Once upon a time, an encyclopedia was a printed book. When I was growing up, we had the multi-volume World Book Encyclopedia that we kept on the bookshelves in our dining room. I loved sitting on the floor, leafing through the volumes. I had a favorite volume – “P”. It was my favorite because it had both the U.S. presidents and the popes. (Seems I was a power hungry kid.) Unfortunately, we only had that one set, freezing knowledge to the early 1970s. I would never see Presidents Carter and Reagan or Pope John Paul II added to my favorite volume.
Although I still like the feel of paper as I turn pages, even I recognize the value of going online. I won’t lie, today, I use Wikipedia. It’s an easy way to become familiar with a new topic, but it’s a bit like learning the facts of life from graffiti on a bathroom wall. You get the gist of things, yet you can’t help but wonder how much is true.
As I sat on the dining room floor decades ago reading about presidents and popes, I didn’t imagine there were many people like me who wanted to hear about history. Yet twice now I’ve ridden my bike out to the Edgefield Hotel in Troutdale, Oregon, for “History Nights” hosted by The Oregon Encyclopedia and the theater of the hotel has been packed – to hear history.
The Oregon Encyclopedia is an online compendium of Oregon’s history and culture. Each entry is written by experts who have researched and verified their facts. Portland State University, the Oregon Council of Teachers of English and The Oregon Historical Society have worked together to create The Oregon Encyclopedia with an eye to helping teachers to develop curriculum, but also as a resource for adults.
(The most recent History Night was about the Confluence Project, which includes seven points on the Columbia River Basin where art installations and landscaping interpret the history and changing environment of the region.)
The Edgefield was built in 1911 as a “poor farm” run by the county. Poor farms were common in the United States before the Social Security system was implemented in 1935. They were public-run residences where elderly and disabled indigent people lived with the expectation that they provide labor, as health permitted, either in the fields or in the building. By the 1970s, the Edgefield had become more of a public-run nursing home, finally closing in 1982.
The Troutdale Historical Society saved the Edgefield from demolition, but it would take the McMenamin brothers to convert the Edgefield into a hotel with multiple restaurants, a movie theater, spa, brewery and vineyard.
I have mentioned McMenamin brothers before. They have saved countless old buildings from neglect and demolition, restoring them and opening restaurants, theaters and hotels. Part of the McMenamin brothers’ mission is to create a gathering spot for people of all ages, whether through food, music, art or history.
At the Edgefield, McMenamins Pubs has worked with The Oregon Encyclopedia, the Des Chutes Historical Museum, and the Northwest Examiner to put on History Nights, bringing volumes of the encyclopedia to life (admittedly, I find a good history lecture to be lively).
Because of my love for Portland, I think the “P” volume of the World Book Encyclopedia would still be my favorite had it not been lost years ago when borrowed by a neighbor for a scavenger hunt. I don’t think its absence alone pushed me into the modern age of online information, but probably made the transition faster. So as I’ve been exploring Oregon for the last 18 months, I go online to research, but now I head first to The Oregon Encyclopedia when I want to learn more about the region.