Portland Oregon’s Growth and Improvements


In this chapter we shall attempt to furnish a record of the improvements made in the city during consecutive years, giving statistics of population, of the various industries, and of the buildings erected. While aiming to neglect nothing that is important, we shall try to avoid unnecessary or cumbrous details, and while not expecting this portion of the work to cover all the facts that might be gathered, we hope to make it at least intelligible, and for those who are fond of hard statistics, of considerable value.

In the department of commerce, of transportation, and manufacturing, this chapter will be found but partially filled, since the importance of the growth of our shipping, of navigation companies and facilities on our river, the building of railroads and the construction of manufactories, have been considered of so much interest as to require for each a separate chapter. The reader is therefore referred elsewhere for a more minute account in these special fields.

From preceding pages it has already been learned that in 1850 the town was of the most shabby construction. There were at that time no brick buildings and only two or three frame houses which presented anything like an architectural appearance. There were but two houses which were plastered, that of Mr. Pettygrove on Front street, and that of Capt. Crosby on Second street. Carter’s store on Front street was one of the pretentious buildings of the time, being two stories high, but its finishing on the outside was only riven weather-boarding. In the matter of hotels and lodging houses the accommodations were but of the most primitive character. There was the old California house on Front street, and on Jefferson street one Dennis Harty kept a small boarding-house. A boarding-house by a Mrs. Apperson also accommodated the more staid bachelor population. The old Canton House was built in 1851 by Stephen Coffin, a two story structure of fairly decent appearance and of respectable finish. It was subsequently turned into the American Exchange Hotel and served many years for the purpose of a lodging house. It is now standing at the foot of Jefferson street, one of the few relics of the early day.

The substantiality of a town may be inferred from the sort of material which its capitalists are willing to put into the walls of its structures. Canvas and battens serve for a mining camp, or for some uncertain frontier village. Clapboards and white paint and chimneys denote more hope of permanence, while brick and stone and iron show that it is not only for the present, but for coming generations also, that the city has been established. Portland was wholly of wood until 1853. In this year W. S. Ladd was so far willing to bank upon the future as to construct a building of brick. Mr. Lucien Snow and D. C. Coleman soon followed his example. Mr. Ladd’s was that now occupied by Beach & Armstrong; a substantial structure of decent appearance and commodious for the transaction of business. It has been in constant use up to the present time, and while not exactly ornamental or imposing, is not at all discreditable to the business portion of the place. Mr. Snow was a Maine man, having the thrift and enterprise of New England, and Mr. Coleman was a brother of the wealthy merchant of San Francisco of that name.

For the following complete list of brick buildings for the decade, 1850-’60, we are indebted to Mr. Edward Failing, well known as a leading citizen and merchant; whose memory covers the entire period and whose interest in our city insures the accuracy of his recollection. The estimated cost of the earlier structures is given, and where not otherwise specified, but one story may be understood.

1853-W. S. Ladd, 103 Front street, between Stark and Washington; D. C. Coleman, southeast corner Front and Oak (Cost $9500); Lucien Snow, Front street, between Pine and Oak; F. B. Miles & Co., southwest corner Front and Pine (Cost $13,500).

1854-Blumauer Bros., Front street, between Washington and Alder (afterwards owned by Cohen & Lyon); J. Kohn & Co., Front street, between Stark and Washington, next south of Ladd’s; Geo. L. Story, Front street, between Stark and

Washington, next north of Ladd’s; P. Raleigh, southwest corner Front and Stark (2 stories); J. Failing & Co., southeast corner First and Oak, small brick .ware-house. 1855-L. Snow & Co., one-story brick next north of the store built in 1853. 1856-Sellers & Friendly, 89 Front street, between Oak and Stark.

1857 Holman & Harker, Front street, between Morrison and Yamhill; Baum & Bro., 87 Front, between Oak and Stark; Benjamin Stark, (3 stories) 91 Front, between Oak and Stark; Hallock & McMillen, (2 stories) northwest corner Front and Oak; M. Weinshank, 2 stores each one-story, Front street,between Ash and Pine.

