Portland City

Multnomah County, Oregon

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Portland City Hall is located at 1221 S.W. 4th Avenue, Portland OR 97204; 503‑823‑4120.

Paul F. Murphy House

Beginnings [1]

Portland, largest city in Oregon, is on both banks of the Willamette River near its confluence with the Columbia. It is a city of varied and extensive industrial output, with more than a thousand manufacturing establishments, employing 25,000 workers at an annual wage of almost $50,000,000. Most of the factories are run by electricity, and the city is largely free of soot and smoke. The principal manufactured products are flour and cereals, lumber and mill-work, canned and preserved fruits and vegetables, woolen goods, meats, butter and cheese, foundry ware, and dozens of lesser products. One of the Nation's important fresh-water ports and a port of entry, Portland is terminus for fifty-seven steamship lines, and is the wholesale and retail distribution point for a wide agricultural and lumbering region.


From Council Crest or from the heights behind Washington Park, the city is a vista of green hillsides, with gardens and terraced courts, and dwellings framed in foliage. Beyond lies the business district, while in the middle distance gleams the Willamette, crossed by bridges, and busy with shipping. East of the river long residential avenues reach away to Mount Scott, Mount Tabor and Rocky Butte, and the snowy peaks of Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams, and Mount Hood rise on the northern and eastern horizons.

The older part of the city, west of the Willamette River, occupies a comparatively narrow strip of bench land along the water's edge, backed by hills that extend toward the Coast Range, cutting the metropolis off from the fertile Tualatin Valley. These hills are segmented by the numerous winding drives and streets of Westover, King's Heights, and Portland Heights, culminating in Council Crest at an altitude of nearly 1,100 feet above the business section. The business area is the oldest section of the city, and unsuited to the demands of modern business. The founders of the town provided no alleys, and trucks must load and unload at sidewalk gratings. The streets are short and narrow, many buildings occupy a block or half-black, and the effect is one of congestion.

Four-fifths of the city a spacious area of recent development lies east and north of the Willamette. Of the five divisions of the city, only the northwest is relatively undeveloped. However, industrial and manufacturing establishments are being built in this section between Vaughn Street and the Linnton district. Just as old Portland is confined by the Willamette and the neighboring heights, the north section St. Johns is restricted by the Willamette and the sloughs of the Columbia. Many residences, however, are being built in the eastern and southeastern sections of the city and along the western slopes of the hills back of the city. The principal residential districts lie east of the Willamette River, and eight bridges connect them with the business section.

The source of Portland's water supply is an isolated section on the northwest flank of Mount Hood, where a network of small streams flows into Bull Run Lake and Reservoir, and through huge pipe lines to the city. The water is so chemically pure that it need not be distilled for use in electric batteries and medical prescriptions, and is especially suited to the manufacture and dyeing of textiles. On many of the busiest corners are four-bracketed bronze drinking fountains presented to the city by the late Simon Benson, noted lumberman, because he believed that if plenty of good water were available his loggers would not consume so much alcoholic liquor while visiting the metropolis. Whatever the cause, business in Portland saloons fell off about thirty per cent immediately following installation of the fountains.

Although there are several ethnic groups represented in Portland only the Chinese, living principally in a section on SW. 2nd and SW. 4th Avenues, extending from SW. Washington to W. Burnside Streets, have kept their national customs. Scandinavians, Germans, Russians, Italians, Japanese, Jews and English-speaking people from Great Britain, the Dominions, and Ireland, are fairly well scattered over the various sections of the city. Portland negroes, comprising the balk of the negro population of the state, live mostly on the east bank of the Willamette River, where they have their churches and their own social and civic life.

Chinook Indians were the first to use the site of Portland as a port. They found it a good place to tie up their canoes on trading trips between the Columbia and Willamette rivers, and cleared about an acre of ground gathering wood for their campfires. Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition is known to have reached the site of Portland in 1806. The possibilities here were noted by Captain John H. Couch in 1840, when he came from New England to investigate the prospects for a salmon fishery. "To this point," he told a fellow traveler, "I can bring any ship that can get into the mouth of the Great Columbia River."

The first person who actually settled within the present corporate limits of Portland was Etienne Lucier, a French-Canadian, whose term of service had expired with the Hudson's Bay Company. In 1829 he built a small cabin on the east side of the river near the site of the present Doernbecher Furniture Company; he soon removed to French Prairie. In 1842 William Johnson, a British subject, settled in what is now known as South Portland, and built a cabin. In addition to small farming he manufactured and sold a liquid decoction known as "blue ruin" for which he was arrested and fined by the provisional court. He died in 1848 and his possessory rights passed with him.

