History Of The Dibble House
By Iris Riley

The fifth Dibble child, Maria Sylvinia (1856-1902), was married first in 1876, to William H. Lewis, a divorced photographer from the Salem area. He had three daughters. Together they had two sons, Mark Twain (1879-1944) and Rex Wayne (1883-1964) who, themselves, had no children. The marriage ended and Maria was married again in 1898 to widower Henry Kayler, of Molalla. 

Maria lost her life in a tragic accident four years later. Henry and Maria were part of a group that included her niece Ina, who had traveled to Cow Creek in southwest Oregon to look at investing in tree claims. They were walking along a trestle at night and thought they heard and saw a train coming. The group fled, but Maria fell into the creek and was washed downstream to her death. She was buried in the Molalla Memorial Cemetery.
The sixth Dibble child, Jesse Morton (1859-1863), died at the age of four after a fevered illness, and was buried in the Dibble Jackson Austin Larkin Pioneer cemetery. 

The seventh child was Amy Florinda (1861-1950). She married John Kilgore Wilson (1852-1931) in 1885 and moved to Walla Walla, Washington, to be near his family. There she gave birth to two daughters, Winnie in 1890, and Edna in 1893. Amy and John were divorced before 1910. John lived with Winnie and her pianist husband, Odessa Sterling, in the Seattle area until his death. Edna married Xavier Drew Clerin and moved to Portland. She was a career woman, working as a bookkeeper for the School of Medicine, now OHSU. Neither of these daughters had children. Amy moved to Southeast Portland and lived in the same house until her death in 1950. At times, her sister Eliza, brother Walter, and daughter Winnie resided with her. She was also instrumental in the Dibble house being included in the 1934 Historic American Building Survey project. She was cremated after her death and her ashes were scattered. 

The youngest Dibble child was Walter Perry. He never married, but there are photographs of him enjoying outings at Wilhoit Springs with a group of other young people. He stayed on with his mother in the house, and after her death in 1904 sold off the property to developers. He sold a portion to the Railroad for $10,000 and shared this bounty with his siblings. He eventually moved to Portland, where he stayed with his sister Amy. He later lived at the Odd Fellows Home, where he died ten days after his sister’s death in February of 1950. Both his and Amy’s ashes were picked up from the Portland Memorial Funeral home by family. Winnie and Ola were most likely the ones to find a final placement, which is unknown.

It is interesting to note that Horace Dibble was not living in his family home when the 1880 census was taken. Julia lived there with her two youngest children, and the rest of her sons were close by to work on the farm. Horace lived in his own dwelling nearby on the teasel farm owned by A J and Eliza Dibble Sawtell, with no disclosed occupation. In an 1891 Robbins Brothers store ledger, he was obviously not the head of a household with an account. The Dibble family account was in the name of Mrs J A Dibble at that time. He died in 1899. Horace and Julia have separate and differently styled headstones in the Pioneer Cemetery. 

The family lore that comes to us through Ina was that Grandpa Dibble was always “poorly” and that his sons had to do all the farm work. He spent much of his time at Wilhoit Springs, soaking in the baths and drinking the mineral water. Ina believed that he was cared for by his daughters. The one early surviving story about him was that he traded apples to the local natives, Molale and Kalapuya. His obituary simply stated that he was known for his thrift, while Julia was praised for her generous, helpful, and neighborly spirit. 

Ina Dibble recounted many memories of her grandmother Julia growing roses, making willow baskets, weaving rugs on her loom, and making soda biscuits and molasses for her grandchildren. She appears to have been a strong woman, a force to be reckoned with, outliving three of her children and her husband. Many of the townsfolk later referred to “Grandma Dibble”, but nothing was said of Grandpa. Was he a recluse? A drinker? Mentally ill? So little is actually known of Horace Dibble, but his family in Iowa continued to prosper. His father was a highly respected judge and lawmaker in Van Buren County. His brother Roswell served two terms in the Missouri legislature. His younger sister, Mary Hannah, married the Honorable George Wright, and was a pillar of the community. His nephew Charles, was coincidentally the builder of another Dibble house in Iowa that was famously immortalized in Grant Wood’s 1930 painting, American Gothic. Charles later moved his family to Portland, Oregon, where they were in contact with their Molalla cousins.

 The Dibble House. This publication of the Molalla Area Historical Society was written and edited by members of the MAHS over the years. This edition with expanded information was updated in 2019.

