Founders of Portland Oregon

In the season of ’43 he joined the emigrants and made the journey once more across the plains and mountains, reaching Fort Vancouver in the autumn. Such was Amos Lawrence Lovejoy, a frank-faced, open-hearted man with blue eyes, fair complexion and dark, auburn hair, who stepped ashore with the Tennessean, and laid claim to the site of Portland. The two peered about in the deep woods more or less, but soon went on to Oregon City for their abode, while making ready to hew out a site among the big trees at Portland. By purchase from Overton, F. W. Pettygrove, who had come from the State of Maine, now became a partner of Lovejoy’s. The same year a cabin was built of logs near the foot of Washington street as it now runs.

Francis W. Pettygrove was a representative man of the mercantile class of half a century ago. He was born in Calais, Me., in 1812, received a common school education in his native place, and afterwards engaged in independent business ventures. At the age of thirty he accepted the offer of an eastern mercantile company to bring to Oregon a stock of goods. He shipped his articles and took passage with his wife and child on the bark Victoria, but at the Sandwich Islands was obliged to transfer to the bark Fama, Capt. Nye. Upon this vessel he came to the Columbia river and ascended to Fort Vancouver. To transport his goods to Oregon City, the point for which he was aiming, he was obliged to engage the services of a schooner of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Once at the Falls, after his arduous and somewhat troublesome passage hither, he met with good success in the sale of his merchandise. After disposing of this, he engaged in the fur trade, and erecting a warehouse at Oregon City was enabled to control to quite an extent the wheat trade of French Prairie. His labors in establishing Portland were crowned with success and he became a valued and trusted friend of General Lovejoy, and was universally known throughout the entire territory as a capable man of business and honorable in all the relations of life. Although fortune would have awaited him here, the opening of the forests and breaking of the soil so far induced malarial troubles that he was led to seek the sea coast for, the sake of his health. It was in 1851 that he sold out his remaining interests at Portland, and embarking on a schooner sailed away together with several other Portland people to the straits of Fuca, establishing the city of Port Townsend, where he remained until his death in 1887.

The work of these earliest founders may be easily imagined. Lovejoy spent the most of his time in the law office at the Falls wrestling with legal problems with the new arrivals in his profession, or urging on the course of politics, and therefore did not give largely of his time to manual labor. The story is told, however, that he “struck the first blow,” that is, we suppose that he was the first to lay hold of an axe and fell a fir tree-becoming thereby, the first to set in motion the wild music in our woods, which since that day has almost constantly sounded on the Portland site and still rings in the decimated forests on the environs. By the printed accounts it appears that it was a hired man who felled the trees for the cabin, and built the establishment. Undoubtedly, both Pettygrove and Lovejoy did not hesitate to take off their coats, and lift with the crowbar. From the long connection of the former with the “shingle store,” it seems only natural that he did some of the shake-laying on the roof of this first shanty, which the records refer to so respectfully as a “dwelling.” It seems to have been originally intended to put the house on a spot near the ravine where the Portland steam saw-mill first stood, at the foot of Jefferson street, but the site near the foot of Washington street was afterward selected. In 1845 the land was surveyed and some four streets were laid off, making a plat of sixteen blocks. The portion east of Front street to the river was not platted, or rather the whole street and shore were left as one broad street and called “Water.” It was perhaps expected that this should always be free for the use of the public, and that the row of blocks between Front street and the river should not be held by private parties. For a village, without docks or warehouses, it was, at any rate, a liberal plan. The streets were laid sixty feet wide and the lots stood fifty feet front by one hundred feet deep, with eight in a block. These dimensions, especially as to width of streets are now rather straitened for our compact and busy city, but in the primitive days seemed ample, particularly in consideration of the immense timber to be felled and cleared away.

In due time arose the necessity of naming the place. The christening was done in quite an informal and characteristic manner. Lovejoy and wife, Pettygrove and wife, and a Mr. Wilson being at dinner in their residence at Oregon City a little banter began to flow back and forth about the prospects of the city a dozen miles below. It was soon inquired by what appellation it should be known the world over. Lovejoy, being from Massachusetts, wished to name it Boston; Pettygrove, of Maine, favored Portland. It was jestingly agreed to decide the controversy by tossing a penny. Pettygrove happend to have a copper-a memento of old times “Down East” —gave the skillful flip which secured his pet name for the city of one log cabin. At the first throw he was successful, and to please his antagonist a trial by three throws was made, Pettygrove securing two.

