Biography of Charles H. Dodd

In no summary of the forces and agencies which have made the Pacific Northwest within the last two decades take such rapid strides in material greatness, should be omitted the part bourne by the subject of this sketch. For nearly a quarter of a century he has been a conceded power for good in the commercial, intellectual and moral progress of a wide extent of country, and has left in many places and on many things the impress of his individual work. The following sketch of his life belongs very properly to the history of a city where he has long resided and held such a prominent place in public affairs.

Charles H. Dodd was born in New York City, February 26, 1838, and is of English parentage, both his father and mother having been born in England. At the age of nine he left New York and became an inmate of the home of a daughter of John Bissell, at Stamford, Connecticut. His education up to this period had been carefully conducted and his progress had been beyond that of most boys of that age. At Stamford he was enabled not only to enjoy exceptional educational advantages, but the influences which surrounded him were such as tended to develop a strong, self-reliant character, and give a proper direction to his mode of thought and action. A member of a family of culture and refinement, and in a community which represented the highest type of New England life, there was naturally inculcated within him a spirit of self-reliance; a feeling that the accident of birth conferred no patent to nobility; that the only things worthy of respect were work and worth, and an intense admiration for the principles underlaying our representative republican form of government. Amid influences thus wholesome he passed perhaps the most important period of a boy’s life, pursuing his studies with such avidity and under such favorable conditions that at the age of twelve he had gained a fair English and Latin education and three years later was far enough advanced to enter Yale college, which famous educational institution he than entered with the intention at the time of finishing the full course. Two years later, however, just before he had completed the Sophomore year, an incident occurred that turned the whole current of his life. At this time, 1855, the project of building a railroad across the Isthmus of Panama, to facilitate the increased travel caused by the discovery of gold in California, was under way. It was an undertaking beset with dangers and hardships, and up to the time mentioned hundreds of lives has been lost in the enterprise. Men competent and willing to run the many risks involved were hard to find. In looking for recruits, Col. Totten, engineer-in-chief of the road, came to New Haven and before the students in Yale college explained the undertaking and solicited the aid of any brave enough to join in the work. It was a project likely to arouse the interest of any young, energetic, healthy and adventuresome boy. Young Dodd with three others volunteered to join the engineering corps; was accepted, and without delay started for the field of operations. For nearly a year he was engaged in this hazardous and novel work, gaining an experience in many particulars both unique and interesting. Commencing at Aspinwall (now known as Colon), he proceeded with the engineering party the whole distance now traversed by the road to Panama, a portion of the way being along the Chagres River, where he contracted the well known “Chagres” fever, and for several weeks was so ill that his life was despaired of. He, however, recovered in time to proceed with his party, being one of the comparatively few who originally started out who remained until the work was completed.

At Panama he fell in with C. K. Garrison, a prominent figure in the early commercial history of California; at that time agent of the Nicaraugua Steamship Company, and who three years previously had established the first banking house at Panama. By Mr. Garrison he was sent to San Francisco on the steamer Golden Gate. Upon his arrival in San Francisco he secured employment with Farwell & Curtiss, hardware and commission merchants. His work for this firm after he had been with them some time brought him through a most valuable experience. He was selected to find the whereabouts of a vessel belonging to Peabody & Co., a well known shipping house, of Boston, which had been either lost or stolen, but which, it was presumed, was at some port in South America. In fulfilling the task assigned him, Mr. Dodd made perhaps a more extended journey through South America than up to that time had been made by anyone from the northern part of the Western Continent. Leaving San Francisco near the close of 1855, he proceeded by steamer to Panama, thence along the western coast to Callao; thence further south, crossing the Andes from Concepcion, he proceeded to Mendaza, Buenos Ayres, Montevideo and Rio Janeiro. From the latter point he proceeded by steamer to Panama, finally reaching San Francisco,, after having spent nearly a year on the journey and being perhaps the first American to cross the Andes from Concepcion. He succeeded in finding the vessel he went in search of at Montevideo, which he supplied with a new captain and crew and sent to Boston.