A 640-acre tract on the west bank of the Willamette, part of the present business district, was claimed in 1844 by William Overton, a lanky Tennesseean who rowed ashore in an Indian canoe. The entire claim, except for the "cleared patch" around the landing, was covered with dense forest. Lacking the trifling sum of twenty-five cents required for filing his claim with the provisional government, he offered Amos L. Lovejoy, who had come to Oregon from Boston, a half interest in the claim if he would pay the filing fee. Lovejoy, considering the site ideal for a harbor town, paid the fee. They made a "tomahawk claim" by blazing trees, a method recognized on the frontier.

Placing little faith in Lovejoy's town-building plan, Overton, who had intended to establish a homestead, traded his half-interest to Francis W. Pettygrove, a merchant from Portland, Maine, for $100 in goods and provisions. Lovejoy convinced Pettygrove of the soundness of his plans. By 1845, fur streets and sixteen blocks had been cleared and platted, but the founders were unable to agree on a name for the new town. Lovejoy wanted "Boston"; Pettygrove, "Portland." They tossed a coin, Pettygrove won, and the cluster of log cabins among the stumps was named Portland. Pettygrove erected a log store at the southeast corner of Front and Washington Streets in 1845, on the site where Overton had built his claim shack the year before, and built a wagon road westward to the hills.

Two British officers, Captains Warre and Vavasour, visited Portland in the winter of 1845-46 and reported: "Portland had only then received a name and its inhabitants were felling the trees from which their first homes were to be constructed and their primitive furniture was to be made. With such tools only as saw, augar, pole-ax, broad-ax, and adze, those men labored with zeal that atoned for want of better implements."

James Terwilliger came with the emigrants of 1845, established a claim south of the Overton tract, and the following year built a blacksmith shop. In this same year Daniel H. Lownsdale established the first tannery in the far Northwest. He tanned on a large scale, and turned out excellent leather, which he exchanged for raw hides, furs, wheat, or cash. Captain John H. Couch returned to Portland in 1845 and selected a tract north of the Lovejoy-Petty grove claim.

In the winter of 1845-46, Lovejoy sold his share of the claim to Benjamin Stark, and in 1848 Pettygrove sold his interest to Daniel Lownsdale for $5,000 worth of hides and leather. The new proprietors added two partners, Stephen Coffin and W. W. Chapman, and formed the Townsite Promotion Company. Coffin established a canoe ferry in 1848. When traffic was heavy he used a raft of canoes. An excerpt from a diary of that year says, "Portland now has two white houses and one brick and three wood-colored frame houses and a few cabins."

John Waymire, a man of boundless energy and versatility, established Portland's first sawmill. His equipment consisted of an old whipsaw brought across the plains from Missouri, and two men to operate it. One stood on top of a log, raised on blocks, and pulled the saw upward; the other, in a pit beneath, pulled the saw downward and was showered with sawdust at each stroke. Great labor was required to cut a few pieces of lumber, but Waymire's "sawmill" encouraged building activity. He also erected the first hotel, a double log cabin of Paul Bunyanesque proportions, where he "furnished meals and a hospitable place to spread blankets for the night." His team of Missouri oxen hitched to a lumbering wagon served as the first local transportation system.

By 1850, the town had a population of 800. Churches and a school had been built; stores, boarding houses, and nearly 200 dwellings lined the streets. A steam sawmill was erected by W. P. Abrams and Cyrus A. Reed, and in December, 1850, the first copy of the Weekly Oregonian came from the Washington hand press owned and operated by Thomas Dryer. Portland replaced Oregon City as the largest city of the Northwest. The California gold rush was then at its height, and Portland carried on a heavy trade with that state. Lumber and flour were shipped to California, and local merchants outfitted men joining the frenzied quest for California gold.

First news of the gold discovery brought about an exodus of more than half the able-bodied men in Oregon merchants deserted their stores, workers left their shops; business was almost at a standstill. However, within a few months, there was a demand for all sorts of goods and food-stuffs at unbelievable prices. Those left at home often made more money than the gold seekers. The continued inflow of money in exchange for Oregon goods created a boom in Portland and the population rapidly increased.

The city was incorporated and the first election held in 1851. Hugh D. O'Bryant, a native of Georgia, was elected mayor. A few days later the city council met and levied a tax of one-quarter of one per cent for municipal purposes. The voters at a special election authorized a tax to purchase a fire engine. At that time the forest came down to the river's edge except that the trees were cut from Front Avenue between Jefferson and Burnside Streets. The stumps remained in the streets and were whitewashed so that pedestrians would not collide with them at night.

