Biography of H. McDonald

H. McDONALD – Mr. McDonald, who arrived in San Francisco in August, 1849, in the ship Hopewell of Warren, Rhode Island, and reached Portland the first time in August, 1850, on the brig Joaquina of San Francisco, was one of the earliest residents of Portland and of our state, and in the capacity of architect and stair-builder has done some of the most creditable work on our coast. One of his more recent successes, and something of a test of his skill, were the plans and specifications for the buildings for the Indian school at Chemawa, which were preferred to those of all other competitors. Substantial work in Idaho and on the Upper Columbia, at many points in the Willamette valley, on the sea-coast and on the Sound, testify to his long life and skillful activity in the Northwest.

He was born in Scituate, Rhode Island, in 1825, a descendant of McDonald of Revolutionary fame, and also of Lieutenant Phillips, who took part in the battle of Bunker Hill.

During his youth he studied architecture, and upon coming to California, in 1849, devoted his time to contracting and building, erecting Bugoine’s Bank building, completing government work under Lieutenant (now General) Sherman, and constructing the first theater and the first Protestant church in San Francisco. Arriving in Portland in August, 1850, he was at once sought to put up first-class buildings, – the first Academy building, and many others of a substantial character still standing in Portland; the first Congregational church, and the first water works. He also built the first steamboat launched at this point, the Hoosier, which was set afloat in September, 1850, and was completed by the following February. He constructed the first brickyard in Portland, and furnished the material for the brick building now standing on the corner of Stark and Front streets, and for the Holman building, and for many minor used, such as foundations and chimneys.

Upon a vacancy being made by the resignation of Mr. Hastings in the first city council of Portland, Mr. McDonald was chosen by that body to fill the place, but resigned shortly afterwards in order to return to the East to bring his wife and son William H. to his Oregon home. The second trip to this coast was performed on the new clipper ship Hurricane, of New York, sailing around the Horn. For a number of years life was continued at Portland, Forest Grove and Salem subsequently became his places of residence; and a few years were spent temporarily near Willamina in Yamhill county, in the foothills of the Coast Mountains. Forest Grove has been his home of late years, although he has personally made numerous temporary sojourns at various points according to the requirements of his business.

Among the buildings which now stand outside of Portland, as monuments of his skill, may be mentioned the Congregational church at Forest Grove, the Congregational church at Salem, and the first railroad stations on the line from Portland to Albany. He has also recently erected a very neat church in Hillsboro, the acoustic arrangements of which are without a parallel for excellence on this coast. The First National Bank building at La Grande, Oregon, was also built from his plans and under his superintendency. Although now for forty-five years having been in charge of building, he has never suffered an accident either to his men or work, and has never failed to accomplish an undertaking.

His wife, Betsey M., the daughter of Abial N. Sampson, of Providence, Rhode Island, to whom he was married in 1847, is a lady whose memory will always be cherished, as she has always surrounded herself with a circle of friends in whatever place she has been located. Eight children have blessed their home: William H., a banker of La Grande, whose biographical sketch will be found in this work; Charles H.; Ella F. Hinman, of Ellensburgh; Lulu A. Imbrie, deceased; Edwin S.; John C.; and Lela Berta and Lillie Anna, twins.


History of the Pacific Northwest Oregon and Washington. 2 v. Portland, Oregon: North Pacific History Company. 1889.

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