Other Settlers of Portland Oregon

Dr. D. S. Baker, who became the millionaire of Walla Walla, was one of the men of this day in our city.

In 1850 William S. Ladd stepped ashore at the little primitive wharf. He is a Vermonter by birth, although his early life was spent in New Hampshire. He developed his energies upon a farm, bringing into productiveness one of the most stumpy and rocky pieces of land in the Granite State. Engaging early in the work of school teaching, he amplified his academic acquisitions, and as employe at the railroad station in his place of residence gained business habits and breadth of outlook. He became somewhat familiar with the products and resources of the Pacific Coast, and upon the news of the discovery of gold in California, reasoned, that not the region of the mines, but that from which provisions came to the mines would ultimately get most wealth. Finding that the Willamette valley sustained this relation to California, he determined to come to our territory. He stopped at San Francisco on the way and conferred there with an old friend of his, C. E. Tilton, but not being able to persuade him to go into the business of selling at retail the goods he was receiving from New York, came on up to Portland, bringing a few articles of merchandise with him, and started a small store on the ground opposite the present site of the Esmond Hotel. Mr. H. W. Corbett also belongs to this era. Of this gentleman, as of the others foregoing, a full account is given in another portion of this volume. H. McDonald, an architect and builder of skill, from Rhode Island, who did some government work and put up an opera house at San Francisco, and A. R. Shipley, now of Oswego, were also “Forty-niners.” W. P. Abrams, a millwright, a man of great intelligence and public spirit, arrived with his family the succeeding year. A native of Grafton, New Hampshire, he always carried his New England thrift and conscientiousness, together with great kindliness and generosity, into his daily life. For a few years before coming to Oregon he had lived in Alabama. While in San. Francisco he was sought out and secured by Stephen Coffin to come to Portland and build the first steam saw mill. Upon arriving in our city he successfully accomplished this task, and for many years thereafter was engaged in the manufacture of lumber at Portland or The Dalles. In January of 1850 Mr. Cyrus A. Reed, Oregon’s landscape painter, arrived in the city, having made the voyage from San Francisco on the Brig Sequin, under command of Captain Norton. He, also, was a New Englander, a native of Grafton, New Hampshire, and had received there a substantial education. In 1849 he set sail for California, and engaging in his trade, as painter of signs, was very successful financially. With Mr. Abrams, however, he came to Portland, and has been a devoted lover of Oregon from the day of his arrival.

Much interesting and characteristic incident is related as to the building of the old steam sawmill. It was begun in December, 1849, and finished in the summer of 1850. The main portion being forty by eighty feet, and the timbers solid fir beams sixteen inches square, it was found impossible to obtain men enough in the city to ” raise ” it. Coffin set off for Oregon City with a flat boat for help, but even thus could not secure a sufficient force. The very painful and somewhat ridiculous predicament appeared of having a mill too big to be put together by all the available men in Oregon. At this juncture Mr. Reed, who had been employed from the first in all sorts of work about the building, offered to build a derrick, agreeing to forfeit one hundred dollars. of his wages if he failed. By means of derrick, blocks and tackle, he enabled the men present to lift every timber to its place, and the work went on swimmingly. In 1852, after teaching a term of school, he became a partner in the mill, which was operated under the firm name of Abrams, Reed & Co. Among the workmen on this structure was J. W. Trutch, afterwards Surveyor-General of British Columbia. In 1852, John Gates, Portland’s great inventor, came up from San Francisco and joined the company, acting as engineer. General Coffin was still a silent partner, dealing much in lumber, shipping it to San Francisco. On one occasion—to show the uncertainty of business-he is said to have consigned two ship loads to Winter & Latimer, of that city, who reported a low market and advised at length that they were compelled to sell at a sacrifice. They, moreover, presented a bill of eleven thousand dollars for wharfage, demanding immediate payment. By Mr. A. B. Bonnell, as agent, it was discovered that there were fifteen thousand dollars due Coffin; a judgment for which was obtained.

The mill was burned in 1853-after Reed had removed to Marion County-entailing a heavy loss upon the owners. It was situated near the foot of Jefferson street, at the mouth of a deep gulch which has long since been filled up.

Mr. J. A. Strowbridge arrived in Portland in 1852. He was then but a youth, and the early days of his life in our city were much distressed by the death of his father, who had contracted mountain fever in crossing the plains. Being, however, of a courageous spirit, the young man soon addressed himself to business, engaging in the purchase and shipping of fruit to San Francisco. He was one of the first, if not the very first, to consign Oregon apples to dealers in California, and was of much service to the State in going among the farmers and encouraging them to plant orchards, under the promise that he would take all their fruit at remunerative figures. He after-wards engaged in the boot and shoe business, and later in the leather trade, with great success, and is now one of our most wealthy and popular citizens. His brothers were also engaged in business with him at an early day.