In 1851, also, a free school was opened with twenty pupils. That the citizens were not all peaceful and law-abiding is attested by the fact that the first ordinance passed created the office of city marshal and that within two months the town council had requested the committee on public buildings to furnish estimates on the cost of a log jail. A one-story building of hewn timber, 16 by 25 feet, was soon built. One of the first arrests after the city's incorporation was of one O.Travaillott for riding "at a furious rate through the Streets of the City of Portland to endanger life and property." The Portland-Tualatin Plains road was planked, making a comparatively rich agricultural district accessible to Portland. There were almost daily arrivals of sailing vessels from San Francisco, besides a semi-monthly steamer service, between Portland and California points. By the spring of 1852 there were fourteen river steamers docking at the wharves of the city.

The first brick building in Portland was erected in 1853 by W. S. Ladd, a young man from Vermont, who was twice elected mayor of Portland. The building, in a good state of preservation and now occupied by wholesale meat and produce merchants, still stands at 412 SW. Front Avenue.

Trade was stimulated by the Indian wars of the 1850s, for Portland outfitted most of the military forces. In February the town had one hundred stores and shops, and in October, 1858, the Oregonian declared with orotund gravity that the "Rubicon has been passed" and that Portland was entered on an era of expansion that could not be halted. The population, estimated in 1858 as 1,750, in 1860 had grown to 2,874.

The original town had been extended to the south, covering present-day Multnomah Stadium area, which was known in 1862 as "Goose Hollow." Most of the women in this suburban settlement raised geese while their husbands hunted for gold or farmed. The flocks of geese became mixed and the "women not only pulled goose feathers, but pulled hair." The matter got into court, and Police Judge J. F. McCoy, unable to sort out the geese, made a Solomonic decision. He sent a deputy out to Goose Hollow to round up all the flocks and divide the geese equally among the complainants. He then closed the matter by threatening to incarcerate the "first woman to start another ruckus over geese."

The discovery of gold in eastern Oregon and Idaho in the early 1860's resulted in heavy trading with inland camps and settlements. These were lively years in Portland. Tin-horn gamblers swarmed in Front Street shacks or operated their roulette and faro layouts in tents set up on vacant lots. The gold rush, however, soon ebbed, and during the Civil War years money was scarce. The city went into debt in 1866, floating a $20,000 bond issue at 12 per cent interest.

The salmon industry began to make headway in 1864. From boatloads of fish at the wharf big ones were sold to hotel keepers at "two bits each, and smaller ones to family men at ten cents each." About 1865 an Irishman named John Quinn started to cut up fish and sell it in more usable amounts, by the pound. Soon he inaugurated Portland's first food delivery service delivering fish from a basket. His wife, meantime, stayed behind the meat block, cutting and selling fish. A customer once asked Mrs. Quinn if she didn't get tired of her job. She replied, "Oh yes, it is not the most beautiful job, to be sure, but I am going to stay right here at this block until I make twenty thousand dollars, and then I'll quit and get myself the finest silk dress ever bought in this city." One day in 1868 Mrs. Quinn appeared in Vincent Cook's store and bought twenty yards of the finest goods he had. Cook, impressed with the Quinns' success, sold his store, went into the fish business and later into salmon canning, and made millions.

A fire in 1872 destroyed three important city blocks with a loss estimated at half a million dollars. Inadequate fire-fighting equipment was blamed, and agitation began for an improved fire department. A second and greater fire in 1873 began at First and Salmon Streets and devastated twenty-two city blocks. Fire-fighting equipment was brought from Vancouver, Oregon City, Salem and Albany, to aid the local companies. Police rounded up all the Chinese available to relieve white citizens at the hand pumps. It was reported that the Chinese were held to their tasks by tying their queues to the pump handles. Domestic pigeons circled above the flames until, exhausted, they fell.

In 1883 the final railroad line was completed between Portland and the eastern states. The city, playing host to Henry Villard and his party, celebrated the event with a parade and a general illumination of the town with tallow candles. Following completion of the railroad business increased, money was more plentiful, and manufacturing was stimulated. Spluttering gas and oil lamps were replaced by electric arc and incandescent lamps. Late in the 1880's franchises were granted for street-railway lines, the lines to be run by "horse, mule, cable, or electric." The death knell of the ferry boat was sounded in 1887, when the Morrison Street bridge was built across the Willamette.

In 1891, Portland annexed the towns of East Portland and Albina, the merger adding 20,000 to the city's population. In the first decade of the twentieth century the population increased from 90,426 to 207,314; home building was at its height; land prices soared. This tremendous growth was due in part to the Alaska gold rush, and in part to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition, held in Portland in 1905, which brought the city three million visitors and many new residents. The Federal government brought its huge exhibit from St. Louis, where the year before it had been a part of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. Foreign countries as well as the states of the Union were well represented.

  1. Workers of the Writers' Program, Works Progress Administration, State of Oregon, Oregon: End of the Trail, American Guide Series, 1940, Oregon State Board of Control, Binfords & Mort, Portland.

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