The house on the northeast corner of 15th Street and Franklin Avenue is significant for its association with fish packing and agriculture.
The work of Christian Schmidt and subsequent owner Albert Engbretson was recognized throughout the nation and world.
Constructed in 1912 for $12,000, the Craftsman-style house is somewhat eclectic. For instance, round, Tuscan columns (now removed) on the otherwise Craftsman front porch nod to the Colonial Revival. But it is the Craftsman elements on this house which give it extra appeal. Cut-glass in the upper sash dining and living room windows are stand-outs. So too is the cut-glass oval window adorning the front door.
The roof also had notable decorative features. Bird's mouth, a concave cut in the rafter ends and fascia boards, add interest to the broad overhanging eaves typical of Craftsman buildings. Over the years, those eaves became rotten and were removed. Besides the loss of bird's mouth detailing and roof proportions characteristic to the style, a subtle flair to the eaves was also lost.
The Craftsman style gains inspiration from Tudor and oriental structures. The roof flair can be linked to oriental temples. Oral tradition says those temples used flaring eaves to ward off evil spirits. A spirit might land on the roof, slip on the ceramic tile, ride across the flair and get shot up into the air away from the building. If such a spirit were to land on this house today, the roof form would not have the desired effect.
Christian Schmidt was one of seven children born to German parents in New York City. His father, Samuel, embarked on the fish trade in 1850 and soon began curing and smoking fish under the name S. Schmidt & Co. When his father died in 1869, Christian and his brothers, who were not yet teenagers, assisted their mother in the business.
In 1887, Christian's brother Samuel established the family firm in Portland. Sturgeon and salmon were frozen and shipped by rail to New York City where they were dispensed to both domestic and European markets. The canned and pickled salmon were well-received in Europe where they were awarded medals and diplomas at expositions in Berlin and London. The fish also proved to be an award winning entry at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
In 1898, Christian joined his brother in relocating S. Schmidt & Co. to Warrenton. They constructed a 225-foot by 400-foot cold storage plant equipped with a 35-ton ice machine manufactured by the Pennsylvania Iron Works. Their product, cured with pure English salt, continued to be popular.
Christian operated the local office until his retirement in the late 1920s. His other achievements included serving on the Port Commission, Astoria City Council, Astoria City Cemetery Commission and Oregon Fisheries and Game Commission. He and his wife Kate Louise (Rouslow) lived in the house until 1937 when they moved to Seaside.
The house was sold to Albert and Elsie Engbretson, proprietors of Engbretson Seed Co. Albert was an amazing individual. Born and educated in Astoria, he started as a cannery worker but later became superintendent of the John Jacob Astor Experiment Station. While there he "nearly revolutionized" local farming practices by demonstrating the applications of scientific principals to agriculture. Albert pioneered the bent grass industry. Clatsop County became the largest producer of bent grass in the nation, much of it grown at the Astoria airport.
Locally, he was the director of the Portland branch of the Federal Reserve bank of San Francisco and president of the Pacific State Seedsmens Association. He also was the "organizing genius" behind the Lower Columbia Cooperative Dairy Association. Albert's combined knowledge of dairying and agriculture propelled him to national recognition. He lectured at Harvard's graduate school and also was called to speak at national conferences in Washington, D.C.
Albert died in 1942, when he did not rally from a hernia operation. The Astorian-Budget mourned the loss of the 47-year-old man. "It can be said that death closed the ledger of his life with the balance far on the credit side. He gave much more than he received. ..." His funeral service at Trinity Lutheran Church illustrated his contribution to the local and national agricultural community. Albert had six active pallbearers and 67 honorary pallbearers from around the United States.
Elsie, an early public school teacher and president of both the Luther League and Columbia Hospital Auxiliary, continued to live in the house for 40 years. Since her death, the house has been converted to the Rose River Inn Bed and Breakfast.
John E. Goodenberger is a historic building consultant who lives in Astoria.