Biography of J. B. Montgomery

This well known citizen, though not among those who came to Portland at the earliest day of the city’s history to lay here the foundations of municipal and commercial greatness, is a prominent and representative man of the reinforcement that came when Portland was just beginning her larger growth; and to this reinforcement much of the credit of the city’s remarkable progress is due.

James Boyce Montgomery was born at Montgomery’s Ferry, on the Susquehanna river, in the State of Pennsylvania, twenty-five miles north of Harrisburg, on the 6th of December, 1832. He went to school until he was sixteen years of age, when he was sent to Philadelphia to learn the typographical art. During several years he worked in the office of the well known Evening Bulletin, of that city, and became an expert printer. By the year 1853, he had shown that there was good stuff in him, when he was tendered an associate editorial position on the Sandusky (Ohio) Daily Register, by Gov. Henry D. Cooke. In this position he displayed so much vigor and ability that he was soon asked to take editorial charge of the Pittsburg Morning Post. This offer he accepted, and soon became one of the proprietors of the paper. The paper was successful under his charge, but Mr. Montgomery saw wider opportunities for activity in the railroad development of Pennsylvania, just then beginning; so he sold out his interest in the paper to Col. James P. Barr, his co-proprietor, who continued its publication with great success till his death many years later.

With two associates, Mr. Montgomery, in 1858, took a contract to build a bridge across the Susquehanna at Linden, Pa., for the Philadelphia & Erie railroad. The contract was completed successfully, some money was made by it, and this work opened the way to other undertakings. In 1859, Mr. Montgomery took a contract to build the Bedford & Hopewell railroad in Pennsylvania, and in 1861, in association with Capt. William Lowthes, he undertook to build the Nesquehoning Valley railroad in the same State; but the breaking out of the great rebellion and the difficulty of obtaining labor caused suspension of the work. Mr. Montgomery completed the road, however, in 1868-69. Meantime he had continued work at intervals as contractor for the Philadelphia & Erie railroad, and, in 1866, became one of its directors; in which position he remained till 1869. Among other works executed by him was the construction in 18G6 of a wire bridge across the Susquehanna river at Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

Mr. Montgomery was also one of the owners of the charter of the Baltimore & Potomac railroad, and in connection with Thomas A. Scott, George W. Cass, Joseph D. Potts and J. Donald Cameron, bore an active part in securing construction and completion of this most important highway between the city of Baltimore and the National Capital. He was also interested in the completion of 400 miles of the Kansas Pacific, extending into Denver. His career as a contractor and builder was very active throughout this whole period, and very successful. His natural energy brushed aside all obstacles and led him directly to the fulfillment of his objects.

In 1870 he came to the Pacific Coast, and in 1871 to Oregon. Upon his arrival he offered to build the first portion of the Pacific Division of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and the contract was awarded him against fifteen other bidders. He built over 100 miles of this road, and also erected the drawbridge over the Willamette River, at Harrisburg, in this State, for the Oregon & California Railroad.

In 1879, Mr. Montgomery went to Scotland for the purpose of organizing a corporation which subsequently built or acquired 163 miles of railroad in the Willamette Valley. Of this road Mr. Montgomery himself built 78 miles. Arriving in Scotland, he brought about the organization of the company, then contracted for rails at Stockton-on-the-Tees, and proceeded to London, where he chartered the ships St. Louis and Childers to bring them out. On his way across the Atlantic he had made the acquaintance on the steamer of a Captain Gilmore, who informed him that he was on his way to Cardiff to bring out the ship Edwin Reed, with a cargo of rails for a line in the Willamette Valley, to be constructed by a company organizing in Great Britain for the purpose; but Mr. Montgomery, by the celerity of his movements, not only was first in getting a company organized, but had his rails at Portland six weeks before Captain Gilmore arrived with the Edwin Reed.

Since coming to Oregon Mr. Montgomery has been full of work of many kinds. He has executed for the government of the United States large contracts on the channels of the Columbia and Snake Rivers, requiring the removal of vast masses of rock, particularly at John Day Rapids. He has built and operated large steam saw mills at Skamokawa, on the Columbia River, in the State of Washington, known as the Columbia River Lumber and Manufacturing Company’s Mills, and has constructed for himself, on the river front at Albina, just below Portland, large docks and warehouses.

Though always an active man of business, Mr. Montgomery has taken a constant . interest in politics. In his earlier years he acted with the Democratic party, but differing with it on the question of slavery, he joined the Republican party in 1860, and voted for Abraham Lincoln. Since then he has acted steadily with the Republican party. He was a delegate from his county, (Lycoming), in Pennsylvania, to the Republican Conventions in that State, in 1866, 1867 and 1868, and in the convention of 1866 was on the Committee on Resolutions with Thaddeus Stevens, Wayne McVeagh and others, which committee reported a resolution recommending the nomination of General Grant for the Presidency. This was the first State Convention to present the name of Grant to the country as a Presidential candidate. The same committee also formulated resolutions urging, substantially, the policy of reconstruction of the States lately in rebellion, that was subsequently adopted. It was the policy of that courageous statesman, Thaddeus Stevens, and was maintained persistently against the views of Andrew Johnson, who argued that the old slave States should be re-admitted with their ante-bellum constitutions unchanged, except to have recognition of the abolition of slavery.

Though Mr. Montgomery has always felt a deep interest in politics, he had never till the present year (1890), been a candidate for any office. By the Republican County Convention of Multnomah County, he was this year named as a candidate for the Legislature. As these sheets go to press the election is a month distant.

In the year 1861, he was married to Miss Rachel Anthony, daughter of Hon. Joseph B. Anthony, of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. This lady died in 1863, leaving one soli; he was again married in 1866 to Miss Mary Phelps, only daughter of Gov. John S. Phelps, of Missouri.

Mr. Montgomery is known as a man of great activity and energy; his mind is fertile in resources; he is a man of business and affairs, possesses great force of character, allows no obstacles to intimidate him, and has been uniformly successful in his undertakings. Few men throughout the Northwest are so well known for the intelligent energy that accomplishes whatever it proposes.


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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