Layers of Neighborhood History: The Pearson Farm
Study of tall tree reveals clues to early family and Alameda’s oldest houses
As a person always on the lookout for clues to the history of our neighborhood, I was very pleased to make the acquaintance of the 120-year old Ponderosa pine tree at Northeast 29th and Fremont. In the process of learning about this remarkable tree-which I call Pearson’s Pine in honor of the family that planted it-I’ve had the opportunity to better understand an interesting, early chapter of Alameda history, pieces of which are still visible today.
First, there’s the tree, planted by Samuel at the far corner of his 20-acre farm, just east of the farmhouse he built for his wife Adeline and sons Walter and Alvin. Alvin remembered how Samuel salvaged the tree as a young seedling from an area burned by a forest fire. Where did it come from, and why did he take it? Did he plant it to mark a property boundary, or maybe in hopes of creating a buffer against east winds? He took care of the young tree in those early years, we know that because it survived the competition of tall grass, blackberries and hungry deer.
Next, there’s the Pearson farm, a dairy operation. You can still walk its boundaries today: Fremont on the north; Northeast 29th Avenue on the east; Siskiyou on the south; and Northeast 27th Avenue on the west. Today’s Alameda Elementary School sits smack-dab in the middle of the Pearson place.
Contained in the early Pearson landscape was a pond at the lowest part of the property, in the vicinity of today’s Northeast 29th and Siskiyou, with an operating sawmill nearby; pastures for the dairy cows; a large old locust tree (now gone) on Fremont at 27th; and what the Pearsons described as “deep forest to the north.”
The land was originally part of a Donation Land Claim granted by the U.S. Government in 1859 to William and Isabelle Bowering. Pearson bought the land in 1875 after it had gone through a quick succession of owners, and began to establish his farm. He was born in England, Adeline in France, and together for the next 25-plus years, they tried to make a go of it milking cows on the edge of Portland. But it was not an easy existence. They lost their property in 1900 due to an unfavorable legal judgment and the land was sold in a sheriff’s auction to pay the settlement. Their son Alvin took off to Alaska to earn some money. In 1902, a fire leveled the original farmhouse. That year, Samuel and Adeline-who had been married for 35 years-were divorced.
But the Pearson story continues. Alvin returns from Alaska in 1905, gets married soon after to Josephine, and finds a way to buy back all but five acres of the farm, which he deeds back to his mother Adeline. She moves into the house at 3405 NE 29th Avenue, which was built for her in 1902 using some of the unburned house parts from the original 1880s farmhouse (windows, structural timbers, etc.). Adeline’s 624 square-foot house, set far back on the lot, is very likely the oldest surviving home in Alameda. [Note: this house was razed in the summer of 2006].
Then, in 1908, Alvin and Josephine build the house at 3407 NE 27th, directly west of Alameda Elementary School. If you’ve ever dropped off kids at the side door of Alameda School, you’ve seen this stately red farmhouse with large front porch. Alvin and Josephine’s children were born here and played on the porch, said to have been built extra large so the kids had a place to play outside that wasn’t in the cow pasture. In that day, there was no school yet, no street, no sidewalk. Just a view of Mt. Hood and their pasture off the front porch to the east, and 20 acres of Scotch broom and dogwood out the back door. This is likely one of the oldest surviving homes in Alameda.
In a 1977 oral history interview done by former neighborhood resident Bob Brown (who once lived in the Pearson house on Northeast 27th), Josephine recalled these and other memories from her past, including how once or twice a week a man would walk from Northeast 13th and Broadway to take grocery orders in the morning, which were then delivered by wagon later the same day. She remembered sleeping out on her porch. She remembered the unusual man who lived in a small house on what is now Klickitat Street, who owned 100 clocks. Thanks to Brown, these stories were written down for the future. The following year, 1978, Josephine died.
By 1913, Portland’s homebuilding boom was in full swing, and Alvin and Josephine had subdivided their land and moved out of the neighborhood. The rest of the Pearson farm was also subdivided, becoming “Pearson’s Addition,” “Fremont Addition,” the “Miami Subdivision” and the “Irvindale Subdivision.” Eventually these names faded into the past and the neighborhood name that stuck was Alameda, named for the large development then underway to the north and west by the Alameda Land Company.
Much has changed in this place since the Pearsons first shaped the landscape. But the power of memory, and the silent witness of a tall pine, remind us all about our neighborhood’s connection to those early years.
(C) Doug Decker