It was comparatively an active time on the river that season. In the autumn arrived a large imigration from across the mountains, and as they passed by in boat loads they stopped to exchange greetings, and to make inquiries. Some of them, as James Field, and James Terwilliger, stopped off to stay, and to help build the city. In the fall also arrived the Toulon, under Capt. Crosby, and the crew of the vessel came ashore to help Terwilliger to erect his cabin.

In 1846 another of the noted men of early times appeared as owner of a part of the site of our city. This was John H. Couch. He had been to Oregon six years before as a ship-master. He was a Yankee, hailing from Newburyport, Mass., and one who had grown up in mercantile and nautical life, having early sailed to the West Indies. In 1839, he was commissioned Captain of the brig Maryland by John and Caleb Cushing, of Newburyport, to take a cargo of merchandise to the Columbia river. It was planned to sell the goods in Oregon, load up with salmon in the Columbia river and sail to the Sandwich Islands. There exchanging his cargo of fish for oil, he should return home, doubling his money at each turn. The plan was good and Couch made the trip out in safety. He brought his brig over the Columbia Bar, having no pilot nor chart, and in the summer of 1840 landed at Oregon City. He met with no success, however, in disposing of his goods, being unable to compete with the Hudson’s Bay Company. He had no better fortune in obtaining salmon and went empty to the Islands, where he sold his brig and secured passage home in a whaler. The Cushings were ready, however, to try the experiment again, and the bark Chenamus was built under the eye of Couch, modeled, it is said, after an Indian canoe and named for Chenamus, a Chinook chieftan. Couch on the second voyage came prepared to stay with his goods, to sell them out on credit and to establish a Yankee store. He met thereby with better success. In passing up and down the lower Willamette, he soon discovered the whereabouts of the Clackamas shoals near Oregon City and the Ross Island Bar just above Portland. He was obliged on one occasion to use batteaux to lighter up his goods to market. He looked, therefore, quite sharply for the place nearest the center of population fit to be the point of transfer of goods from the sea vessels to the river craft, or to land conveyance. He had been advised on his first voyage to drop down from Oregon City below the Ross Island Bar, in order to avoid being caught above the shoals when the water fell, and had, therefore, passed down and come to anchor off Portland. By this circumstance, and by further examination, he decided that Portland was the proper place and took up the claim adjoining that of Lovejoy and Pettygrove on the north. Although returning for a visit to Massachusetts he came again to his possession, bought back the portion claimed by another, and thereafter became eminent in building up the city.

The early settlers of Portland-to use an expression of Judge Tourgee’s-” squatted hard ” and struggled mightily against the environment of fir trees. Pettygrove built a store, Terwilliger started a blacksmith shop. John Waymire put up a double log cabin and held his oxen in readiness for hauling goods from any chance ship that might come to port. Whip-saws that had been brought across the plains were gotten out of the Missouri wagons, scoured up and made smooth with bacon grease, and with long, lank stroke the backwoodsmen began to worry through the sappy and pitchy fir logs to make boards of divers widths and thickness. To those accustomed to the hard wood, or even the white pine of the East our fir trees were rude and formidable, and many a raw hand emerged from the forest sore and distressed, and like Noah’s ark pitched inside and out with pitch. Bennett and some other young men set up a shingle camp. D. H. Lownsdale was enticed ashore by the eligibility of the site, took up a claim west of Pettygrove’s and started a tannery. William Johnson, whose Indian wife is always mentioned in connection with his name, built a cabin on what is now known as the Caruthers place, smuggling his domicile in an opening in the timber where a stream made the spot inimical to the fir trees. Daniel Lunt of the Chenamus, took up the land next south. James Stephens occupied the claim just across the river. The town got occasional accretions and made little growths, and life rolled on in its toils and perversities, as well as enjoyments and triumphs, toward the year 1849. Public events were few, and the stream of life and incident is so slender that it will be quite impossible to follow it in its details. With the coining of the year of gold there was a great change, and this account of the primitive times from 1845 to 1849 may now be filled out by a resume of the people, the houses and the ships that one would see or meet with in antique Portland. This work being quite largely for reference must be pardoned for adopting a somewhat cyclopediac form, and its pages will be regarded rather as a record of people and works than as a moving panorama of events.

