Biography of Joseph K. Gill

Joseph K. Gill, one of Portland’s well known business men, was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1841, and is the eldest of eleven children of Mark and Amelia Gill. In 1854 he accompanied his parents to America, locating in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he attended the city schools until he had reached the age of eighteen, when he entered Worcester Academy, continuing at this institution but spending most of his time at work to assist in the support of the family, until he had attained his majority. He then entered Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, a preparatory school, with the idea of fitting himself for a collegiate course. While pursuing his studies, however, his eyes failed him, and he was forced for a time to abandon his plan. At Wilbraham he boarded with the wife of Dr. W. H. Wilson, one of the earlier missionaries in Oregon. From her, and also from J. S. Smith and Joseph Holman, of Oregon, whom he met at her home, he learned much of our then young State, which fact added to his having been advised by his physician that a sea voyage might be beneficial to his eyes, led him in 1864, to come to Oregon by steamer. He located at Salem, where he continued his studies at the Willamette University, and also acted as assistant teacher, under Prof. Gatch, then President of that institution. At the end of a year his eyes had become so much improved that he returned to Wilbraham and resumed his studies at Wesleyan Academy. His eyes, however, soon after again failed him, and he was advised by his physician that he must abandon the idea of completing a classical education. Having already become far advanced in the English and scientific courses, he thereupon graduated in these branches in June, 1866, being in the same class with Prof. E. B. Andrews, who recently was elected President of Brown University.

After graduating, Mr. Gill returned to Oregon, where in August following, he was united in marriage to Miss Frances A. Wilson, daughter of the late Dr. W. H. Wilson. At this time he had no intention of remaining in the State, but was induced to take temporary charge of a book store at Salem, owned by Mrs. Wilson. This he did so successfully that he was finally persuaded to embark in business for himself, buying a lot and building a store. He did a prosperous business, but desiring a larger field, he, in 1870, sold out and came to Portland, and in partnership with George A. Steel, bought out the firm of Harris & Holman, and started a wholesale and retail book and stationery business. They remained together as Gill & Steel until 1878, when Mr. Steel retired and Mr. Gill assumed sole control. Since that time Mr. Gill had for one year another partner, and since 1879 his brother, John Gill, has had a partnership entered in the business, the firm being known as J. K. Gill & Co. From the start this house took a prominent place in the commercial affairs of the Northwest, which succeeding years have only made more conspicuous and now thoroughly recognized. From a trade at first principally retail, it has grown to a wholesale and jobbing trade not exceeded by any like establishment on the Pacific Coast north of San Francisco. Mr. Gill was among the first to recognize Portland’s advantages as a distributing point, and during his business career he has contributed his full share towards establishing the present position the city holds as a supply depot for a large extent of country. He was among the first to emancipate the city from its dependence upon San Francisco dealers. He established direct business connection with the largest eastern houses at a time when our merchants almost without exception were being supplied from San Francisco; and from that time to the present has been enabled to successfully compete with San Francisco dealers, making Portland in his line, a depot of supply equal to any point on the coast. Few men in his line of trade are better known or held in higher esteem than Mr. Gill, He has applied himself to his business with a persistency and thoroughness rarely exhibited, and few men in our busy city during the past twenty years have worked with greater industry or more conscientiously. He is methodical to a degree rarely seen in men at the head of an extensive business. He personally attends to every detail, exercising a supervision over every branch of his business, which would be impossible to one without great mental and physical endurance. The business which his industry and sagacity have built up, therefore, represent perhaps more clearly the individual work of one man than any in Portland.

Although he has almost exclusively devoted his time and attention to his business, he has not failed to take a helping part in public enterprises or such undertakings which seemed likely to advance the material interest of the city. He was one of the incorporators of the Columbia River Paper Company, organized in 1884, of which he has ever since been President. He was also one of the incorporators of the Merchants’ National Bank, in which he has since been a director, and is also a director in the Oregon Fire and Marine Insurance, and the Northwest Fire and Marine Insurance Companies.

Mr. Gill for many years has been a member of the Methodist Church, and ever since his residence in Portland, has been one of the most zealous church workers. He was one of the incorporators of Grace Methodist Church, and has since served as President of the Board of Trustees, and as Superintendent of the Sunday School.

The domestic life of Mr. Gill has been most congenial and happy, He has a family of six children-one son and five daughters. His son, Mark Wilson Gill, is a graduate of Wesleyan University, and is now associated with his father in business.

Mr. Gill is indeed a most worthy representative of Portland’s business community, and is recognized as one of our most valuable citizens. He has won an honorable name for energy, reliability and integrity, while his efforts have largely contributed to the prosperity of his city and State.


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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