Walking Alameda

Here are three of our favorite neighborhood history walks that make for a good break after dinner (or before breakfast). Click on the links below for more information.

Pearson Dairy Farm Walk: It’s gone now, but the old Pearson farm defined the landscape of this area in the vicinity of Alameda School just before the turn of the 20th century. This .6 mile walk will trace the outlines of the farm and put you in touch with some landmarks you might not have known existed.

Alameda Park Plat Perimeter Walk: This 2.45 mile walk will take you all the way around the perimeter of the original Alameda Park plat. Bring the plat map along, and pay attention to the interesting alignments on the west edge of the neighborhood, especially around Crane Street (see if you can find the Ghost of Crane Street).

Broadway Streetcar Walk: This 3.1 mile loop will have you tracing the path of the Broadway Streetcar that served Alameda for generations. Consider printing the pictures and bringing them along to line up in the footsteps of history.

 

 

A few spots left for history walk…

Alameda Blog readers will assume we’ve gone into retirement due to the slowdown in posts here. But not so. Research continues, as do daily musings and wonderings about the stories from Alameda’s past. It’s been fun to see the conversation among commenters here on the blog. We’re glad to provide a water cooler around which we can share stories and thoughts.

The outlet this month for our neighborhood history energy is a walking tour of Alameda that we’re leading through the neighborhood on Thursday night, August 9th. At last check, there are still a few open spots, if you’re interested. Click on over to the Architectural Heritage Center’s website for more information about how to register.

More posts to come this summer and fall, including a great story about the baseball rivalry between Alameda and Irvington; some thoughts about current infill and remodeling underway in the neighborhood; and a profile of early architect Ida McCain. Stay tuned.

A Legacy Written in Stone (ok, concrete)

Who hasn’t come across the time stamp of history on neighborhood sidewalks? If you’re paying attention, even on a simple stroll around the block, you’ll find yourself on the trail of the past.

Curbs and sidewalks under construction, from The Oregonian, June 3, 1910.

Curbs and sidewalks under construction, from The Oregonian, June 3, 1910.

On most blocks–typically near the corners–you’ll find the name of the contractor who installed the sidewalks and curbs, along with the date of their construction, and even the names of the streets. Think of it as a signature, and appreciate the irony that even though the prestigious builders of the big houses are long gone, the identity of the grunt-work done by  ditch diggers, form builders and concrete finishers has stood the test of time.

The curbs and sidewalks on my block–block 23 of the Alameda Park Addition–were built by Warren Construction Company in the summer of 1912. Warren Construction, like other companies, had contracts with the city to excavate, frame and pour many city blocks worth of sidewalks and curbs. Look carefully and you’ll find the printed names of Hassam Construction, Krieq, Elwood Wiles and others.

elwood-wiles-stamp

So, here’s some insight into two of the of the companies you’re going to bump into walking around the Alameda Park neighborhood, and some great factoids you’ll want to hang onto for scintillating dinner conversation. After you’ve paid enough attention to these names–and learned a little about the companies and when they operated–you can almost tell what era and corner of the neighborhood you’re in just by looking at the names on the sidewalks.

Warren Construction Company

This company once employed world-renowned chemist and Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling as its chief asphalt inspector. Pauling, born in Portland in 1901, was a young man when he worked summers for Warren, testing the quality of its asphalt production facility. Pauling recalled, years later, how company bosses didn’t want him to go on with his studies…they wanted him to stay put on quality control. In addition to giving one of the world’s greatest chemists his start, Warren Construction also made a name for itself building and installing all of the concrete decking on the Interstate Bridge (first opened in 1917), and applying the asphalt surface once the bridge deck was complete. They also worked on the Columbia River Highway as well.

 

Elwood Wiles

If you are a walker, this man is a household name. You see him everywhere on Portland’s east side. For years, I wondered about his identity, and after doing the research, I finally have a few answers. Wiles was born in Canada in 1874, and came to Portland in 1887. After high school he worked in a variety of jobs for a local harness maker before going into the sidewalk business. From 1903 til about 1917, Wiles held the majority of all city contracts for excavating, framing and pouring curbs and sidewalks. After the big building boom of these years, Wiles dabbled in timber speculation, concrete pipe manufacturing, stocks and bonds, and insurance. In his later years, he owned an illuminated traffic sign company. He died in Portland in December 1956. Be sure to check out this photo of Wiles and biography I’ve written in  The Builders section here on the site.

Interested in helping create an inventory of sidewalk contractors in Alameda? A couple of us are setting out to do some documentation, and we could use a studious person with some time to spare (and a digital camera) to help. If you’re interested in joining in, drop me a note: doug@alamedahistory.org.

Click here to see what’s been done in the Hawthorne neighborhood.

If this topic really piques your interest, check this out.

History Walk | A Spin Around the Farm

Here’s another history walk–a short one this time at .6 of a mile–that will take you around the perimeter of the Pearson Farm, one of the earliest settlements in this area, dating to 1875.

The starting point for this one is easy: the Pearson Pine at NE 29th and Fremont. Go stand under its broad branches and be prepared for time travel back through our neighborhood’s past. Before you walk the farm, though, there are a few things you need to know.

The Pearson Ponderosa Pine presides over the corner of NE 29th and Fremont.

The Pearson Ponderosa Pine presides over the corner of NE 29th and Fremont.