Upon his return to San Francisco, after so many months of adventure and excitement, it was not strange that Mr. Dodd should look for avenues of employment offering more to stimulate his fancies than the prosaic life of trade could offer. The mines seemed to offer such a field, and he, therefore, began the life of a miner, beginning his search for the “golden fleece” in Grass Valley, Nevada country, where he remained two years. From thence he worked with his companions at Gold Bar, on the South Yuba. He then followed in the train of the Washoe excitement and went to Virginia City, Nevada, and was among the early discoverers of the Esmeralda mines. Although he was moderately successful in mining he became convinced, after quite an extended experience, that wealth, however great, gained at the expense of all domestic ties or elevating social life would be acquired at too great a sacrifice. So in 1861 he abandoned mining and with the capital he had acquired he opened a hard-ware store in Esmeralda in connection with Wm. Moliniux, continuing in business for four years with a fair degree of success. In the meantime, near the close of 1864, he joined the Esmeralda Mounted Rifles; was elected lieutenant of the company, and accompanied his command to Arizona, where it was sent to quell the raid of the Piutes and Mohave 1ndians on San Carlos and upon inhabitants of Owen Lakes country. In this servioe he was engaged until August, 1865, when lie resigned his commission and resumed business at Esmeralda.

In May, 1866, Mr. Dodd was married to Lucy A. Sproat, a native of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Life now began to assume a new aspect. He began to feel the necessity of establishing a home where there would be a degree of permanency suoh as no strictly mining locality ever offers. With this idea in mind he sold out his business at Esmeralda and started for Salt Lake City, where he contemplated establishing a hardware store in connection with the Hawley Bros., of San Francisco. The Mormons held undisputed control of Salt Lake City at that time and President Brigham Young ruled affairs with all the absolutism of the Czar of Russia. Mr. Dodd was soon informed that he could not start in business at that point unless he would agree to pay tithes to the Mormon rulers, this he refused to do. He, therefore, began to look for a more inviting field for beginning operations, and came to Oregon. After making a tour of the State, he located at Salem where he established a hardware store in September, 1866. For two years he was rewarded with moderate success when he disposed of his stock and in October, 1868, came to Portland where he opened the hardware story of Hawley, Dodd & Co., Edward A. Hawley being his partner and M. C., Walter N. and Geo. A. Hawley, of San Francisco, furnishing a portion of the capital to start the business, and becoming their financial backers, but all the details of the business, its management and development, were entrusted to Mr. Dodd and partner, but Mr. Dodd, possessing a most thorough knowledge of the business, assumed practically its control and direction. In 1880, he bought out his partners’ interest and has since been sole proprietor, although the firm name of Chas. H. Dodd & Co., has been retained. From a concern with limited capital against strong competition the business has grown to large proportions, and now employs a capital of from $350,000 to 500,000 and for many years has maintained branch stores at Albany and Athena, Oregon; Spokane, Pullman, Colfax and Walla Walla, Washington, and Moscow and Lewiston, Idaho.

From his first connection with Portland Mr. Dodd became one of the most valuable factors in the development of Oregon. He saw that to make the State prosperous it was only necessary that its rich soil should be cultivated. The settlers who came to Oregon before the era of railroads, by the long distance across the plains, or the more expensive route, by water, in most cases arrived with little or no means, and were poorly equipped to buy the necessary implements to carry on agriculture. When Mr. Dodd came to the State the extensive and fertile agricultural lands of Oregon, Idaho and Washington, naturally tributary to Portland, were largely, through these drawbacks, cultivated only to a limited extent. To in a measure remedy this state of affairs, Mr. Dodd established supply depots in convenient localities, personally super-intending and directing the work. He then permitted any settler who might be in need of agricultural implements, and without means of paying for them, to take them and pay for them whenever they were able out of the crops to be raised: Agricultural machinery worth thousands of dollars was loaned and sold in this way as early as 1869. The Indian wars breaking out soon after, nearly” all the settlers whom he had thus supplied were driven from their homes, and Mr. Dodd realized but small returns from his venture. But he had the future good and prosperity of the State at heart; was not looking after immediate returns, and was not discouraged. As soon as peace was secured, new settlers came, and he repeated the experiment again-only increasing the volume of supplies, loaning them under the same conditions he had done before. Although he realized from this venture a fair profit, he has besides the great satisfaction of knowing that no single agency did more to prove to the country that the region his enterprise so largely assisted to bring under cultivation, was one of unsurpassed fertility. In this direction he performed a work of far reaching importance.

