Concordian Melissa Darby might be considered a time traveler. As an anthropologist, archaeologist, historian and author, she has gone back in time and brought history to the present.
What better place for her to live than in the 1800’s home that was once inhabited by the Kennedy family (the namesake for McMenamins Kennedy School.) Agnes Kennedy White moved on to a nursing home in her eighties and the Darby family took possession of the home. It was 1979. Except for an updated kitchen, bathroom and a few repairs, not much has changed since then.
White shared newspaper clippings and photographs of the Kennedy School, which had opened in 1915 and eventually closed in 1975 due to decline and low attendance.
“You know, someone really ought to do something about that school, it’s lovely,” White told Darby. Before Kennedy School was abandoned in the 1990’s, White told Darby that it was her turn to save the building.
And so, she did. But not without a struggle.
“So I called up the school district and said, ‘Hey, I think I’m going to nominate it to the National Register of Historic Places, and it’ll help bring in developers.’ They were not interested, they would not return my calls. I asked the school board, ‘Hey, can we talk about this? Can we get this on the agenda?’ I would send letters, but I got nothing back! I sent flowers to the superintendent with a little note saying, ‘If you receive this, would you let me know?’ I got nothing! Finally, I had nominated the building, and it got some attention from the Oregonian and from the school board. Since [the school district] was going to be represented at a public meeting, they eventually had to do something.”
According to Darby, “a group of neighbors, alumni, the mayor’s office, community members and others got together to save Kennedy School from the wrecking ball.”
Her efforts paid off — the property was preserved and McMenamins took stewardship in 1997.
If not for the efforts of Darby and her cohorts, we would not have this neighborhood treasure today nor would we be able to appreciate its remarkable architecture, history, and community events. Darby truly helped to preserve Portland history. One of the guest rooms is even named after her.
There’s also a painting hung at Kennedy School by artist Myrna Yoder depicting Darby and other McMenamins pioneers.
Since the opening of McMenamins Kennedy School, Darby has worked on archaeology and history projects throughout Oregon and Washington. For 6 years, she investigated Sir Francis Drake and the Golden Hind’s 1579 landing near Depoe Bay and in 2019, she published a book about it. The book is called Thunder Go North and is available at Amazon and on Audible.
She is still looking into the past and bringing it to the present.
After living east, south, north and west, Marsha Sandman is home at last. And she wants to hear your story. Contact her at MarshaJSandman@gmail.com.