Mr. George W. Snell, the pioneer druggist of Portland, a native of Augusta, Maine, arrived at Portland early in the spring of 1851, having spent some ten months previously in California. With him was Dr. J. C. Hooper, also of Maine, and the two formed a partnership, bringing to Portland a stock of drugs. Dr. Hooper died in 1851, and Mr. Snell was soon succeeded by Mr. George L. Story, and the latter in turn by Smith & Davis. In the course of time this firm was consolidated with Hodge, Calef & Co., and under that designation did business for many years. Latterly, however, it is operated under .the firm name of Snell, Heitshu & Woodard. This house, with which Mr. Snell has been so long connected, and indeed at the head, is known throughout the Northwest as one of the great wholesale establishments of our city.

Mr. Nelson Northrup, long known as a merchant in old Oregon, was born in Auburn, N. Y., and coming to Oregon engaged in business at the Cascades, but soon brought his stock of goods to Portland, where he went into partnership with Montreville Simonds, from Massachusetts. In 1856 he went to Coos Bay, but subsequently returned to Portland, where he died.

Edward James Northrup, the son of the * foregoing, was born in Albany, N. Y., in 1834. He came to Portland in 1852, and for a few years served with his father as clerk, but in 1856 engaged in business on his own account, opening a hardware store under the name of Northrup & Blossom, which was the beginning of the present extensive establishment of Thompson & DeHart. Mr. Northrup died at Portland in 1883.

Judge P. A. Marquam, whose memory will be perpetuated in the name of the hill at the south of the town, as well as by his public works, arrived in Portland, August 13th, 1851. A man of keen observation and excellent memory it is most delightful to listen to his account of his voyage hither, and of his impressions upon his arrival. Upon crossing the Columbia Bar, he was much attracted by the sight of the verdure of the hills, and of the general appearance of natural exuberance of the soil. Portland, as a city, took the new comer somewhat aback, being yet in the deep woods. The streets were mire holes during the rainy weather, and settlers from below town hauling wood used frequently to be mired on their way through. A – striking habit of the place was also the manner in which the country people, having come to town in their wagons and camped over night, used to get up early in the morning to pound on the doors of the stores to wake the still slumbering clerks. The Canton House on the corner of Washington and First streets, built by Stephen Coffin, was the principal hotel. It was a three-story wooden building, and inay now be seen in its present position at the foot of Jefferson street. The Columbia Hotel had a famous proprietor in the person of Col. Gordon, properly Gen. Hinton, of Ohio.

J. C. Carson, a man of wealth and influence in Portland for nearly forty years, was born in Center County, Pennsylvania, in 1825. In 1832 he went to Ohio and there spent his early life, gaining an education and studying medicine. In 1850 he came to San Francisco with the intention of aiding his former instructor in medicine in the establishment of a hospital in that city. From considerations of health, however, he decided to come to Oregon, and arrived here in the autumn of ’51. He operated as contractor and builder until 1857, when he erected at the foot of Jefferson street a sash and door factory, the first in the city. This business, long since removed to a site at the north end of the city near Weidler’s saw mill, has now grown to immense proportions. Mr. Carson has been active in our city in educational, religious and political circles. He is one of our most prominent men.

George L. Story, a pioneer in the drug business of our city, and at present an efficient member of the Fire Commission, was born in Manchester, Mass., in 1833, and received his education at a private school in Salem. In 1847 he entered a wholesale drug store, and thoroughly mastered the subject of pharmacy. In 1850 he came out to California, and in ’51 came on up the coast to Oregon. With a partner, Devaux Babcock, he bought out the drug store of Hooper, Snell & Co. and carried on the drug business here. He afterwards bought out Babcock and formed a partnership with Story, Redington & Co., of San Francisco. He closed out his interest here, however, to Smith, Davis & Co., and entered into a large wholesale business in San Francisco, but returned to Portland in 1862, and has remained here to the present time. In 1872 he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Common Council, and was thereafter elected to the same position and served three years. He has also served in the State Legislature from Multnomah, County. At present he conducts a large fire insurance business, and is a man held in high esteem by all our people. Prom no one better than from him may we gain an understanding of the old times in Portland, when the old pioneers were young men together, ambitious and eager to succeed, but all equals, and never so much engrossed in their own concerns as to allow one overtaken by bad luck to go by the board.

