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East Side's century spotlights Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood

SOUTHEAST HISTORY


by: COURTESY D. BECK COLLECTION - A photograph of the Sellwood and Adams Grocery Store, at 7th and S.E. Stephens - not to be confused with the community of Sellwood. The Sellwood and Adams Store was located in East Portland across from Stephens School.We have written of Sellwood, Westmoreland, and Brooklyn, and we will write more. But there is another important neighborhood in Inner Southeast Portland lining the east side of the Willamette River, and it is to that one that we turn our attention this time.

Resilient, determined, and diversified are just a few of the words that exemplify the Hosford- Abernethy Neighborhood Association (HAND), and those who live there. HAND is just one of many neighborhood associations that were created between Portland City Council members and community leaders, to communicate and present concerns and ideas from their communities.

Some say it is the neighborhood association system in the Rose City that makes our big city feel like a friendly small town.

While officially established only in the 1970’s, the HAND neighborhood has a unique and interesting past worth reviewing. The Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood was established from the land claims of Gideon Tibbetts, James B. Stephens, and William S. Ladd; it was Stephens and Ladd who were the most influential on the community. Ladd’s name appears in connection with all the neighborhoods mentioned already, as well as the Eastmoreland and Reed neighborhoods.

James B. Stephens reached Oregon in 1845 when he purchased the property of a French Canadian by the name of Porier for $200.00. Porier was a trapper and trader and a member of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Stephens built one of the first two-story farm houses on the east bank of the Willamette River, near present day Market and Lincoln Streets. The Stephens homestead towered over smaller log homes and scattered dwellings that then made up the East Side.

The industrious Stephens established the first ferry crossing to Downtown Portland, affording farmers and manufacturers an easier way to transport their goods to the shipping wharves and to the residents across the river.

Powered by a mule on a treadmill, and guided by an underwater cable, the “Black Mariah” Ferry, as it was called, hauled bricks from the Willsburg brick factory just south of Sellwood. Bricks from the Wills Brothers’ Factory were used in the construction of upper-class residential homes, and Portland’s first building of higher education, Park High School. Challenging the supremacy of the big business owners across the river, Stephens platted his own town – naming it East Portland on April 10th, 1865. The new city’s boundaries ran from the river east to 12th street and from today’s N.E. Glisan Street south to Hawthorne. Using letters of the alphabet, streets running north to south were labeled A through U, while the roadways starting at the river’s edge were numbered 1st thru 12th. It wasn’t until East Portland was consolidated with Portland that the streets were renamed, as seen now on road signs. Amazingly, with all of the realignment of streets and consolidations of small settlements like Brooklyn, Sellwood, and St.Johns – as they were annexed into Portland, Stephens’ township of numbered roads survived all the changes in the last century and a half and still prevails today east of the Willamette River, with the exception of 4th and 5th being renamed Grand and Union (now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard). Stephens had a daunting task, competing against the experienced and seasoned merchants of Portland. As recounted in “Portland’s Lost Waterfront” by Barney Blalock, “By the end of 1860, the City of Portland had an impressive waterfront”: From one end of the blocks to the next, the wharves and docks were clustered with warehouses and boat docks, named after of some of Portland’s most powerful entrepreneurs.

From Knott’s and Vaughn’s wharf to the docks owned by the Oregon Steamship and Navigation Company, the rows of warehouses were continuous up to the Portland Wharf owned by sea captains John Couch and George Flanders.

Lacking an efficient landing point, the terrain of Stephens’ East Portland property contained unimproved landings with sloughs and small streams punctuating the river’s edge. Stephens was defeated from the start: Wheat, a major crop exported overseas, was in small supply in East Portland. Mostly produce, crops, and farm animals were produced by farmers on the east side, and much of that was used to help support the residents and merchants on the west side of the river.

The wheat and crops that were harvested in the upper regions of the Tualatin Valley were the ones shipped overseas, or down the coastline to San Francisco, through the Portland river ports. And most important of all, Stephens lacked the backing of big banks or wealthy businessmen willing to battle the power and wealth of the Commercial Club elite.

In 1861 Stephens sold his rights to his ferry (later called the Stark Street Ferry) to Joseph Knott, and concentrated on his next challenge to the monopoly on the west side of the Willamette. A fierce battle was underway between two rival groups to build the first railroad tracks linking Portland to California in 1868.

The Oregon Central Railroad built on the west side of the river, and another railroad on the east. Whichever railway constructed the first twenty miles of track would be granted the franchise by the government.

Stephens backed the east side railroad and its new owner, Ben Holladay; and groundbreaking work was begun near the Willamette River and Clay Street. Gambling that new homes would be built near the rail-lines, Stephens filed a land plat for his new subdivision, the Stephens Addition in June of 1869. By December the east side railway (later named the Oregon California Railroad) did win the government contract opening the way for an influx of new housing, businesses and residents into East Portland.