1858-H. W. Corbett, (2 stories) southwest corner Front and Oak; Benj. Stark, (3 stories) 93 Front street, between Oak and Stark; Allen & Lewis, (2 stories) northeast corner Front and B; E. J. Northup, northwest corner Front and Vain-hill; A. D. Fitch & Co., next door north of Northrup; Seymour & Joynt, (2 stories) Front, between Washington and Alder; A. R. Shipley & Co., (2 stories) Front,. next south of S. & J,; A. D. Shelby, (2 stories) 105 First, between Washington and Alder.

1859-Failings & Hatt, (2 stories) 83 Front street, between Oak and Stark; Geo. H. Flanders, (2 stories); Old Masonic Hall, southeast corner Front and B; A. D. Shelby, (2 stories) 103 First, between Washington and Alder, north of his store built in 1858.

1860-Harker Bros., (2 stories) next south of Holman & Harker built in 1857; Pat. Raleigh, (3 stories) southeast corner First and Stark; H. Wasserman, (2 stories) Front, between Washington and Alder; Weil Bros., (2 stories) Front, next south of Wasserman; A. D. Shelby, (2 stories) southwest corner First and Washington.

Elegant residences were built quite early. First among these was that of H. W. Corbett, in 1854, on Fifth street, between Yamhill and Taylor, which was replaced by a more costly structure in 1876. Mr. C. H. Lewis erected an attractive mansion in 1863. Capt. Couch’s old residence on Fourth street, on the west side of Conch’s lake, near H street-still remaining-was built still earlier.

In 1852 the steamboats serving on the river were the Willamette owned by the Pacific Mail Steamship Company, on the route to Astoria to connect with the ocean steamers of that line, which did not at first attempt to ascend to Portland; the Lot Whitcomb, the Multnomah, the James P. Flint, the Washington and the Eagle, running to or connecting with various points on the lower Columbia and Willamette. The still older steamers, Columbia, Black Hawk and Major Redding were worn out, and their machinery was converted to other uses.

In 1854 the steam saw mill was destroyed by fire, introducing a minus sign before the improvements. But there had been activity since 1851 in multiplying structures of all kinds, so that when in 1855 a census was taken Portland was shown to contain four churches, one academy, one public school, one steam flour mill, four steam saw mills, four printing offices, two express offices, four physicians’ and six lawyers’ offices, two dentists, five cabinet shops, three bakeries, four stove and tin stores, two tailoring establishments, two jewelers, four blacksmith shops, one foundry, three wagon-makers, six painters, two boat-builders, six livery stables, twelve hotels and boarding-houses, three butchers, six saloons, two bowling alleys, one book store, one drug store, one photograph gallery, one shoe store, one candy manufacturer and “a few cigar stores.” There were also, besides these, twenty-five establishments dealing in dry goods, groceries, etc., together with ten engaged exclusively in dry goods, and seven in groceries only. The assessed value of property, both real and personal, was one million one hundred and ninety-five thousand and thirty-four dollars.

In 1854 Multnomah county was set off from Washington, being granted a separate government, on December 23d of that year. This gave our city a little more importance as county seat and was greatly to the convenience of our lawyers and the county officials of Portland, who had hitherto gone to Hillsboro in Washington county on county business and to attend court.

