The Gresham Historical Society is a place where visitors and locals can learn about our city's history from the first settlers of 1851 to the present. Through rotating exhibits, tours, and other programs, we educate the public on Gresham's cultural history, including the people and events that made Gresham the city it is today. We offer a non-circulating library for personal and academic research relating to Gresham and the surrounding area. In addition, we collect and interpret information relating to Gresham's history in the form of documents, books, objects, and photographs.
Founded in 1976, the year of the United States Bicentennial, the Gresham Historical Society spent its first years in borrowed spaces all over Gresham. During the 40 years of its existence, the Society acquired the 150-year-old Bethel Baptist Church and the historic Linnemann Station, both of which burned down within a decade of each other. With the loss of these buildings, the Historical Society turned its full attention to the Gresham Carnegie Library, which has served as our permanent home since 1989.
The building that now serves as the Gresham History Museum was originally Gresham's first public library. It was paid for in part by the Andrew Carnegie Corporation and is one of a handful of Carnegie libraries in the Portland area designed by Folger Johnson. A native of Georgia, Johnson studied architecture at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris before coming to Portland in 1910. In 1912, he designed the Gresham Branch Public Library in the English Tudor Revival style, a significant departure from the neoclassical formula that the Carnegie Corporation favored. Several unique features distinguish this Carnegie Library from others, notably the herringbone brickwork and the leaded glass windows. The windows come in nine distinct medallion designs, based on the colophons, or stamps, of notable historic publishers. In later years, Carnegie Library architects followed very specific guidelines and could not exercise the freedom of expression that is apparent in Johnson's design for the Gresham Library.
When the library opened in 1913, residents hailed its construction as a significant step toward prosperity for Gresham. The locals, farmers and business owners alike, placed a heavy emphasis on education as imperative to the community's success, and the library became the beating heart of Downtown Gresham.
In 1989, the library's collection had outgrown the building, and Gresham got a new library on the corner of 3rd and Miller, a block away. In order to move the last of the books from the old library to the new, the citizens of Gresham formed a Book Brigade stretching between the two buildings and handed the books down the line.
The Gresham Historical Society took the old building over. Over the course of numerous renovations, we have restored the building to its original appearance, complete with period-appropriate light fixtures. It continues to serve the public as the Gresham History Museum.