Biography of Hon. J. A. Strowbridge

HON. J.A. STROWBRIDGE. – Mr. Strowbridge, universally known as one of the leading business men and philanthropists of Portland, Oregon, was born in 1835 in Monteur county, Pennsylvania. With his parents he early made a home in Ohio, receiving the substantial home training of very careful christian parents, and gained thereby the habits of thrift, industry and enterprise which have made him uninterruptedly successful through life. He was also afforded excellent advantages at school, and prepared himself to enter the Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware Ohio, with a view to studying law. When but a lad of fourteen he was promised by an eccentric old gentleman, a Mr. Oldham, a school to teach, if he could obtain a certificate from the board of examiners. Encouraged by this incentive, he at once set to work to make the attempt, and appearing with some fifty or sixty other applicants before the board at Marion, Ohio, passed the examination with flying colors, and was complimented by the examiner, Mr. John J. Williams, who was enough impressed with his youthfulness to address him, “My boy.” Mr. Oldham was as good as his word; and young Strowbridge finished his term with success and pleasure, although many of his pupils were older and larger than himself.

He deemed it a considerable sacrifice to forgo his plan of study, and come to Oregon. The journey was undertaken in October, 1851, and was performed that autumn across the several states with the comparatively easy and expeditious conveyance of horse-teams, to St. Joseph, Missouri. There the winter was spent in taking care of the stock and giving attention to matters pertaining to the comfort of the family, while the young man secured a school by the employment of a Mr. Robinson, and gathering a considerable number of pupils, taught a very pleasant term. The rest of the journey was performed in the season of 1852. That was the year of the great immigration, when cholera raged among the trains and tents, and dotted the wayside with graves. Mr. Strowbridge’s family was invaded by the pestilence; and one of the children, a little boy, fell a victim to the scourge. By this event the father was very much dispirited; and, feeling anxious and apprehensive for the safety of his family, and determined to do all in his power to get them to Oregon alive, he took upon himself great burdens and cares, and moreover contracted mountain or typhoid fever. He took sick at The Dalles, and died soon after reaching Portland.

By this severe blow J.A. Strowbridge, still but a youth, was very greatly distressed, and thought that life henceforth would be insupportable, or even impossible, in the absence of this greatly beloved parent. He was himself sick, and now felt the responsibility of his mother’s family. In his great trouble, however, he found the people of Portland – then but a little hamlet in the deep woods – big-hearted and kind, and ready to make his life as cheerful as possible. Following close upon the bereavement of the family by the death of the father came the loss of the entire band of stock, worth many thousand dollars, which had been brought across the plains with the greatest care and without loss. Their destruction now was brought about by the fall, nearly the middle of December, 1852 of about two feet of snow, which lay on the ground many weeks, making grazing impossible, while feed was not to be had.

Thus, upon the opening of the season of 1853, Mr. Strowbridge found himself in a new country, practically without means, and with no resources except such as were in his own courageous heart, active brain and willing hands. Setting to work bravely, and taking any employment that offered, he soon had some means ahead, and forming a business connection, in a small way, with San Francisco, greatly improved his outlook. In 1853 he bought a few boxes of Oregon green apples, which were among the first, if not the very first, placed in the San Francisco market. Going into the business more extensively, he made a tour among the farmers, and encouraged them to set out apple orchards, offering as an inducement that he would take all they could raise at from fifteen to thirty cents a pound, – from five to twelve dollars a box. By this time he became one of the first to inaugurate the shipping of fresh fruit, a business which increased to such an extent by 1860 that the total shipments of apples from Oregon amounted to over one hundred thousand boxes.

The first results of his labors were, however, swept away by the failure of Adams & Co., bankers and expressmen at San Francisco; for, upon going to that city at the request of his commission merchants, he put into Adams & Co’s bank, for safe-keeping, his entire avails, and but a few days after learned, in common with many others, that the establishment had totally failed. He improved his remaining time at the city, however, by examining the produce market, both as to stock on hand, and that incoming as indicated by the shipping lists from New York. Returning to Oregon, he entered boldly, almost without money, into the produce and commission business in Portland and the surrounding country. By very careful calculations and exact methods, and the timely tender by a friend of a small sum of money, which he was soon able to return, he made rapid financial headway, and has never been obliged to seek aid outside of his own resources. Never since his first establishment has he worked for a salary, but has been controller and operator of large kinds of business, and one of those men that seek employe’s instead of employment.

Continuing his trade in produce, he transferred his interest in 1850 to the boot and shoe trade, forming a partnership with Mr. C.M. Wiberg. In 1870 the firm closed out; and Mr. Strowbridge made a specialty of leather and shoe-findings. In the great fire of August, 1873, he was burned out and lost heavily, but was among the first to rebuild, and to get a stock again on the market. He has followed this business wit great fidelity up to the present time, becoming known for his integrity and fair dealing. He has been successful, reaping the honest fruits of his application, sagacity and good investments. He has the satisfaction of liquidating all honest debts the moment they are due, of paying a hundred cents on the dollar, and of knowing that no one ever lost a farthing through him. This is a clean and handsome record, of which any man may be proud. He is one of our men of wealth who holds nothing but what legitimately belongs to him. He has been extensively engaged in real estate operations in the city, and has pursued the liberal policy of improving his property, and thus furnishing accommodations for business and stimulating the growth of the city.

In addition to this record in exact affairs, he has been closely identified with public measures to develop the city and state. Inclined to be conservative, believing rather in steady growth than in ephemeral excitement, and quiet and careful, he has nevertheless done more than could be told within these pages to make Portland a true emporium. In the interest of public good and philanthropy, he has a wide influence, being a friend of the public schools and of the churches, contributing to almost every religious organization in the city. He was one of the first members of the Portland Volunteer Fire Department, organized about 1853, and is now an exempt and honorary member. He has been a member of the Portland Board of Trade since its first organization. He was one of the incorporators of the Lone Fir Cemetery. He is a member of the Boys and Girls Aid Society, a director in the Pacific Fire Insurance Company, a member of the board of trustees of the First Congregational Church, and was one of the first members of the Portland Library, and has a perpetual membership therein.

Mr. Strowbridge has steadily refused all political offices, except that in June, 1888, he suffered his name to be used in nomination as representative from Multnomah county; and his popularity was attested by the largest majority on the whole legislative ticket as he receive 6, 052 votes out of 9,384 cast.

He was married July 4, 1864, to Miss Mary H. Bodman, of Oxford, Ohio, a lady of rare education, culture and social abilities. She is the eldest daughter of Doctor H.A. Bodman, who volunteered as surgeon in the war of the Rebellion, and was assigned to service on the fleet of Admiral Porter on the Mississippi river. They have a delightful home, with all the surroundings of comfort, refinement and wealth, and a family of five children, – Alfred B., Geo. H., Joseph A., Henry J. and Mary H.


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

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