Records of Dibbles are found as early as 1533, in the West counties of England. It is thought that Robert Dibble came from Devonshire to America as a passenger on the first voyage of the ship Mary and John in the great Puritan migration in 1630. Three of Robert’s children followed five years later, one of whom was Thomas Dibble who first went to Weymouth, Massachusetts and later settled in Windsor, Connecticut. 

Thomas and his wife had eight children. Abraham, born in 1664, was the ancestor of Horace Dibble. The Dibbles lived in Connecticut for over 100 years. The family then began to fan out to various locations. Horace’s father, Thomas M. Dibble, was born in Connecticut in 1778, but settled in Madison County, New York. He served in the New York State legislature. In 1837 Thomas moved to Iowa with his wife, Ruth Gates (1782-1868) and four sons; Chauncy G (1803-1889), Thomas (1808-1869), Roswell Tousley (1813-1894), Horace Lasalle (1815-1899), and a daughter, Hannah Mary (1820-1887). Here he served in the Constitutional Congress of 1846, preparatory for Iowa Statehood. He also served as a judge in Van Buren County, Iowa.
In Van Buren County, Horace met and married Julia Ann Sturges on July 1st, 1845. Their three eldest children were born in Iowa; Eliza Emily (1846-1927), Fayette Lascells (1848-1868), and Roswell Tousely (1851-1918). Together with other members of the Sturges family, they made plans to cross the plains to Oregon by ox-drawn wagon. 

When they left Iowa in 1852, they could not have anticipated what a difficult journey lay ahead of them. Eliza was six, Fayette four, and Roswell just over a year old. Conditions were poor and water was scarce or contaminated. The trail was crowded with wagons of people fleeing from the cholera epidemic who were ill prepared for the journey. Eliza, at age six, was bitten on the leg by a rattlesnake and her leg never grew properly after that. Horace was ill during much of the trip, and never fully regained his health or strength. Once in Oregon, the Dibbles purchased land in the Needy area, northwest of Molalla. They were soon joined by Julia’s parents and siblings. Julia was especially close to her sister, Ellen. Henry and Ellen Sturges Klise made the journey in 1853, with two small children, and a third was born on the plains. 

Although their little log cabin at Needy was cozy, Horace searched for the perfect site to build the permanent family home. He had purchased 300 acres in the hills south of the four corners of the old Indian trail where Molalla now sits but continued to search for the perfect setting. 

One day, as he was riding out looking for straying cattle, he came upon a knoll just south of the four corners with apple trees growing on it. He found that the land was part of the William and Rachel Larkin Donation Land Claim. William had died in 1850, and part of his half of the claim was listed as belonging to their son, James. Since James was moving to the Oregon City area, Horace arranged to buy the land in 1854. He then arranged for an English carpenter and former seafarer named Phillips to build the house of their dreams. In exchange, the builder was given the 300 acres in the south hills located near what today is the Molalla Memorial Cemetery. William Phillips can be found in the Marquam Precinct in the 1870 census record. He was a single carpenter, born in England in 1818. The house took three years to build, and was completed in 1859. Their property in Needy was sold to a neighbor, John Wyland.

While they waited for their home, three more children joined the family: Thomas Leroy (1854-1945), Maria Sylvinia (1856-1902), and Jesse Morton (1859-1863). Two more children were born to them in their new home: Amy Florinda (1861-1950) and Walter Perry (1868-1950).

Next Week – The Dibble Children and Grandchildren


History Of The Dibble House 
By Iris Riley

The Dibble House. This publication of the Molalla Area Historical Society was written and edited by members of the MAHS over the years. This edition with expanded information was updated in 2019.

The Dibble house is included in the Historic American Buildings Survey of 1934 and was added to the National Registry of Historic Buildings in 1974. The house itself was built in the New England Saltbox style of the Colonial 17th century. Its chief distinguishing mark is the long sweeping back roof, often called a cat slide roof. The house is constructed of hand-hewn posts and beams. The original siding on the house was of sawn lapped boards. There are a total of 14 windows in the house, 12 of which are 6 over 6 paned double-hung sash windows with thin muntins and simple surrounds. Some of the panes are original with all of the attendant waves and bubbles of mid-19th century glass. The rooms and windows are larger than was typical of the period. The house is simple in design, with corner boards and a frieze-like board under the simple box cornice with a slight return at the gable ends as the only decorative element. 

