Does the name William H. Dunckley ring a bell? How about Harry L. Hamblet, Josephine Bryce, and William Spencer Mason? Let’s not forget Captain John C. Fremont.
For Alamedans, these are household names. Look carefully and you’ll recognize our own geography. Even though we know these names as well as we know our own addresses, chances are the lives of these people are a mystery to us.
Turn back the clock 90 years, and it’s a different story. Some of these people were instrumental in creating our neighborhood. Others were luminaries honored by Portland’s neighborhood builders. Knowing a thing or two about these people and how our streets were named for them reveals a glimpse into our earliest neighborhood history and reflects turn-of-the-twentieth century life in Portland.
There are two general groupings of Alameda’s named streets. The first are particular to our neighborhood, names that for the most part you won’t find elsewhere in Portland: Hamblet, Bryce, Dunckley, Gile, Stuart, Regents, Edgehill, Ridgewood and The Alameda. The second group includes streets that pass through Alameda and many other Northeast Portland neighborhoods: Prescott, Skidmore, Mason, Shaver, Fremont, Klickitat, Siskiyou, Stanton and Knott.
The first group–those locally-grown street names–provide insight into the early development of Alameda.
In 1909, the Alameda Land Company filed the first plat for our neighborhood, which it referred to as Alameda Park. Plat maps of the neighborhood show an orderly district above and below a prominent ridgeline, where the neighborhood would be carved from an existing context of fields, orchards and forests.
One of Astoria’s leading businessmen of the period, Edward Zest (E.Z.) Ferguson, was the president of this company (the Astoria connection is worth noting here in Alameda, on several points). Ferguson and his partners incorporated as the Alameda Land Company in Astoria in 1908, and developed residential and commercial properties here in Portland and in Roseburg. If we had another street, and we were following the convention of naming streets for those who gave the neighborhood its start, we probably would want to consider Ferguson Street on the short list of possibilities.
Harry L. Hamblet was vice president of the Alameda Land Company, and a cohort of Ferguson and Stuart, with his own connections to Astoria. Hamblet was involved in the first real estate purchase, buying 40 acres in 1908 from Sarah L. Buckman, daughter of Abraham Buckman, one of Portland’s earliest settlers.
John Bryce was the company’s accountant and assistant secretary, and not incidentally Ferguson’s father-in-law. Some sources say Bryce Street was named for John, but there is another viewpoint. H Joseph Ferguson, E.Z.’s grandson and a family historian, says a persistent family story over the years is that the street was actually named for Josephine Bryce, E.Z.’s wife and John’s daughter.
Albion L. Gile — partner in the Gile Investment Company — and his wife Katherine, financed and platted a 1921 addition on the west side of the neighborhood straddling the ridgeline, near the street that bears their name today. The Giles were another prominent Astoria family. Most of the houses on this street were built by local builder Harry Phillips, and designed by Portland architect Harry Wolff.
William H. Dunckley, was an English immigrant to New York City, where he lived briefly and met his wife-to-be Fannie Oehme before coming to Oregon in 1886. Dunckley was a career banker for the Ladd and Tilton Bank, retiring in 1919.
Stuart, the one-way downhill street at 26th and Alameda that empties into the intersection at Regents and Ridgewood, was named for Donald M. Stuart, business partner with E.Z. Ferguson in a variety of development and timber-related ventures. Stuart lived at the northwest corner of 26th and Hamblet, literally a short stone’s throw from Ferguson and within sight of the street named in his honor. In winters, this is Deadman’s Hill.
The other three Alameda-only streets, Regents, Ridgewood and Edgehill were likely chosen for their appealing sound and the imagery they represented. The early name for Edgehill was Laura Avenue, as you can plainly see stamped into the curbs. Like Laura, Glenn Avenue is another street name from the early years that has been left behind. Glenn is now 32nd Place, renamed in a wave of Portland street renaming in 1931-1933. Who were Laura and Glenn? That riddle awaits solution.
And then there is our neighborhood namesake: The Alameda. Early neighborhood residents referred to this street as “The Alameda.” Over the years, “The” has slowly faded, but anyone who grew up here in the 1930s and 1940s still refers to the street as “The Alameda.” The Spanish word “alameda” refers to a street lined with trees. Other references tell us that Alameda, Spanish for paseo con arboles [street with trees], is borrowed directly from the Arabic al-muwatta, which means ‘the well-trodden path,’ or the ‘the clear path.
The second group of names provides insight into the people and the types of accomplishments early Portland chose to celebrate. Charles H. Prescott was vice president of the Northern Pacific Railroad and comptroller of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Co.
Stephen Skidmore was a Portland druggist. A financial gift from Skidmore, and his civic-hearted vision, led to the Skidmore Fountain downtown.
William Spencer Mason was elected Portland mayor in June 1891. His lasting achievement was the consolidation of three towns–Albina, East Portland, and Portland–into one community: Portland.
George Washington Shaver was Portland’s early river transportation king. The “SHAVER” tugboats and barges you see today plying the Willamette and Columbia are descendants of the company Shaver started. He was also one of the neighborhoods earliest and most prominent residents.
John C. Fremont explored the Oregon country in the 1840s. He ran for president in 1856 and lost to democrat William Buchanan.
The streets south of Fremont keep alive two of Oregon’s prominent Native American tribes: the Klickitat people (who lived north of the Columbia and west of the Cascades); and the Siskiyou people (who lived in the mountains of southern Oregon).
The final two northeast Portland street names honor Portland businessmen. Edward Gear Stanton was a Portland merchant.
A.J. Knott was the owner of the Stark Street Ferry, which provided a crucial cross-river link between Portland and East Portland for many years. Knott owned property under the east bank of the Fremont Bridge.
If you are interested in the history of street and neighborhood names in Portland (and the colorful history of how our address system has evolved over the years) be sure to pick up a copy of the excellent “Portland Names and Neighborhood: Their Historic Origins,” By Eugene Snyder.
(C) Doug Decker