W. S. Odgen came on the bark Madonna in 1849. Col. Backenstos was also a familiar figure.

At the end of this chapter will be found a list of the names of those living in Portland prior to 1852, which it has been attempted to make complete.

Public Events and Structures of the Period

It is recorded that in 1849 the growing population felt the necessity of some building sufficient for public uses, and that in consequence a movement was set on foot for a schoolhouse, which might also serve for religious and other public meetings-the cooper shop now being too small, or too much cumbered with its own proper belongings, or the owner grown tired of having his tubs and buckets turned upside down for seats. Two thousand two hundred dollars were subscribed and out of this the public building was erected, and served at stated times, in addition to the uses indicated above. as a court room. It’ was near the Ainsworth Block.

Portland had as yet no newspaper. Its rival, Milwaukie, was setting up the Western Star, and at Oregon City the Spectator was growing almost venerable with the weight of years. Plainly such a condition could not be endured. Col. Chapman, with more or less definite purpose to relieve the situation, went down to San Francisco, taking along in the bark on which he sailed a stick of fir timber one hundred and thirty feet long, cut from the woods on the elevation now occupied by W. S. Ladd’s residence. He intended it as a present to the people of the golden city to serve as a flag staff. Finding there one Thomas J. Dryer, a journalist, with the plant of a newspaper, he engaged his materials and services, agreeing with him that he should come to Portland and publish a journal to be called The Oregonian. To this work Dryer was also urged by H. W. Corbett, at that time in San Francisco. The office was shipped in October, 1850, on the bark Keoka. By reason of hard winds and storms the vessel did not reach the Columbia as early as expected. The editor elect was, moreover, stranded financially at Astoria, and had to be relieved by a moderate advance from the pocket of Col. Chapman. On this account the new paper was preceded some weeks by the Western Star. It was not until the 4th of December that the first issue appeared. On the night of its publication all hands were busy and the town was illuminated by an immense bonfire in the streets. Various orgies were solemnized in the office, one among them being the initiation of the devil, who was blindfolded and made to perform certain circuits and at stated revolutions to abjure his former occupation by affirming that he would split no more rails. Col. Chapman provided a man to take a bundle of the new issue and start early next morning on horse back, on the west side of the river, and distribute the paper as far up as Corvallis and return by the east side.

In its first issue the Oregonian contained some terse and forcible English, and complimented the people upon the rapid growth of their city, and the neat appearance of their residences, remarking that Portland was a town which had sprung up in an incredibly short time. “The buildings are mostly new, of good style and taste, with their white coats of paint, contrasted with the brown and the dingy appearance of towns generally on the Pacific Coast; giving it a most homelike appearance.”


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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  1. In the History of Portland Oregon under the subtitle “Other Settlers of Portland Oregon,” the script says William Penn Abrams was a native of Grafton, New Hampshire. While Cyrus Reed, with whom W P Abrams was associated in construction and operation of the first steam sawmill in Portland, Abrams, Reed, and Co., at the foot of Jefferson, might have been from Grafton [County], New Hampshire, my great great grandfather William P Abrams was born and raised Sanbornton, Merrimack County, New Hampshire, from birth until he left the family fold at age 18 and ventured on his own with his cousin, Cyrus Colby, and $180 and set out to Gainesville, Alabama. W P Abrams’ father (John Abrams III 1793-1853) and grandfather (John Abrams IV-1766-1841) were both millwrights of a saw, shingle, and grist mill at Sanbornton, NH. John II Abrams’ father, John Abrams II (1737- aft 1788) was a trader and ship’s owner in Amesbury, Masaachusetts; his father, John Abrahams, was a seaman.
    In W P Abrams first journal, which he started in October 1839 as he and Cyrus Colby set out into the world by themselves, he tells of traveling by carriage, steamboat, and rail to Schenectady, NY, where they took the Erie Canal to Buffalo, NY, steamboat “Fairport” to the village of Chicago. In his journal dated 4th of November 1839, Cyrus Colby says, “Altho we made a short stop, we saw sufficient business to prove to us that Chicago at some future day, not far distant is destined to be a flourishing city.” Here the two boys (Abrams was only 19, his cousin Cyrus not yet 18), with two others engaged a private carriage to take them to Peru, “a fine little town” at the head of the Illinois River. The way was over “unbroken prairies, some of which seemed like oceans, with the exception of now and then a shrub.”
    The roads were deep with mud at this season of the year, weather cold with heavy showers and houses scarce and accommodations abominable until they arrived at Peru. Here they took the steamer “Home” for Peoria, 65 miles below. Here they got a carriage and drove 30 miles west to Newberg, to see friends who had moved there a few years previously, where they remained a week, riding over the prairies, and hunting deer and wild turkeys. The productions of the country beat anything they had seen in New England, “but to haul wood only six inches in diameter, a distance of 15 to 20 miles would look bad to New England people.”
    November 18th, 1839, they left Peoria on the steamer “Tennessee” for St. Louis arriving three days later and exchanged their berths to the steamer “Monsoon” bound for New Orleans, 1218 miles distant, as the Ohio and Tennessee rivers were too low for boating. (That was the route they intended to take.)
    They met all kinds of people on the steamer on the way down, and Sundays seemed the worst day of the week. Mr. Abrams writes, “From gentlemen down to the cutthroats and gamblers. The former kept to their berths throughout the day, the latter fighting, gambling, and swearing.” On the shore they saw plantations and the huts of the Negro slaves. On some they had comfortable appearance, and others were miserable shelters from rain and cold.
    Below Vicksburg they saw cotton plantations, and the weather became warm and comfortable. They arrived at New Orleans, Nov. 28th at 9 o’clock P.M. and the next day took rail to Port Pontchartrain and boarded the steamer “Walker” for Mobile where they arrived Nov. 30th. Here they remained four day, waiting for a boat to take them up the Tombigbee River, which at this season was very low.
    They reached Gainesville December 12th, 1839, being fifty-two days from home. The next day, Abrams went to work in the machine shop of the Gainesville Stream Mill Co., and began his career for the next ten years. He remained in the shop till spring when he was made engineer of the mill, and soon afterwards assumed charge of the lumberyard.