This, however, is but one of many instances wherein he rendered his adopted State great service. He has been at the front and among the recognized leaders in so many movements for the public good, that to even enumerate them would extend this sketch beyond its prescribed limits. The Slate Board of Immigration, one of the strongest agencies at work in behalf of Oregon, was largely created by his efforts. From the time the subject was first discussed he became its active champion, and by his efforts before the Board of Trade and among his associates, did much to set the forces in motion which culminated in its formation in 1881. From that time he has most ably served as the President of the Board, and so manifest has been the good accomplished under his direction, that last year, (1889), over $35,000 was raised by voluntary subscription in Portland to carry on the work, while for 1890, over $45,000 was secured for the same purpose. For many years he has been a member of the Board of Trade, and for nine years served as Vice President, largely by his personal efforts, creating from a weak and powerless organization without well defined aims or purposes, a strong and influential body, whose influence upon commercial affairs, is felt through-out the State. In all the work aided by and directly accomplished by the Board of Trade in behalf of Portland, he has been especially active, freely devoting his time and means to carry out every project which seems likely to advance the City’s good. In 1883 he was elected a School Director, and served for five consecutive years-a period- covering the most important years in the history of the Portland Public Schools-the High School having been completed and put in successful operation during the years named, He worked incessantly and intelligently in the direction of elevating to, and maintaining a high standard of excellence, both in teachers and curriculum, many of the most beneficient and liberal measures now incorporated in the present school system owing their origin to his sagacious counsel and vigorous encouragement.

Mr. Dodd is a man of strong religious convictions, and ever since his residence in Portland, has been a member of the Episcopal Church. He has been specially active in Sunday-school work, having been Superintendent of St. Stephen’s Sunday-school from 1868 to 1874, and of Trinity Sunday-school from 1875 to the present time, never having missed being at his post a single Sunday while in the City.

The foregoing is merely an outline of Mr. Dodd’s career, and gives but a limited view of the many directions in which his active energies have found an outlet. It furnishes but a feeble idea of the man, and no insight into his marked individuality or the peculiarities which distinguish him from other men. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that of the men prominently identified with the forces which have made the Pacific Northwest what it is to-day, he holds no mean place. Few men possess a greater amount of physical energy or have had a more varied experience with men or affairs. His mental operations are quick, while his ready power of expressing him-self forcibly and clearly, would be the first thing to impress one brought in contact with into. Quickly grasping any subject towards which his mind is turned, he is fertile and original in applying means to meet every emergency. Whatever he under-takes he goes at it with a determined energy, which seemingly has not stopped for a moment to think of defeat. There is perhaps no business in Portland of equal magnitude to his own, which represents so thoroughly the effort of one mind, or stands so alone as the creative work of .one man. He physically and mentally works harder than any one connected with his business, and has the constitution to permit of such application. Although he impresses the casual observer as the active, ever-on-the-move, always ready and apparently never tired business man, still he does an immense amount of general reading, and keeps fully abreast of the literary and scientific world, and has one of the best selected private libraries in the City. He has a delightful social side, and finds perhaps his greatest pleasure in associating with congenial friends. He has not let the daily grind of an exacting business career sour his nature or impair the natural kindness of his disposition. The hard features of commercial life are left behind when he emerges from business, and all that makes a man welcome wherever he goes, takes their place. His home life has been singularly a happy one. His wife, of refined and cultured mind, has been truly a helpmate and companion, sharing and co-operating in all of his plans, and has done her full share toward creating a home where he finds his chief happiness. They have had four children, three of whom, two sons and a daughter, are living. Their elder son, Walter H., is a graduate of Amherst College, Class of 1889, while their second son, Edward Arthur, is in the Junior class at the same College, and will graduate in 1891.

Such is a brief account of this successful merchant and public spirited citizen, whose talents were never hoarded in a napkin or put out at usury, but have in many ways enriched his fellows, and in full measure contributed to the prosperity of his State and section.


Biography, History,

Harvey Whitefield Scott. History of Portland, Oregon: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Prominent Citizens and Pioneers. Portland, Oregon. D. Mason & Company, 1890.

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