Once upon a time, in 1843, Tennesee drifter, William Overton and Boston lawyer, Asa Lovejoy were floating down the Willamette River in a canoe when they came upon the beauty of the place we now call Portland. They beached their canoe at “the Clearing” and they marveled at the beautiful mountains with the rich potential of the many trees.

Overton didn’t have the quarter to file a land claim, so he sold half of his 640-acre site to Lovejoy for 25 cents. They began to clear the many trees, build roads and build the first buildings. After a while, Overton decided to move on and sold his half of the share to Francis Pettygrove.

Portland got its name when Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove flipped a coin in 1845. Lovejoy was from Massachusetts and wanted to name the new settlement Boston. Pettygrove was from Maine and wanted to name it Portland. Pettygrove won the coin toss two out of three times and the rest as they say is history. Portland’s first Post Office opened in 1849, and the steam sawmill’s whistle could be heard at Fort Vancouver.

By 1850, about 800 residents made their home in Portland, there was a log-cabin hotel and a newspaper, the Weekly Oregonian. Portland was incorporated in 1851 and it has grown into the second largest city in the Northwest. People who settled in this region made their living from fish, lumber, wheat and cattle, and Portland became a major transportation center because of its proximity to Railroads and Rivers.

Portland existed in the shadow of Oregon City, the territorial capital of the Oregon Territory, which was 12 miles upstream on the falls of the Willamette River. Oregon City was laid out and named by Dr. John McLoughlin in 1842 and he would later become the Father of Oregon. McLoughlin was hired by the Hudson’s Bay Company to establish Fort Vancouver, a fur trading outpost on the Columbia River. The outpost, which was established in 1825, served as the headquarters of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the Oregon Territory.

The very first settlement of Americans on the Pacific Coast was established in 1811 at the mouth of the Columbia River at Astoria, where John Jacob Astor of New York established the Pacific Fur Company Trading Post in 1810.

Portland also triumphed over early rivals like Milwaukie and Sellwood. Milwaukie was founded by Lot Whitcomb in 1847 as a rival to Oregon City. Sellwood was named for the Reverend John Sellwood in 1882 and a post office was established there in October 1883. Sellwood became part of Portland in 1893. There were numerous platted additions with fancy names like: Council Crest, Hawthorne, Hyde Park, Irvington, Ladd’s Addition and Mount Tabor. Many of these additions had come into being before Portland had become a metropolis and many of them had their own post offices.

Linnton was laid out in 1843 by pioneers Peter Burnett (the first governor of California) and M.M. McCarver. Linnton had a post office from 1889 to 1936. James John, who had crossed the plains to California in 1841 with General Bidwell, came to Oregon in 1843. Settling first in Linnton, John moved to the site of the town that bears his name soon thereafter. He operated a ferry there in 1852. A plat for Saint Johns was filed July 20, 1865. It was annexed to Portland in 1915. A post office operated in St. Johns from 1873 to 1912. A post office was established at Portsmouth, southeast of St. John’s on April 17, 1891. Several months later, on August 25, 1891, the Portsmouth Post Office closed and moved to nearby University Park, where a plat for the town was filed in April 1891. The University Park Post Office operated until November 14, 1903.


Early view of the St. John’s Ferry

Oliver P. Lent of Ohio arrived with his wife in 1852 and they settled at a small community east of Portland called Sycamore. In 1866, they moved a little to the west to a tract of 190 acres which is the current site of the community of Lents, Oregon. A post office was established at Lents in 1886 and it operated until 1917. Oliver Lent built and operated a sawmill for many years. He served as school director, road supervisor and justice of the peace.

A separate community of East Portland was established early on, having had a post office from 1866 to 1892. Albina was laid out in 1872 and it was incorporated in 1887. Albina had a post office from 1876 to 1892. An election was held on June 1, 1891 on a successful proposal to combine Portland, East Portland and Albina.

Portland’s first electric streetcar took to the rails in 1889 and it carried passengers across the Steel Bridge to the town of Albina. Shortly thereafter, Portland’s first and only cable car began taking passengers up to Portland Heights.

The town of Kenton, Oregon was platted by George F. Heusner in 1905. He envisioned an industrial community on the North end of Portland. Originally, he wanted to name the town Kenwood, but another addition to the city was already using the name, so he settled on Kenton.

You can’t talk about Portland history without talking about Bull Run, the source for Portland’s pure drinking water. Located in the western foothills of Mt. Hood, Bull Run was also a main source of electricity for Portland and in the early days, it boasted a town that had a Hotel, Gas Station, Grocery Store, Blacksmith and many other amenities that a modern town of the turn-of-the-century boasted of.

It is believed that the original settlement, which was christened Unavilla, was near to the present-day location of the Bull Run School. A post office was established there on May 6, 1893. This was about the time the pristine waters of the Bull Run Watershed were harnessed. An elaborate water purification and delivery system was built to transport this water to the residents of Portland and the surrounding area.

Within a couple years, Bull Run outgrew Unavilla and the post office moved about a mile east to Bull Run on Nov. 22, 1895. There are plateaus above the Bull Run River, on the way to Marmot, where wild cattle ran free, hence the name “Bull Run”. The bulls had probably escaped from pioneers who came in Wagon Trains from the East on The Oregon Trail.


Early view of Main Street in Bull Run paved with wood planks

Damascus is a small community southeast of Portland, at the end of Foster Road, nine miles from 82nd Avenue. Its first settlers moved there in the 1850’s. Edward Pedigo, a potter who moved there from Iowa in 1854 is credited with thinking of the name Damascus. He was drawn to the rich red clay on the hills above the Clackamas River that would make his bean pots and jars famous.

The year was 1866, and a group of locals had gathered at the crossroads store to find a suitable name for their school and post office. The battles of the civil war were still within memory and as Ed Pedigo came riding in on his horse, he was struck by the phrase “The Place of a New Beginning”.

Pedigo’s thoughts had reminded him of Saul of Tarsus who had set out on a journey from Jerusalem. As Saul approached the walls of Damascus in Syria, he was transformed after meeting the Savior. Pedigo the Potter suggested they name their town after Damascus. All the locals agreed and so did Uncle Sam, as the Damascus Post Office was established on Aug. 26, 1867.


The community of Gresham, Oregon was established in the mid 1800’s when Powell Valley was named after three pioneer settlers: James Powell and Missouri transplant Jackson Powell, who moved to Oregon in 1852, and Dr. John Parker Powell who moved to Oregon in 1853. Though they were unrelated, they chose to live in the shadow of Mt. Hood, at the site we know of today as the downtown core of Gresham. They had all endured rugged trips on Wagon Trains as they moved to the Land of Opportunity.

The first Post Office to be established in the area was called “Camp Ground” and it opened on July 12, 1871. The Camp Ground Post Office closed on June 9, 1884.

Other settlers and developers moved to the area and a new Post Office was established on May 15, 1884. The new town was named after Walter Quinton Gresham, United States Postmaster General.

Estacada is a community that was planned around the generation of electricity for Portland and surrounding communities. A post office was established at Estacada on February 24, 1904 and the town was incorporated in 1905. With several sawmills, Estacada has had a long history as a timber town.


Estacada Park was built to attract throngs of streetcar-riding city dwellers to this amusement resort in the mountain foothills

Last updated 06-05-07

[Home] [Site Map] [Amusement Parks] [Historic Portland] [Department Stores] [Streetcars] [Trains] [Mt Hood] [Oregon Coast] [Post Card History] [Portland Hotels] [Portland Communities] [Getaways] [News] [Links] [Contact Us]

Send us an email