As well worthy to head the list of early residents, after the founders, may be mentioned Mr. D. H. Lownsdale, who arrived in Oregon in 1845, and not long afterwards occupied the section west of the town site, establishing a tannery near the present place of the industrial exposition building. He sold this in 1848 to Messrs. Ebson and Balance. Following these in possession came Mr. A. M. King, who still owns the place, and is now one of Portland’s millionaires. He crossed the plains in 1845, from Missouri, and first lived in Benton county, but soon after came down to Portland. Well known in early times as one of her best citizens was Mr. James Field. A Connecticut boy, he started west at the age of twenty-two for Santa Fe, but upon reaching Missouri found himself debarred from further progress by the Mexican war, and at Independence joined Capt. J. R. Riggs’s company for Oregon, working his way by driving oxen. He lived in Portland until ’48, when he returned east, but came back in 1850, setting up the Franklin market, the first of importance in the city. Although having now for a number of years made his home in New York, he still makes occasional visits to our city. His reminiscences of early times in our midst are most clear and interesting. He was-and is still-a man of fine physical development, being tall and powerful, and as well provided with nerve as muscle. A most genial and kindly man, his presence at so early a day was a streak of sunshine.

Among the earliest also was James Terwilliger, who now-in the white winter of his age-is living contentedly on his original claim at the south side of the city. Physically he also was a very powerful man, tall and broad shouldered, and a blacksmith by trade. He was born in New York State in 1809. By the bent of his mind he was early borne westward, scouring the plains of Illinois during the era of buffaloes and wild turkeys. In 1845 he made the final plunge into the. wilderness, coming out at last somewhat worn, but nevertheless little worse for the wear, on the sunset side of the Cascade mountains. He found the most likely spot for residence by the banks of the Willamette where Lovejoy, held his claim. In the shades of the beautiful grove he secured a lot and put up his cabin -according to his own recollection the first in Portland. In this labor, he was assisted by some of the crew of the Toulon, of whom were George Geer-an adventurer whose escapades at the mouth of the Columbia in connection with “Blue Ruin,” would form an interesting chapter by itself,-and Fred Ramsey, who laid claim to the tract north of the city, since known as the Blackistone place. Terwilliger also supplied himself with a blacksmith shop, doing the welding and hammering of the hamlet for as much as five years, until removing to his farm in 1850.

In March, 1846, came Mr. Job McNemee, of Ohio, who had also crossed the continent the year previous. He brought with him a family of wife and four children, three sons and a daughter, the latter of whom all Portlanders now know as Mrs. E. J. Northrup, one of our most worthy and representative women. Upon the arrival of families began those more refined ways and sprung up those interests which take the edge off of the semi-barbarism of a simple shipping station or stopping point.

John Waymire, a Missourian, an immigrant of 1845, came to Lovejoy’s claim in 1846. He found occupation here in boating goods to Oregon City from the ships that anchored at Portland. In this employment he made use of the oxen which he had brought across the plains; and, in fact, monopolized the express business. He also kept open house at his cabin for travelers, although in those early times those who passed to and fro, either by canoe or by cayuse pony, carried their blankets with them, and were always welcome to eat and sleep at any hut to which they came, particularly if they happened upon that of one whom they had known on the plains. In addition to these labors, Mr. Waymire set up a saw-mill on Front street, the sole machinery being a whip-saw, operated by one man who stood on the log above and did the up stroke, and by another who stood below and did the down stroke and got the dust. This active pioneer, who has for many years been a prominent resident of Polk county, accomplished very much for the early commerce of Portland.

There was, moreover, a camp of shingle makers who preyed upon the beautiful cedar trees that grew among the fir and hemlocks, bachelor boys; among whom are to be reckoned Wm. H. Bennett, a nephew of G. W. Ebbert, the octogenarian of Washington county, who came out to the Rocky mountains with Joseph L. Meek in 1829; and Richard E. Wiley. Both were intelligent, active men.


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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