Portland Oregon Buildings and Improvements from 1886 to 1889

The year 1886 was marked by a great increase in buildings and improvements, some of which were of great extent, as will be seen by the following list: Morrison Street bridge (commenced), two hundred thousand dollars; Albina Terminal works, seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars; the new medical college, thirty-five thousand dollars; the reduction works in East Portland, fifty thousand dollars; Reed’s five-story brick building on Third street, between Washington and Stark, ninety-five thousand dollars; the United Carriage, Baggage and Transportation Co.’s barn, twenty-five thousand dollars; the four-story brick stable on Second street between Stark and Washington, twenty-seven thousand dollars; vessels built or improved, sixty-eight thousand five hundred dollars. The stone church of the Presbyterians was projected at a cost of one hundred thousand dollars. The grand total of all improvements actually made, reached one million nine hundred and eighty-nine thousand one hundred and ninety-one dollars.

The year 1887 witnessed a steady expansion in building and improvements. Among the most important were the following: The Abington Building, on Third street, between Stark and Washington, sixty-five thousand dollars; the five-story building west of the Portland Savings bank; the residence of Levi White on Nineteenth street, forty-five thousand dollars; The Armory, on Tenth and B streets, forty thousand dollars; W. S. Ladd’s brick building at the foot of Morrison street, sixty-five thousand dollars; improvements on the Oregonian building, by H. L. Pittock, eighteen thousand dollars; the four-story brick building of C. H. Dodd, on the corner of First and A streets, seventy-seven thousand dollars; the building of the Cyclorama Co., on Pine street, between Third and Fourth, sixty thousand dollars; the Portland Bridge, two hundred thousand dollars; on the railroad bridge there was spent one hundred and seventy-five thousand dollars. The cable car line up to the heights was begun. The streets were improved to the value of one hundred and ninety-seven thousand eight hundred and thirty-five dollars. The total improvements of the year are summarized as follows: -In the city, one million fifty-four thousand one hundred and seventy-nine dollars; on Portland Heights, sixty thousand dollars; in Fast Portland, one hundred and ninety-five thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars; in Albina, six hundred and twelve thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine dollars and fifty cents; on Mount Tabor, sixty thousand dollars; making a grand total of two million seven hundred and eighty-four thousand and twenty-four dollars.

During 1888 all former improvements were far exceeded. Many large buildings of the most permanent character, and improvements which would be a credit to any great city were brought to completion or undertaken. The following is a list of the principal works: The Exposition Building, on Fourteenth and B, one hundred and fifty thousand dollars; on the First Presbyterian church, sixty thousand dollars; the Jewish Synagogue, sixty-five thousand dollars; the railroad bridge (finished), four hundred thousand dollars; improvements by the water committee, two hundred and forty thousand dollars; buildings in Portland (not otherwise named), one million eight hundred thousand dollars; improvements on the streets of Portland, three hundred and twelve thousand five hundred dollars; Fast Portland and Sunnyside, three hundred and nineteen thousand three hundred and eighty-eight dollars; at Oswego, five hundred thousand dollars; at Albina, one hundred and eighty-one thousand six hundred and ninety-five dollars; on the street railways, fifty thousand dollars; on Portland Heights, forty thousand dollar; on Mount Tabor, thirty thousand dollars; at Sellwood, twelve thousand dollars; at Milwaukie, seven thousand three hundred dollars. This shows a total of three million five hundred and twenty-two thousand six hundred and thirty-nine dollars.

It is noticeable by the foregoing that many of these improvements were made outside of the city limits, in some cases from three to six miles distant. The propriety of including them among the improvements of Portland arises from the fact that they were undertaken and completed by Portland capital and were in fact the growth of the city itself – illustrating how Portland has completely overstepped what were once called “the natural limits of the city,” between the circle of hills and the bending course of the Willamette. The improvements of 1889, reaching a value of about five million dollars are fully mentioned elsewhere, and need not be enumerated here.

