Sunnymead in Ashes

Sunnymead in Ashes

Richard “Dick” Engeman at his printing press

On the night of November 24, 2010, Sunnymead burned to the ground. My most memorable childhood home, it was also the historic farmhouse of Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair (1840-1926), Oregon’s first woman medical doctor. Longtime owner and resident Dick Mattson and one of his two dogs escaped; the house is gone. The Daily Astorian published a story on December 8, by Deeda Schroeder, “A Historic Chapter Rises from the Ashes.”

Dr. Owens-Adair

I have a long and strange connection with that noted Oregonian of the past, Dr. Owens-Adair, who is featured on page 290 of The Oregon Companion. As a child, I lived on what had been her house on her Clatsop County farm, Sunnymead. Some forty years after her death, I attended a ceremony at Ocean View Cemetery when a tombstone was finally placed on her grave. My mother, Jerre Engeman, on the reference desk at the Astoria public library, helped novelist Janet Stevenson research the doctor’s life. Janet wrote a historical novel based on episodes of the doctor’s struggles while she lived at Sunnymead; three decades after the writing, I shepherded The Slope into print in 2009. It was Janet Stevenson’s last publication.

We — my father and mother, Bud and Jerre Engeman, myself, and my younger sister Laural — lived in Bethenia’s house from 1956 until 1963. I was 9 years old when we moved there from Portland. We rented the house from Hi Collins, who grazed black Angus on the land. It was convenient for my dad, who worked at the U. S. Weather Bureau office at the airport, about a mile away.
We moved again when Hi sold my parents another part of the Sunnymead property, 120 acres of forest and pasture including an old house that stood on a promontory facing Bethenia’s house. My sister recalls that Bethenia had built this house for her son George. Hi Collins sold Bethenia’s house and some land to Dick Mattson in 1969; a few years later Dick bought some additional acreage later from my father.
Laural and Fitzgerald the cat, Sunnymead, about 1962

Here are some photos from our years at the house. The photo of me shows me with my printing press and trays of rubber type; the Warrenton Lighthouse was issued from this Sunnymead office! The article in the Daily Astorian includes an account of the Columbus Day storm of 1962 and some photos of the fire damage. Other reminiscences of this wonderful place may yet appear!

Jerre and Bud, Sunnymead, 1957
Laural and Dick’s Christmas tree, about 1962


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