Before the completion of the railroad, the greatest opportunity for job-seekers on the east side of the city was the Oregon Hospital for the Insane opened by Dr. James C. Hawthorne in 1864. Local historian and former Board member of HAND Richard Ross pointed out that this asylum employed over a third of the residents living in the local neighborhoods. It was sited near 10th and S.E. Salmon. But by 1883, patients were transferred to a new State Hospital in Salem, and Ross reported that the old building caught on fire and burnt to the ground.

Expansion opportunities increased when the Morrison Bridge was completed in 1887, and the Steel Bridge in 1888, were completed across the Willamette River. These bridges sparked a new rush of investors and speculators building new subdivisions and creating commercial districts on the east side of the river. The newly-established streetcar lines along Hawthorne, Clinton, and 11th Avenue enabled an increase in population – residents preferring to live away from the crowded buildings of downtown.

The arrival of skilled and unskilled Europeans by the 1890’s ushered in an era of immigration workers in East Portland. Germans, Italians, Norwegians, and later Chinese, began filling in what is now the Hosford-Abernethy neighborhood – living close to the industrial districts along Grand Avenue, and the waterfront.

Near 11th Avenue were new grocery stores, meat markets, and dry-goods merchants. Germans, Scandinavians, and a few Italians located around Powell Boulevard and Milwaukie Avenue, working for the railways, or as laborers for the Inman-Poulson Lumber Mill – which ran from Division Street to as far north as the Hawthorne Bridge along the east bank of the Willamette. Built in 1889, the Inman-Poulson Company was one of East Portland’s largest employers.

Norwegians tended to settle near the Norwegian Lutheran Church that stood at the corner of 8th and S.E. Grant, and they hired on at the lumber mill or the tw- block cannery at the foot of Division, near the waterfront. In his book “Portland in Three Centuries”, Carl Abbott relates that during the turn of the 20th century, Chinese made up the largest contingent of foreign-born residents on both sides of the river, followed by Germans, Britons, and Canadians. Most Chinese worked as cooks, laborers on the railroads, in hotels, and in laundries. The Yuan Lee laundry on Grand Avenue, and the Sargent Hotel, Grand Avenue Hotel, and Hotel Hawthorne were a few of the places where Chinese in East Portland found jobs. Other Chinese laundry enterprises included the Wa Lee, Sam Lee, and Gong Lee.

Forced to abandon their homes in southern Italy to avoid being drafted into the military, Italian immigrants settled in the southern portions of the Rose City. Within the next ten to fifteen years, the Italians moved to East Portland to seek land to grow fruits and vegetables. As reported in “The Immigrants’ Children” by Polina Olsen, the area north of Powell occupied by Italians was referred to as the “Tabasco” area of Portland, the Tuscans tended to live near Hawthorne between 7th and 12th. Sicilians lived east of there, near Ladd’s Addition. Eighty percent of Italian immigrants coming to the U.S. hailed from southern Italy.

According to HAND Chairperson Sue Pearce, Italians moving into the neighborhood often bought large lots on which to build their homes and establish their gardens. They then started delivering vegetables, milk, and ice throughout the neighborhood by horse and cart, doing so as far away as Laurelhurst and Irvington.

In 1887, plans were made to build a school, and the Stephens School was completed just in time: Newspapers of the time reported that over 700 students were in attendance on opening day, an unusually high count for any area.

That school lasted two years, and was destroyed by fire in 1889. A new 2½-story wooden structure was built in 1890 to replace it – covering a whole city block at 8th and Stephens.

As the factories, manufacturers, and warehouses began encroaching on residential property between Grand and 11th Avenue, families began moving away from the constant roar of trains and streetcars, and the smell of the factories and pulp mills. They moved to the suburbs – new subdivisions being created east of 12th Avenue: Ladd’s Addition, Colonial Heights, Malone Heights, and Waverly Heights, to name a few.

Meantime, commercial districts were springing up along the periphery of Hawthorne and Division. By 1913, a new school called Malone Heights opened its doors, to replace the second Stephens School, which at only 23 years old was now falling apart. The Oregonian newspaper reported that close to 200 students attended classes in what was labeled as a “small Bungalow structure”.

A few years later, in 1917, a new two -story brick schoolhouse was built and rechristened Hansford School, in honor of pioneer preacher H.O. Hansford. On April 26, 1926, dedication ceremonies for the communities’ other school, Abernethy, were held. The new Abernethy School was a two-story concrete and brick structure, was designed by the renowned architect George Jones (not related to the renowned Country Music singer George Jones). The school still stands at the southeast corner of 14th and Orange Street.

In 1889, James B Stephens died at the age of 82, two years before the fulfillment of his vision of a successful East Portland community. In 1891, the East Portland and Albina communities were incorporated into the city of Portland.

In my next chapter in this story of the chaotic growth and development of the business and residential areas on the east bank of the Willamette River, we’ll explore the commercial districts, and the creation of the Hosford-Abernethy Neighborhood Association, HAND.