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Strength: The Strong family of Brooklyn

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


by: COURTESY OF THE STRONG FAMILY - The Brooklyn Boys with their mother. From left: Hillman Strong, Edward Strong, Winston Strong sitting by his mom Ethel Strong, and Ray Strong in his cap. Family photo from the early 1900s.Harold W. Strong was completing his second semester at Stanford when he received word from his father Edward William that he was desperately needed back at the family-run sawmill in Oregon.

Packing up his law books, and with his wife Ethel and sons Hillman and Edward coming along, the family returned to Corvallis in 1904. Over the next few years, with a energetic constitution, rugged determination, and with the knowledge gained during his college days, H.W. (as he was familiarly called) successfully saved his parents’ sawmill – getting it back in the black, and making a substantial profit.

During this time he also leased and operated another sawmill in Dallas, Oregon, just west of Salem, where Ethel and the children had been staying. In 1905 their third son, Ray Stanford, was born.

When Howard collected enough money from both business ventures, he returned to Palo Alto to finish his education, and he graduated with the “earthquake class” of 1906.

Following the commencement, the Strong family returned for a time to the life of sawmilling and small town life, but in the back of his mind H.W. suspected that greater challenges existed elsewhere.

To use his new law degree to become a successful lawyer and attract potential clients, H.W. needed to practice in a larger town. Consequently, in 1908, H.W. and Ethel settled in Brooklyn, a small eastside community on the outskirts of Portland. Howard signed on with the firm of Rives and Lange on the west side of the Willamette River, and during his free time built a two-story craftsman home on the east bank bluff overlooking the river.

By the 1900’s, Brooklyn was a bustling little community, one with many immigrants arriving from Europe, and hoping to hire on with the Southern Pacific Railway, or to find work at the streetcar barns located at S.E. Center and 17th Street. The Inman and Poulson Lumber Company, near the waterfront and Division Street, also offered additional opportunities for newscomers.

As expressed by H.W.’s son Edward Strong, in his childhood memoirs, “The Willamette was a great joy to me… Steamboats were churning up and down the river. I could see the loggers working on the log booms, moving logs down to the Inman Poulson Lumber Company.”

The Inman Poulson Lumber Company (1892-1954) was one of the largest sawmills along the bank of the river, occupying over 37 acres and employing close to 450 workers during the mid 1900’s. Many of the Queen Anne and Bungalow houses built in Brooklyn came from timbers harvested at the mill, and H.W. Strong most likely purchased his lumber from that mill for the construction of his home.

The countryside setting of today’s Brooklyn neighborhood in those early days was a child’s paradise for Edward and his brothers. During their time growing up there, childhood sports included playing tennis and handball at Reed College’s sports facilities, and swimming in the Sellwood Pool. The boys enrolled in basketball at the YMCA, and fished at the Oregon City Falls. Edward and his father shared an interest in rowing, and they soon began competing in the double sculls events at the Portland Rowing Club. The large clubhouse was located near their residence, at the foot of Ivon Street along the Willamette River.

Edwards’s younger brother Ray also enjoyed the idyllic countryside, but at age 7 he was stricken with ptomaine poisoning. For the next two years, Ray would miss the socialization and camaraderie of other schoolmates because of the illness. To compensate for Ray’s missed class time, H.W. was given the special privilege by the Portland School Board to home-school his son.

In Mark Humpal’s article about artist Ray Strong in the “Oregon Historical Quarterly”, Ray admitted that was it during this time that he became intrigued with painting with watercolors, and fascinated with sketching. When he turned 12 his parents decided to enroll Ray in the NW Normal School of Music and Art, under the guidance of Mary “Mamie” Parvin Brown. Few art schools and teachers were available in Portland at this time, but Ethel and Howard felt it was important to support their children in whatever their talents tended to lean towards.

An avid outdoorsman himself, H.W. Strong seemed intrigued by the latest inventions to facilitate adventuring out into nature. He passed on these experiences to his children. Acquiring a motored launch that he named the “Hannah”, H.W. expected his boys to tag along during outings, and he patiently taught them to pilot the boat like a trained helmsman.

Many weekends included family trips along the river, camping on isolated islands near the Oregon City Falls, or fishing for salmon along the river’s rocky shoreline. Afternoon boating excursions on the Willamette probably included visiting attractions like the famous Windemuth Bathing House at the northern tip of Ross Island. The Windemuth was a two-story wooden structure with a sweeping veranda, and could only be reached by boat or ferry.

When H.W. brought a 1916 Dodge touring car home, the boat trips ended and a new adventure was begun – which included outings into the vast Oregon wilderness and along the Columbia River Highway that opened in 1913. The boys welcomed the opportunity to go skiing and sledding down the slopes of Mt. Hood, or hiking along the falls in the Columbia Gorge, along with various day trips through the rural countryside.

On many occasions, Ray Strong took along with him his canvas and paintbox as he began to develop his artistic skills by painting outdoor landscapes. As biographer and art expert Humpal pointed out, Ray was turning into quite a prolific painter without the benefit of formal training or guidance.

In 1918, H.W. Strong made a drastic career change, deciding to lease a farmhouse in the Gresham countryside from his good friend Judge W.W. Cotton. The Cotton farm stood on 181 acres along Powell Valley Road, and the judge was raising and selling Cuthbert raspberries before his unexpected death. H.W. purchased the farm from his widow Fanny Cotton, and not long afterward he resigned from the law firm and became a full time berry farmer.

He would rely on the help of his three boys – Edward, Ray, and Winston – to help run the farm. Their son Hillman had drowned in Hood River in 1914, and their newborn Jack and three-year-old daughter Ethel were still too young to contribute to the family business. Winston Strong recalls that Edward managed the field workers, Ray delivered the berries to the canneries, while he and Ethel recorded the crates full of fruit turned in by the pickers. H.W. took care of the finances and supervised the boys. At one time, H.W. employed over 400 workers on his berry farm during the summer.

When the boys reached college age they began moving away from the farm and prospering in their own careers.

Winston Strong became a Professor of Agriculture at California State University in Fresno, and later served as a board member on the Fresno County Water Advisory Committee. Edward Strong attended Stanford as did his father, and was a popular lecturer and professor at the University of California, and was founder of the Journal of the History of Philosophy. Ray Strong became one of California’s leading artists of the American West and a well-known muralist.

While the Strong family members contributed to the early Oregon history by sharing written accounts of their childhood days, it was Ray Strong who left a lasting impression for Oregonians. Ray returned to Oregon almost every summer to lecture, to teach, and to exhibit his thousands of Northwest paintings and to share his love and passion of the Oregon landscapes.

His passion for our state was evident in his exclamation, “I’m from Oregon, and I want to become a man who can paint Oregon as well as Western scenery.”

Today three of Ray’s paintings in oil can be viewed at the Gresham Library; another of his masterpieces, depicting the infamous Tillamook Burn wildfire, is hanging in the Tillamook Forest Center on the Wilson River Highway. Locally, you can visit the Mark Humpal Fine Art showroom at 13th Avenue and Umatilla Street in Sellwood to view a piece of Oregon history, and perhaps to add it to your own collection.