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Western's Hidden Gem

MONMOUTH -- Tucked away among towering evergreen trees in the northeastern corner of the Western Oregon University campus lies an inconspicuous late 19th-century farmhouse.The house is so unassuming that many students are surprised when they finally stumble upon it.However, it's more than just an old farmhouse sitting alone on campus.Longtime educator Thomas Gentle purchased the house and neighboring 160-acre farm in 1914.There, Thomas and his wife, Carrie, raised their five children while he taught at Oregon Normal School, as WOU was formerly known.The Gentle House has been a hub of activity since being donated to the Western Foundation in 1981 by Thomas' daughter, Catharine. Photo by Aaron Newton Historic Gentle House a unique addition to Polk County's only college campus. Hundreds of weddings, fundraisers, picnics and special events have been held at the historic house since it officially became part of WOU more than 30 years ago.In the last few years, though, festivities have died down to the occasional wedding or campus-sponsored event, leading to the house's relative obscurity among students.Junior Heather Thompson, Gentle House manager, is doing all she can to revive the once intrinsic excitement surrounding the property."A long time ago, we used to have quite a bit of staff, they had to schedule two weddings a day," Thompson said. "We have 10 to 12 weddings this year. We're trying to grow it back to that."Thompson joined the Gentle House staff as a freshman and now leads the three-person, all-student staff in charge of booking events, marketing, minor upkeep and day-to-day operations.In hopes of garnering more attention, the staff recently opened the house for public tours every Monday, which is likely to change once school kicks into gear and the staff's schedule changes.Formerly, the house was only available for self-guided tours when rented for special events. Photo by Aaron Newton Items from the Gentle family's time in the house are scattered throughout the original structure, including the kitchen addition. "I don't know why we've never done it (tours)," Thompson said. "We thought opening it up to the community was the best option."Aside from modern updates like power outlets, enhanced lighting and an added conference center, the house remains as it was when the Gentles lived there from 1914 to the 1950s.The kitchen, added shortly after the Gentles moved in, has original cookware used by the family.The children's toys still litter their room, Thomas' typewriter remains in his office, Catharine's dresses -- most of which she made -- hang in her closet and class rosters from his time at Oregon Normal School sit atop his desk.The Gentle House is a look into the past, when entertainment was being around family and nightly dinners at the table were commonplace. Photo by Aaron Newton Many of Catharine Gentle's handmade dresses are among the original items at the home. Since being on staff, Thompson has had countless guests comment on the family's possessions - or even realize they have a family connection to the Gentles.That's precisely why Thompson is so ardent about opening the house to the public and bringing awareness to its story."As a freshman, I practiced rugby on the field that used to be where the parking lot is. I knew the house was here but I never knew what it was," Thompson said. "I really like the study area. It's small but I like the way it looks out on the grounds. It also has a 1902 version of Dante's `Inferno.'" A Walk Back in Time What: Gentle House public tours. When: Mondays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., through Dec. 2 (schedule subject to change). Where: Gentle House, 855 N. Monmouth Ave., Monmouth. Cost: Free. For more information: For more information: 503-838-8673; http://www.wou.edu/gentlehouse.

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