Featured Stories

Sellwood's past reflected in historic photograph


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF SID BRYANT, SMILE HISTORY COLLECTION - Members of the Mitchell, Kenworthy, and Bryant families pose on Captain Schuyler C. Mitchells vessel, in the Portland harbor in about 1917. My new year began in early January attending a memorial service for the last member of the Kenworthy family of Sellwood. Pauline (Erikson) was one of three children of Beulah and Walter C. Kenworthy, the community’s trusted undertaker from 1913-1929. The funeral parlor that Walter built in 1913 still stands on the northeast corner of Thirteenth and Bidwell Streets, across the street from the library. The family lived in a house just east of the business – at the time separated by an empty lot where the neighborhood children played (Mr. Kenworthy’s career was summarized in the February, 2007 issue of THE BEE).

The family’s two daughters, Ella and Pauline (born in 1913), were followed by a brother named Walter. In the accompanying photograph Mr. and Mrs. Kenworthy are the fourth and fifth from the left in the back row. Family members speculate that Beulah’s position in this group photo was because her son’s arrival was imminent, and evidence of his mother’s condition was considered indelicate and not to be photographed in those days.

The two Kenworthy sisters, who inherited their mother’s deep red hair, are shown in the front. Pauline, on the far right, in a pristine white dress and large hair bow, appears restless despite her hand being firmly gripped by Novia Mitchell. Four-year-old Pauline appears ready to bolt, her high energy level being one of her lifelong personality traits.

Family members who spoke about Pauline at her service at Westminster Presbyterian Church, stated that she always had a mind of her own. At the age of five she persuaded her “boyfriend” to walk her to the Willamette River so they could dangle their feet in the water. That they reached their destination is a testament to Pauline’s determination, but it is also a reminder of the absence of traffic and apparent freedom of children to wander in the neighborhood then.

Perhaps the children were apprehended by Schuyler C. Mitchell, a steamboat captain (far left, back row) who also lived on Bidwell Street and was obviously a family friend. A few years later, Pauline appeared as the Statue of Liberty on Sellwood’s community-sponsored and fabricated float in the Portland Rose Festival Parade. She also played the piano (and her sister sang) at some of the services at the Kenworthy Funeral Parlor.

A major upheaval in the children’s lives occurred when their mother Beulah died abruptly in January, 1922, following surgery. Their father soon remarried and, according to descendents, the stepmother was unkind to the children and the household was an unhappy one. Conditions at home or the beginning of the Great Depression in October, 1929, may have been the impetus for Pauline leaving school. It was also at this time that her father had to sell the modern mortuary he had built just seven years earlier in Westmoreland (later Wilhelm’s, and now Relish Gastropub restaurant). However, Pauline forged ahead with her life, finding employment as a ladies hosiery clerk at Lipman Wolf & Company, one of downtown Portland’s prominent department stores. In an era before self-serve shopping, women’s silk stockings were stored in shallow cardboard boxes stacked behind a sales counter. At the customer’s request, the female employee would open the tissue paper and carefully insert her hand into the stocking to display the color and sheen of the merchandise.

Pauline was later employed for many years as payroll clerk in the nursing department at the University of Oregon Medical School (now OHSU). Her husband Roy was a builder, and Pauline helped with sales by furnishing his completed homes to make them attractive to potential buyers. By all accounts she was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and aunt, who enjoyed family gatherings at her home, where she served “a superb daiquiri”. She loved to travel and read, and this latter activity helped make her an indomitable Scrabble player.

A house with history A different example of longevity is offered in a follow-up to previous stories on the earliest houses in Westmoreland. An e-mail was received from Joan Anderson, who with her husband Jon continues to live in the house which has been in her family since its construction in 1913. It was built by her grandfather, Dair Sproul, and was subsequently the family home of Joan’s father Robert O. Sproul.

Dair was from Ohio and worked in the Brooklyn train yard, while his son Robert was employed as business manager for the Reynolds School District. Joan and her siblings were raised there, and attended Llewellyn School and Cleveland High. When Joan was in the eighth grade her mother died, and when her father remarried the family moved to northwest Portland for some years. Her father kept the house, but rented it to college students and later to Joan and some of her women friends.

When Joan and Jon married in 1981 they initially lived at S.E. 16th and Spokane Street. After the arrival of two children they asked to purchase the family home from her father, and did. The Andersons have lived in the Craftsman-style Four Square since that time and hope to pass it along to other family members.

Except for a kitchen remodel in the 1970’s and the removal of a small back porch, the three-bedroom home retains almost all of its original features. This includes unusual gas light fixtures in the ceilings and in the dining room wall sconces. These were later electrified, but because the rooms were originally lit with gas, there were no electrical outlets in the walls.

Until the late 1950’s the house was heated with a sawdust-fueled furnace. It has coved ceilings, built-in bookshelves on either side of the living room fireplace, and a handsome staircase rising to the second floor.

This writer would enjoy hearing from any local residents whose home has remained in the same family for one hundred years, or possibly longer. Contact me through THE BEE.

Add a comment