramp in downtown Jefferson.

“We thought it was important to nominate a site, because all historic locations aren’t houses,” Manning said. He added that the town grew up around the ferry, and may not have survived without the river crossing.

Conser first ran the ferry for free to get people to come to the area, and he later began charging, said Patti Ball.

These will be the first local historic designations, and is in the process of creating landmark signs.

The city of Jefferson currently has three homes in town on the National Historic Registry, including the Conser House, Manning said.

The Sixth Annual Festival of Flowers on Jefferson’s Main Street includes a car show with an anticipated 250 entries, a raffle, vendors and live music.

The Jefferson Fire District also will hold a pancake breakfast from 7 a.m. to noon at the Jefferson Fire Hall.

Kyle Odegard can be reached at kyle.odegard@lee.net, 541-812-6077 or via Twitter @KyleOdegard.

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