During 1855 and ’56 the Indian war was raging with bloody violence upon the frontiers, and carried uncertainty into almost every department of business. Portland as a supply point for the armies of the territory, which were scattered throughout the Columbia basin, presented a scene of vast activity. Troops were moving to and fro through her streets; a general camp and headquarters were made at East Portland; distinguished men, such as Gov. Curry, General Stevens and General Wool, were frequently seen in the city, while our intrepid volunteer Colonels, Nesmith, Kelly and Cornelius, either taking out their troops, armed rudely with pistols, knives, shot-guns and rifles, and clad and mounted according to their own means and taste, or bringing back their worn and battered battalions from tiresome and often unsatisfactory pursuit of the savages, are even yet bright in the memory of our people. Such unknown little officers as Sheridan could not yet be distinguished from the rest of the boys in blue. Less was felt at Portland of the war in Southern Oregon, where Col. Chapman, Col. Kelsey, Gen. Limerick, Major Bruce and General Ross, with other brave men, were “rounding up” and bringing to punishment the oft times wronged, but nevertheless wholly untamed and untrustworthy savages of the Umpqua and Rogue river. But though this military activity stimulated business to a certain extent, it was not a productive or progressive period, and little building was done.

The assessed value of property in 1857 was one million one hundred and three thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine dollars. It is not to be supposed that there was natural shrinkage of nearly two hundred thousand dollars in two years, as the figures would seem to show, but merely a lower assessment. Nevertheless, the increase in property could not have been very great. The population of this year is placed at twelve hundred and eighty. At the election of 1858 the vote polled was four hundred and sixty. In 1859 the first daily paper was issued, The Portland Daily News, published by S. A. English & Co. The life of this journal was not of long duration, and it was in no way connected with the publication of the same name in more recent years. In 1859 there was also erected the first really handsome dwelling house. This was the residence of W. S. Ladd, built from the model of a house seen by him during his travels at the East. It was situated on Jefferson street and Sixth, occupying an entire block, and was from the first noticeable for the elegance of its appearance, its commanding site and tasteful grounds. As improved in 1878, it is one of the most substantial of Portland’s many beautiful residences. In 1860 The Oregon Times became a daily, and The Oregonian in 1861. By the school enrollment of 1860 it was found that the children of school age numbered six hundred and ninety-one. The total population was two thousand nine hundred and seventeen, of which there were sixteen colored and twenty-seven Chinese. The great flood of the Willamette in 1861, the highest on record until that of 1890, did some damage to wharves and other buildings along the city front, but occasioned no serious loss. The asylum for the insane was established during the summer of this year on the west side of the river, under the management of Drs. Hawthorne and Loryea. A few years later it was removed to a beautiful site in East Portland, where it remained until the destruction of the building by fire a number of years afterwards.

In June of 1862-the second result of the heavy snow fall of the winter before-the Willamette rose to a great height from the flood in the Columbia, inundating the lower part of the town, but doing but little real damage. In 1861-62 the assessed valuation of property was two millions eighty-nine thousand and four hundred and twenty dollars.

Discovery of mines in Idaho and Eastern Oregon greatly stimulated navigation on the Willamette and Columbia, and as many as twenty steamers were plying in 1862 on these rivers. In that year the population, as determined by the’ city directory, rose to four thousand and fifty-seven. Of these, seven hundred are reckoned as transient, fifty-two colored, and fifty-three Chinese. The Oregonian of that year remarked that the increase in wealth and population had been of the most substantial character. “Eighteen months ago,” it said, “any number of houses could be obtained for use, but to-day scarcely a shell can be found to shelter a family. Rents are up to an exhorbitant figure, many houses contain two or more families, and the hotels and boarding-houses are crowded almost to overflowing. The town is full of people and more are coming in. Buildings are going up in all parts of Portland, streets graded and planked, wharves stretching their proportions along the levees, and a general thrift and busy hum greet the ear, or attract the attention of a stranger upon every street and corner.” “Substantial school-houses, capacious churches, wharves, mills, manufactories and workshops, together with brick buildings stores and dwelling houses and street improvements,” are referred to in the city directory. As for occupations the following list is given: Three apothecaries, four auctioneers, three brewers, two bankers; six billiard rooms, two confectioners, five dentists, twelve restaurants, fourteen hotels, twenty-two lawyers, five livery stables, twenty-eight manufacturers, eleven physicians, eight wholesale and fifty-five retail liquor dealers, forty-five wholesale and ninety-one retail dealers in general merchandise, two wholesale and eight retail grocers.


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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