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Volume 8, Issue 7


July 2010
Kieni House 1917

The house as it looked after the addition was built in 1917. George Kieni lived in the front section, and the Wuthrich family occupied the rear

History in the News
The West Hills Dairy

In February, we wrote about the Kieni ranch, near the intersection of NW 93rd and Cornell. We pick up the story just after the death of John Kieni in 1916.

After John Kieni died (of a heart attack while writing Christmas cards) in 1916, George Kieni built a two-story addition on the front of the house and moved into that, renting out the rear to Ernest and Frieda Wuthrich, and Ernest’s brother Harry. At first the Wuthrich family grew potatoes on their rented acreage. Around 1920, they established the West Hills Dairy.

Ernest had emigrated from Berne, Switzerland to Wisconsin, and came to Oregon in 1912; Harry and another brother, Carl, came the next year. They settled in the Garden Home area for a few years until Ernest and Harry moved to Cedar Mill. In 1915, Ernest married Frieda Katterman, who had grown up in the Katterman family home across Cornell, and the young couple lived with her father until they moved into the Kieni house.

Cows grazed in the field next to the large dairy barn

The dairy began with a small herd of cows and was gradually enlarged. The brothers built a large dairy barn and an adjacent milk house and ice plant. The ranch also included a blacksmith shop, Harry’s woodworking shop above the potato shed, and a cistern under the house. George Kieni used the collected rainwater to make vinegar.

Phyllis Thorne, the niece of Frieda and Ernest, still lives in the area and recalls her fascination with the dairy operation as a child. “I loved to watch the cows come in from the fields. There was a stall in the big barn for every cow, and they all knew their places. They would come in and get the oats in their trough, and a hired man would fork down some hay from the upper level. Then the hired hands would wash their bags and do the milking.”

west hills dairy capThe milk would then be taken into milk house, but Thorne says, “none of us children were permitted in there because it had to be kept clean. We never saw the bottling procedures either.”

After the milk was strained, and some cream was separated off, it was chilled and bottled. The raw milk and cream was loaded onto a truck that Ernest drove into West Portland along a standard delivery route. Thorne recalls, “They went up Cornell and delivered milk to the rich folks in the big houses at the top of the hill, and then continued onto Lovejoy and up Westover.”

West Hills Dairy truck
Ernest Wuthrich and one of his milk delivery trucks

Nobody in Cedar Mill got their milk from the dairy, because almost everyone here had their own cow. Thorne says, “We had a cow, and chickens, and we grew most of our own vegetables on a couple of acres. We weren’t farmers, it was just what everyone did.”

Thorne also recalls that Frieda Wuthrich was a skilled cook. She had studied cooking at a special high school in east Portland. There was an internal door between the two residences in the house, and Frieda delivered all his meals to George that way. Frieda also did all the bookkeeping for the dairy. She carefully watched all the dairy operations and made sure that accounts were paid.

The Wuthriches grew hay for the dairy herd on the land behind the house, all the way into what is now Forest Heights. “It was exciting to watch the haying crews and wagons working the fields,” remembers Thorne.



Caption from back of this photo written by George Kieni: barns, Milk house and Ice Plant that makes 1,200 lbs ice in 24 hours. There was a addition built to the milk house after the ice plant was installed
—George Kieni, Rt 2 Box 174, Portland, Ore

The Wuthrich family was enlarged with the addition of two daughters, Helen and Betty. Carl Wuthrich eventually located near his brothers in the area, and married a Swiss immigrant, Lydia Walter. Bachelor Harry continued to live with Ernest’s family while he worked as a handyman for the dairy. He also constructed and maintained a small prune dryer on the property, where he processed the fruit that was grown around the area.

George and John’s sister Mary Hirscher had stayed in Wisconsin and had two daughters and a son. In 1935, George’s niece Anna Hirscher, came to live with him. By some accounts she hated it, but she stayed with him until his death in 1941.

Apparently George Kieni let Ernest Wuthrich believe that he could run the dairy as long as he wanted to, according to Thorne. In his will, dated February 1941, he left $1500 to the Evangelical Reform church in Portland, $1000 to his grandniece Susanna Hirscher, and $5000 for the care of niece Rose Hirscher, who was confined to an insane asylum in Wisconsin. The remainder (amount unknown, but it included the house and land) was left to “beloved niece Anna Hirscher, who has lived with and cared for me during these past few years.”

He left his blacksmithing tools to Ernest Wuthrich, along with $500, “which I direct be paid to him by cancelling the last five months’ rent due under the terms of the lease existing between him and myself,” a five-year lease that ended on January 1, 1945.

Wuthrich house
Ernest & Frieda Wuthrich built a new house on Cornell after leaving the dairy

Also in the will, he left instructions for his burial. He told people, “I’ll have the biggest marker in the (Union) cemetery.” And it still is, a large marble marker in the pioneer cemetery on 153rd north of Cornell.

The Wuthriches finally closed down the dairy in late 1944. Ernest retired and they bought land across Cornell and built a home. Ernest died in 1978. Frieda remained very bitter about being “cast out” of the Kieni property. She died in 1979. Harry continued to live nearby and worked as a cabinet-maker, and also died in 1978.

Anna Hirscher sold the 80-acre property to Claude & Florence Cover in 1947, for $13,000. It passed to Doc and Reta Maddocks in 1952. At some point, the land was used for raising turkeys. In 1953, 17 lots were sold for the Harvest Hill subdivision, most of which is still standing on NW 93rd. In 1961, the house and remaining grounds were sold to Winfield and Barbara Arn, who built a swimming pool. In 1970, Gary and Sue Peterson bought the house, barn and 1 acre of land. Sue Peterson Conger sold it in 2005 to Geoffrey and Claudine Mellet-Wilson, who remodeled and added new siding.

Kieni House today
The Kieni house today

Every family who has lived there over the years has done a wonderful job of preserving the historical documents and artifacts that were passed along, and we’re indebted to all of them for letting us have this window into our community’s history.

Material for this story came from the Cedar Mill History book, and from a notebook filled with documents, notes and photos that was compiled by Gary Peterson and Sue Peterson Conger which was passed on to the current owner of the house, Claudia Mellet-Wilson, and from interviews with Gary Peterson and Phyllis Wilson.




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Publisher/Editor:Virginia Bruce
PO Box 91061
Portland, Oregon 97291