About the Tree: This old timer has seen it all-the farms and orchards south of Fremont; the deep forest on the ridge to the north and the flats beyond that give way to the Columbia; the slow but steady reach of the street grid; an explosion of home building; construction of nearby Alameda School; the steady tide of young families moving in, and older people moving out. Like a sentinel, this tree has watched our corner of Portland grow up.

Planted in 1885 by Samuel Pearson to mark the northeast corner of his 20-acre farm, this Ponderosa pine has had plenty of room to grow to its noteworthy circumference of 15 feet, and estimated height of more than 100 feet. According to a family story handed down the years, Samuel salvaged the young seedling from an area burned by wildfire and brought it home to his farm. We nominated this as a Heritage Tree back in 2008.

About the Farm: 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, his wife 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. Cows grazed, were born, milked and died, right where today’s Alameda Elementary School sits. Contained elsewhere 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.”

pearson-detail

This detail from a much larger map shows the area of the Pearson farm in 1906. NE Fremont runs across the top of the frame. NE 33rd is the main road running vertically through the middle. NE 24th runs vertically on the far left side, along the edge of Edgemont. Look carefully and you can see Klickitat and Siskiyou streets. Note the Bowering Tract. The Pearson Farm is the empty lot east of Edgemont and west of the Town of Wayne. Note our proximity to the city limits: the pink vertical line on the far right shows the boundary. The large number “25” is section 25 in Township 1 North, Range 1 East of the Willamette Meridian. Click the map for a large image.

Do you have that mental picture in mind now? OK, let’s walk.

  1. Start on Northeast 29th and Fremont, under the Pearson Pine, and head south on 29th for two blocks to Siskiyou. Along the way, you’ll note an empty lot on the right a few houses south on 29th…until two years ago, this held an original Pearson house.
  2. Turn right (west) on Siskiyou. You are now walking through what was a major wetland feature and pond, maybe a seasonal creek. If you look carefully, you can see what looks like a low spot in the pavement. Where they drained the swamp. You can also see the streets don’t line up just right here…a clue to the meeting of two developments.
  3. Continue on Siskiyou to Northeast 27th. You’ve just walked past a sawmill and small log yard. Can you hear the cows?
  4. Turn right (north) on 27th and appreciate the nice plaza and grounds at Alameda Elementary School. The pasture was off to your right where the playground is today. Check out the red farmhouse on your left as you approach Fremont. The third generation of Pearsons were born here and played on the porch. One of the Pearsons once said that porch was built extra large so the kids had a place to play outside that wasn’t in the cow pasture. In that day–1908–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.
  5. Turn right (east) on Fremont and set your sights on that big Ponderosa pine, back to where you started.

Much has changed in this place since the Pearsons first shaped the landscape. But the power of memory, and the silent witness of that tall pine, remind us all about our neighborhood’s connection to those early years.

History Walk | Alameda Park Perimeter

These fall evenings are great for a brisk walk. Leaves everywhere, woodsmoke in the air, raindrops. And local history ripe for the imagination.

Alameda Park Plat Map, c. 1912

Click on the map for a larger file you can print

The northwest corner of “The Park” (as in the Alameda Park subdivision) is a little confusing, particularly around Crane Street, which has been significantly changed over time (and is actually part of the Vernon plat). Rather than trying to follow the zig-zag of the property boundary, I just walked Prescott to NE 20th to the shadow of the big water tower. Then south to Alameda Drive and around the corner to 21st, then west on Ridgewood to 20th, and then left down the hill. When you are on 20th above the ridge, from Prescott to Alameda, you can see the difference in the neighborhood plats, with Sabin to the west on one side of the street with smaller homes on smaller lots.

Turning left (east) on Fremont, you have the long straight south edge of The Park to walk, passing by where the streetcar ran up 24th and the busy commercial hub that included the Alameda Pharmacy, the old Safeway (now the bank) and what used to be two gas stations. I think of the northeast and northwest corners of NE 24th and Fremont as the gateway to The Park because that’s where the streetcar ran, and because of the business district here.

Next, you pass east by the school, built in 1921 after much lobbying by the locals and a few protests that the construction contract was awarded through some favoritism (future blog post, stay tuned). The plats off to your right are Waynewood, the Town of Wayne and Edgemont, names long forgotten.

Tip your hat to the Pearson Pine, the big old ponderosa pine tree on the southeast corner of NE 29th and Fremont. It’s been there since at least 1885.

Up the hill you go. As you pass the staircases that head up to the top of the ridge, keep in mind there are old water mains under those steps, placed when they were built in the teens. At one point, maybe in the 1920s and early 1930s, women from the Alameda Tuesday Club acted as ushers for young children passing up and down these stairs on their way to and from school.

The crest of the hill at Fremont and 33rd is Gravelly Hill, which was both a gravel pit and garbage dump for many years. The dump was under the southwest corner, where a fine house sits today.

As you walk north on 33rd, think about the 33rd street woods (today’s Wilshire Park), originally part of the Kamm Estate, which was a dense forest that played a large part in the memories of youngsters who grew up there in the 1930s and 1940s. While you’re enjoying the evening, you can also tip your hat to the home guard, made up of Alameda dads, who patrolled the neighborhood at night during the World War II years, enforcing blackout rules and making sure families kept blankets and light dampers up on their windows.

And then there are the thousands of stories that rise up from the generations who have lived in the homes you’ll pass. Lots to wonder about as you and the dog push on around the corner at Prescott and head into the home stretch (being sure to have a look up the alleys north of Prescott as you scope your next walk). So nice to be out on a history walk on a brisk November night.

Next: Walking the route of the Broadway Streetcar.

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