Originally there was a full cellar under the house for food storage with a dirt floor, accessed from the west side of the house by an exterior cellar door. This is only accessible as a crawl space today, with no discernible entryway. Inside the walls are hand-planed cedar planks and wide-plank fir flooring. The kitchen floor has a second layer of plank flooring over the original that was added at a later date.
There are four rooms on the first floor, considered to be a living room, kitchen, and two bedrooms. A double back-to-back fireplace serves the living room and the west bedroom. The bricks are handmade and in poor condition. Because the fireplaces are very shallow, with no evidence of cooking hooks, it is assumed that the cooking was done on a stove connected to the small chimney in the kitchen. This chimney collapsed in the 1970s and was not replaced. There is some speculation that the chimney may not have been original to the house, though it was present in 1934, as documented in the HABS survey. The fireplaces have sustained mortar damage and are no longer functional.

An enclosed narrow, steep stairway leads from the living room to a large east-facing bedroom upstairs. A smaller bedroom is to the left, along the northeast corner of the house. There is an unfinished lower attic space on the west side of the house under the steep slope of the cat slide roof.

The separate washhouse was, at one time, attached to the kitchen by a half-walled, roofed woodshed. This breezeway was thought to be inappropriate and removed when the historical society renovated and plumbed the old washhouse for use as a restroom. The washhouse is still connected to the main house via a wheelchair access ramp. It is inaccurately named on the Oregon Historic Sites Database as a summer kitchen.
When Walter Dibble sold the house after the death of his mother, it was rented out by the Molalla Clackamas Land and Development Company, owned by J.J. Metzler. Dudley and Goldie Boyles rented it after their marriage in 1909 and bought it in 1913. This was during a boom time in Molalla, when the city was incorporating and the railroad had come to town. Many of the old land claim farms were being broken up and developed into residential neighborhoods. After the Boyles family left the area in 1914, they rented the house out until Goldie was able to return in the mid-1940s. She lived there until a stroke in 1963, when she moved to California to be closer to family. After her death in 1968 her heirs sold the house to preservationist Ruth McBride Powers. Mrs. Powers made some immediate renovations and encouraged the founding of the Molalla Area Historical Society to purchase and continue caring for the property. She had approached Arden Eby, who had experience with the restoration of the Pittock Mansion in Portland after the Columbus Day Storm of 1962, and Dorothy Del Ridings, a Molalla historian and mentor to many. These three became the nucleus of the Society.

Between 2014 and 2017, the south wall of the house was resided and new studs, sills, and beams were hand-planed and notched to replace damaged ones. Thanks to the efforts of Gregg Olson of Historic Building Repair, the methods and materials used in this reconstruction are true to the original building, and this unique example of Settlement Era architecture has been preserved. 

Every effort has been made on the part of the Molalla Area Historical Society to furnish and decorate the house as it would have been when the Dibble family lived there, a time spanning 45 years. A microscopic paint study revealed that the woodwork trim in the living room was originally painted in a faux wood grain style. This was a popular and sophisticated way to give the appearance of say, mahogany wood trim, when fir was actually used. That technique was duplicated by artist/muralist Victoria Knight with a stunning impact on the authentic appearance of the interior. 

Over the summer of 2018, the exterior walls were painted a pale-yellow color with green trim. This is likely the original color that the trim was painted in the 19th century. The existing chimney was also rebuilt using period correct bricks and mortar, in a vernacular style built to an appropriate height. The roof was replaced with cedar shakes. The house most likely was originally roofed with hand-split cedar shingles, but neither the technique nor the quality of old growth cedar is available now, and the look of modern cedar shakes somewhat resembles the look of early roofing. 

It is through the efforts of the Molalla Area Historical Society and generous donations from the community, the Oregon State Historical Preservation Office, The Kinsman Foundation, and Clackamas County, that this unassuming piece of Oregon’s early history continues to be preserved for future generations.

Membership in the society is open to all for reasonable dues. Donations are welcome, and the MAHS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The museum is open to visitors on Fridays and Saturdays from 1-4 between April and November, and by appointment. More information is available on our web site at http://dibblehouse.org

This publication of the Molalla Area Historical Society was written and edited by members of the MAHS over the years. This edition with expanded information was updated in 2019.