Reverend Jason Lee (1803–1845) was the first Methodist missionary in the Oregon Territory, establishing a mission in 1834 in the Willamette River Valley, about nine miles north of present-day Salem. The area was prone to flooding, however, and Lee relocated the mission to the northerly edge of what would become Salem. The mission established a nearby sawmill to produce lumber for the houses needed for arriving settlers. Lee and his wife, Lucy Thompson, together with three other families, occupied this two-story, wood-frame house with clapboard siding built in 1841. It served as the mission’s headquarters and was known as Mill Place. The rectangular building, measuring 18 by 50 feet, featured a full-length double porch on the entrance facade, with slender wood posts that also supported a sloped shed roof extending from the main gable roof. This Federal house form would often be repeated in early Oregon buildings, whether one or two stories.
Missionary fervor quickly subsided, however, as Kalapuya natives rejected Christianity. Lee embarked on a tour in the early 1840s to solicit support for the mission but died in 1845. His mission ultimately closed although newly arrived Methodist settlers set up a church within Salem that is still active today. In the 1880s, the Lee House was converted into a boarding house, which resulted in significant interior modifications and the construction of several additions. Its condition deteriorated over the years and despite a proposal for demolition in the 1960s, preservationists were successful in saving the building. The Marion County Historical Society acquired the house in 1963 and demolished the later additions and dilapidated porches. The organization relocated the house to a temporary Front Street location, before moving it again to its current location on the grounds of the Kay Woolen Mill, a few blocks away. The house was placed on a new foundation, restored, and the double porch carefully recreated. Today, the Lee House is part of the Mission Mill Museum and is one of several other relocated historic Salem houses on the property.