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The community of Gresham, Oregon was established in the mid 1800’s when Powell Valley was named after three pioneer settlers: James Powell  and Missouri transplant Jackson Powell, who moved to Oregon in 1852, and Dr. John Parker Powell who moved to Oregon in 1853. Though they were unrelated, they chose to live in the shadow of Mt. Hood, at the site we know of today as the downtown core of Gresham.  They had all endured  rugged trips on Wagon Trains as they moved to the Land of Opportunity.

The first Post Office to be established in the area was called “Camp Ground” and it opened on July 12, 1871. The Camp Ground Post Office closed on June 9, 1884.

Other settlers and developers moved to the area and a new Post Office was established on May 15, 1884. The new town was named after Walter Quinton Gresham, United States Postmaster General.

Walter Gresham

Gresham had been a famous Colonel in the Union Army during the Civil War. After a successful campaign at Vicksburg, he was promoted to General and moved his command to Atlanta. He suffered a shattered knee and his military career ended. Gresham returned to his law practice and politics after the war. He served as Postmaster General from 1883 to 1884 and then he served as Secretary of State from 1893 to 1895.


Early view of Powell Boulevard looking east, circa 1906.


The Congdon Hotel at Main Street and Powell Boulevard in Gresham looking west.


This early view shows Powell at Main Street, looking west. You can see the Drug Store to the far right and First State Bank occupies the building in the center and to the right. To the left is the Ford Metzger Saloon, which advertises Weinhard Lager Beer. To the left and to the rear is the Gresham Hotel.

The Municipality of Gresham was finally incorporated in 1905, the year of the Lewis & Clark Exposition. The city’s population stood at 365.

The lovely village of Gresham lies 12 miles out from Portland, in the midst of the valley. Train service to this point is hourly.  It is the center of a spendid farming district. It is also the place of departure for sportsmen seeking the trout of Bull Run Creek, that picturesque mountain stream from the headwaters of which Portland derives its famous water supply. Farming, berry culture, grape growing, vegetable gardening and cherry growing are among the important  small farm industries throughout the region. -- The Oregon Journal - July 18, 1909

These early settlers quickly spread out and many of their children were responsible for the growth of such adjacent communities as Barton, Boring, Bull Run, Corbett, Cottrell, Damascus, Deep Creek, Eagle Creek, EstacadaFairviewLinnemann, Orient,  Pleasant Home, Pleasant Valley, Rockwood, Sandy, Troutdale and others.


This early view is looking east on Powell from Main Street. The John Metzger Building on the left, which was built in 1898,  housed Gresham  Drug,  the Telephone Office, Crenshaw Plumbing and Tin Shop, Biddle’s Variety Store and a hotel. To the right is Ben Rollins Confectionery.

Having grown up in the Gresham, Sandy and Boring areas, I have fond memories of many of these glimpses of my hometown. When we first moved to the country, we lived east of Gresham, near Anderson Station where these streetcars made regular trips.


Gresham Car No. 1092 stopped at the Gresham Depot on September 4, 1949.


Car 1099 stopped at the Gresham Springwater Depot near Powell and Main on its way outbound in the 1940’s. Ed’s Express Baggage Truck can be seen picking up freight.

Interurban streetcar service to Gresham was inaugurated in 1903, when a 36-mile line was opened east from Sellwood and Mt. Scott to Gresham, Boring, Estacada and Cazadero. Gresham’s population of 150 people started to grow so quickly that within a year, service was increased to hourly on the 17-mile trip. Soon Gresham’s population swelled to 1000 inhabitants.


In 1907, the interurban line was extended north from Linnemann Station through Ruby Junction and east to Fairview and Troutdale.


Early view of the Troutdale Depot which sat at the west end of town, at the intersection of Halsey and Highway 30. Passenger service to Troutdale ended in 1927.


Another early view of Car 1058 at the Troutdale Depot.


Another interurban line was built through Gresham in 1911. It started at 90th & Glisan in Portland and followed Burnside out to Powell Valley and on to Bull Run.


Early birds eye view of Gresham looking north.


A patriotic parade makes its way through Gresham in 1918 at Powell and Main Street. Note the horse trough in the middle of the intersection.


This view of Main Street looking south to Gresham Butte is from 1934.


This view shows Main Street and Powell looking north on Main.


Shown above is Roberts Street, looking north. First National Bank (now Wells Fargo) is shown on the right. Behind it is a Shell Gas Station. In the distance behind the bus is the Western Auto store. On the left is Walrad Insurance Agency and Payless Drugs. Most of these buildings are still there. A drive-up ATM and parking lot is located where the Shell Gas Station stood.


An early Wesley Andrews view of Gresham Grade School.


 Early view of Gresham High School.


The recently demolished Zimmerman’s 12-Mile Store drew customers from far and wide and it was famous for old-fashioned service. Ann Palmers Bakeries offered fresh bread and cakes. Zim’s featured Triangle Flour, Cereals and Feeds.


Entrance to the Multnomah County Fairgrounds in Gresham.


This view of an Airstream Rally from 1967 shows most of the Gresham Fairground’s pavilions and buildings.

As a kid, I remember when Gresham had the best Parades and the best County Fair there ever was. Gresham hosted the first Multnomah County Fair on October 16 & 17, 1907 on the area once known as “The Flats.”

There was the grandstand and the Horse Track; the Cow Barns and the Agricultural Exhibitions with fresh fruits and vegetables and other homemade delights. The rides were the best in the county.

The county decided to move the County Fair from Gresham after the fair closed in 1969 and the land was sold to the Foursquare Church. The Fair never was much fun after it moved from Gresham. It was held at The Expo for about 20 years. For the past couple of years, the Fair has been a four-day event at Portland Meadows. The fair returned to Oaks Park for a short 100th Anniversary run.

It seems hard to believe that a berry-grower’s town of 3,000 people in the mid-1950’s could become the fourth largest city in Oregon. It has quietly grown and prospered over the years and it seems to be at a crossroads. Rapid growth hasn’t come without some painful realities associated with larger cities.

Last updated 10-28-16

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