Our County Through Time: The John Sweek House

By Amy Hughes, WCM Student Volunteer

John Sweek HouseThe John Sweek House is a historic residence located in the lovely city of Tualatin, in southern Washington County, Oregon. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974.

In the 1850s, Samuel Galbreath started a small village and ferry service crossing the Tualatin River. However, this village of Galbreath was later changed to Bridgeport, after he built the first bridge across the Tualatin River.

In the 1880s, the Portland & Willamette Railway Company bought a right-of-way that ran through John Sweek’s land nearby. With the advantageous location of the railroad and profits to be had, Sweek platted a town around the depot and called it Tualatin. His town was eventually incorporated into Washington County in 1913.

Back to the John Sweek house itself: It was beautifully constructed in a Classical Revival architectural style. The three acre property holds the white five bedroom home, with five fireplaces, a kitchen and pantry, a wraparound porch and second floor balcony. The house hides behind the railroad tracks at 18815 SW Boones Ferry Road.

John Sweek House 2John Sweek and his wife Maria married in 1852, when he was about thirty and Maria about nineteen years old, and they had six children together. Maria wrote a diary about their trip over the Oregon Trail in 1853. After arriving, the couple built and lived in a log cabin (like many other settlers) for the first few years. In 1858, they began to construct a creek side home they called “Willowbrook,” which is now known as the Sweek House.

John Sweek was a busy working man, who sold land and logs for railroad ties and freighted goods to miners in Idaho. He had the glass windowpanes, and later the piano in their home, brought all the way around Cape Horn and up to Oregon by ship. The piano was a gift for their daughter’s sweet sixteen. While the house is technically named for John Sweek, he had been away in Idaho for six years. Maria was actually in charge of managing the construction of the house and barn, while taking care of the children and doing chores at the same time. In order to help pay for the construction, she hosted dances where musicians would perform and was known for always having guests around the place.

Sadly, John Sweek contracted a fever in the flood of 1890 and passed away. Maria died in 1916 and was buried with John at Riverview Cemetery overlooking the Willamette. Their daughter, Lillian Harding, inherited the house and lived there until her own death in 1953.

The Sweek home sat vacant until a woman named Althea Pratt bought it in 1955. She lovingly worked hard to restore it back to its original state when the Sweek’s lived there. She searched the property outbuildings for furniture (mostly in parts) and had them restored and repatriated to the home. She also found small artifacts, like framed family pictures, Christmas decorations and invitations. Still on display are Maria Sweek’s bed, the original dining room table and chandelier, some of the wallpaper, the ice box, large ceramic food crocks, and many other wonderful Sweek family items.

Althea Pratt married Jack Broome, an architect who helped to restore the property further. Together they preserved its history for many years. The Sweek House has now become a symbol of Tualatin history, a living museum, and a comfortable home filled with many wonderful memories and stories.

Want to learn more about Washington County History? Return to our History Page.