    Cyrus Reed met W P Abrams in July 1849 when both were sailing aboard the brig “Copiapo” from Panama bound for San Francisco. Reed stayed in San Francisco while Abrams and a “company” of men from Alabama set out for the gold fields. Reed was well aware of Abrams intentions of setting up a sawmill. Cyrus Reed met Stephen Coffin in San Francisco where Coffin had come from Portland, Oregon, seeking someone to help him set up a mill in that city to rival the mill near Milwaukie, OR. Abrams met a Mr. Coffin of Portland, Oregon and made an estimate and specification for building a steam sawmill and a few days later made an agreement to go to Portland to erect and take charge of the mill at a salary of $300 per month, and sailed for Portland Nov. 12th 1849 in the brig “Sequin,” Capt. C. Z. Norton, paying $100 a part of which he was compelled to borrow.
    Cyrus Reed was also aboard this vessel. Mrs Caroline Norton, wife of Captain Zachariah Norton, wrote several letters to her family in New England (Oregon Historical Society Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 3 (Sep., 1933) pgs 255-258.) describing this voyage but leaving out some scary details, probably not wanting to upset her family in the east. Caroline Norton tells that the voyage took 2 months to Portland. In Abrams memoirs we learn that the brig made a 5 day run to the mouth of the Columbia River, but lacking a river pilot to guide them through the shoals, the brig hove several more days and finally made a run at the river with seemingly favorable winds and tides. According to Abrams “… in attempting to enter the river, the brig struck on the north sands three times, each breaker as it passed over her depositing sand on her decks. She was pushed over the bar by the sea and reached Baker’s Bay without much damage.” Mr. Abrams left the brig at Bakers Bay Nov. 27th and with Mr. Coffin procured a canoe and crew of Indians, for which he paid $25 and “grub” and started up the river. Off Point Chinook they encountered a gale and came near to swamping. The journey by canoe up the river was a cold and wet one. They arrived at Portland about the 13th of December 1849, and immediately began building a foundation and getting the timbers hewed for a steam mill, located at the foot of Madison and Jefferson streets. The timbers were hewn from trees grown on the blocks now between Front and Third streets, and Main and Columbia.
    The brig “Sequin” set back out to sea and was blow north to Vancouver Island (Oregon Historical Society Quarterly Vol. 34, No. 3 (Sep., 1933) pgs 255-258.) It was 65 days before “Sequin” sailed into Portland past the logs and ice, navigating the shoals and at the whims of wind and current, arriving in Portland about January 5, 1850. Aboard the vessel were Cyrus Reed and P. G. Stewart, one of Oregon’s first watchmakers who set up shop in Oregon City.
    Abrams journal is silent until February 9, 1850, when he writes, “I am for the first time in eleven months sitting by what I may call my own table, in my own house and would say that I would be happy most emphatically if my wife and little ones were with me.” During a portion of this time the journal was in stowage aboard the “Sequin.”

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