Historic armaments on display in Oregon City Ermatinger House

Clackamas County

Presumed location of famed coin toss to determine Portland's name to host Civil War cannon, weapons of various eras

COURTESY PHOTO: MITCHELL RICE – Members of the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry gather at the Academy in Vancouver, Washington, to celebrate Veterans Day in 2019.

PORTLAND, Ore. (PORTLAND TRIBUNE) — Friends of the Ermatinger House and the living historians who represent the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry are putting on an event to display historic firearms in Oregon City.

A Civil War-era cannon will be stationed in front of the Ermatinger House, 619 Sixth St., and small-group tours of the house will be available from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 15, to explore the house and smaller weapons of the 19th century on display inside.

Ermatinger House’s presumed status as the location of the famed coin toss to determine the name of Portland is only one of its many interesting features. Its Greek-revival style is similar to many modest houses built throughout the United States during the 1840s, except it’s the only remaining house in Oregon City built by the fur-trading powerhouse Hudson’s Bay Company. Its sheet-metal roof, hidden behind a cornice, is also highly unusual.

COURTESY PHOTO: 1ST OREGON VOLUNTEER INFANTRY – Mitchell Rice’s display includes a stack of arms, flag, drum and Continental uniform typical of revolutionary soldiers under Gen. George Washington.

Friends of the Ermatinger House members have been raising money and putting on events at the house since the 1990s, before the house fell into disrepair and had to be closed for safety reasons.

On the National Register of Historic Places, the Ermatinger House got its 2014 restoration in large part due to the advocacy of City Commissioner Rocky Smith, who was a tour guide at the house after its move to Sixth Street. It reopened to the public in 2018.

Oregon City officials awarded Friends of the Ermatinger House last year with the Ruth McBride Powers Memorial Award to recognize their coordination of virtual events and exhibits during pandemic-related closures.

Since the house was able to reopen to the public, the Friends of the Ermatinger House has set a goal to try to put on an event at the house once a month. Oregon City Recreation Programmer Holly Swogger, the city’s official Ermatinger tour guide, thanked Mitchell Rice of the 1st Oregon Volunteer Infantry for taking the lead in organizing the event this weekend.

Swogger said that the friends group tries to put on events that will engage the audience to connect to the history of the Ermatinger House, as well as the development of Oregon City during the mid-1800s. “The American Military Armaments event has been one of their more successful events which draws a lot of interest from the community,” she said.

Featuring armaments beginning in the 18th century through the 21st century, the event offers citizens the opportunity to see, touch and hear about these historic weapons. Many of the same armaments seen in previous years will be on display in this fourth-annual American Military Armaments event.

Last year, due to the pandemic, the event was done entirely virtually. This year they plan to conduct the event both virtually and live.

COURTESY PHOTO: HOLLY SWOGGER – People dressed as Civil War soldiers sit at the Ermatinger House dining-room table during the living-history Heritage Holiday event in 2019.

Previous events have involved people dressed as Civil War soldiers during the Ermatinger House’s Heritage Holiday event focused on the Great Flood of 1861-1862, which took place right around the holidays. The event focused on what life at the Ermatinger House would have been like during that time.

“At one point the Ermatinger House ran as a boarding house and very likely housed Civil War soldiers during that time,” Swogger said.

Tours of the house are free on Jan. 15, but donations are gladly accepted. Email ermatinger@orcity.org or call 971-219-4881 with questions.

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