These statistics as given in the foregoing pages, while probably not without error, are nevertheless the best now to be had, and give approximately a correct idea of business operations and the growth of the place. By examination it will be seen that the development of Portland, as of all new cities, has been, as it were, by wave motions, the flood now rising and now falling again, but nevertheless at each new turn reaching a much higher point. Much of this oscillating movement has been due to the peculiar circumstances of the city and to the opening of the country by public works. In the very earliest days the first movement was due to the coming of ships loaded with goods for the use of the rural population of the Willamette Valley. Portland as a ‘shipping point and post of supply made a secure beginning. After it had become thus established it did the business for the farming community surrounding in a regular and steady fashion without much increase except as the growth of the tributary country demanded. During the early sixties, however, a new and promising field was opened for her merchants and navigation companies by the discovery of precious metals in Eastern Oregon and Idaho. With the development of the mines, and to quite an extent also with the settlement of Eastern Oregon and Washington and their occupation by cattle dealers and cattle raisers, . Portland gained largely in business and trade. The steady growth resulting from this development was not greatly accelerated until in 1867-68 plans for opening the country by means of railroad were brought to completion, and ground was actually broken for a line to California. With the prospect of railroad connection with the rest of the world, the speculative imagination of the people of Portland was excited, and almost extravagant dreams of great immediate growth and wealth were indulged by even the most steady and conservative. Property increased greatly in value and improvements were stimulated. The early railroad days of Oregon were, however, beset with difficulties, as will be seen in a following chapter, although, producing much real growth, did not ultimate so hopefully as was by many anticipated. Ben Holladay showed an unexpected weakness and incapacity in managing his roads, and as his bonds declined and the general expectation of failure was felt, depression was experienced in all parts of the State. When a few years later occurred the great business collapse in the United States, which began with the failure of J. Cooke & Co. and the Northern Pacific Railroad Co., Portland was left to the simple cultivation of her domestic commerce, and inflated prices and expectations had to be abandoned. With the passage, however, of the California and of the Oregon Central railroads into the hands of the German bondholders, and a better system of management thereby introduced, business revived once more and Portland found herself obliged to add to her accommodations to meet the incoming tide of immigration and the increased flood of business. Independent commerce with the East and with Europe having sprung up stimulated very largely the production of grain in the Willamette Valley and also in Eastern Oregon and Washington, so that there was a steady increase in the amount of treasure received into the country and in the volume of business transacted at Portland. Exports of wool, lumber and salmon also figured largely to swell the volume of trade. With the year 1880 and those succeeding, prospects, and at length the realization, of a through line from Portland to the East, produced a greater volume of trade and raised higher expectations than had previously been known. Portland began to assume a truly metropolitan appearance. Activity in real estate and in building, and an expansion of all kinds was everywhere noticeable. All went well, until the O. R. & N. road and the Northern Pacific had been so far completed as to make a through line to New York, and Villard and the Oregon and Trans-continental railroad having gone beyond their means, suffered a reverse, and in their ruin involved also many of the citizens of Portland. For a time the people of our city seemed discouraged, nor did they quite realize the immense importance to them of railroad connection with all parts of the Northwest. Gradually, however, they began to see the ease with which they might connect themselves with all parts of Oregon and Washington and command the wholesale business of this region; and how they might even more stimulate the agricultural and mining interests of this whole region. Gathering up these lines of business they began to push vigorously and in a short time were at the head of the commercial, mining, manufacturing and banking interests of the whole section. As a result of this active policy business began to pour in, in an almost overwhelming flood, through the thoroughfares, the docks, the commercial houses and the banks of our city. Real estate rose greatly in value; addition after addition being added to our city; suburban towns began to spring up; manufacturers began to press in for a location, and capitalists found themselves obliged to erect buildings as rapidly as materials and labor could be obtained. A generous public spirit began to be felt and a general desire for public buildings which would do credit to the city was expressed. By public enterprise, such buildings as that of the Northwestern Industrial Exposition and the grand Hotel Portland were constructed. Men of wealth saw that the situation warranted the construction of the very best and most permanent houses. Fine churches were also erected. Street car lines were multiplied. Electric railways and motor lines to the suburbs and other points near were built with astonishing rapidity. With the passing out of the year 1889, the greatest amount of capital of any season has been spent in improvements, and there is every indication of a still greater expenditure in the coming year.

Portland has now reached the point where she has comfortable communication with all parts of the territory which she is to serve. Her growth is now but the result of the growth of Oregon and Washington. What yet remains to be seen is a perfect opening of the Columbia river from its mouth to the British line, and the improvement of the tributaries of this magnificent stream, so that not only by rail but by water, every village and farm may be brought into close connection with our city, and may be supplied from her warehouses and shops.


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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