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The town of Kenton, Oregon was built near the confluence of several rail lines, by the Columbia River, so shipping via rail or water was very convenient for the businesses that settled here. Kenton’s rail yards helped to make the town an industrial area.

The Associated Banking & Trust Company, which had been organized in 1892 for the purpose of investing in and developing real estate, purchased the land that is now Kenton. In the coming months, the corporation became indebted to the Ainsworth Bank. Subsequently, J.C. Ainsworth bought the tract for $15,000 on October 28, 1897, when the Multnomah County Sheriff sold it to cover debts.

Independently operating local butchers Adolph Burckhardt, Thomas Papworth, Morton M. Spaulding, James and John O’Shea and Emanuel Masy joined together in 1893 to form the Union Meat Company. In 1906, Swift & Company purchased their assets, though their operations continued to be known locally as the Union Meat Company.


Union Meat Company opened a modern meat processing facility opposite Hayden Island on the south channel of the Columbia River in 1909.

In 1907, Swift sent C. C. Colt to Portland to be president of their operations and soon thereafter Colt formed Kenwood Land Company in order to purchase land along the Columbia River for a new meat packing plant, along with adjacent land for a company town. Planners had hoped to name the company town “Kenwood,” but this name was in use elsewhere in Oregon, so they settled for “Kenton.”


Early view of Portland’s Union Stock Yards.


View of the Union Stock Yards looking north. The Union Meat Company also had a meat packing plant in Troutdale.


The Livestock Exchange which was at the Union Stock Yards.

By 1911, there were no less than twelve major manufacturing firms located in the Kenton area, making this area second only to St. Johns as a manufacturing center. Swift was at the center of this development, with a plant that included the Portland Union Stockyards, Portland Cattle Load Company, Columbia Wool Basin Warehouse, Kenton Traction Company and others. Swift employed over 1500 workers, and more beef was butchered in Kenton than in any other town in the Northwest.


The Bank of Kenton was established for the cattlemen at Derby (now Denver) and Kilpatrick St.

Kenton was unique because it became one of the few examples of a company town in Oregon. Denver Avenue, originally Derby Street, became the main street of the new community. Fashionable “Executive Row” homes for the Swift officers were built either on or east of Denver Avenue.   Rows of smaller, nearly identical houses were constructed on the side streets west of Denver Avenue for the workers’ families.


On June 27, 1909, the 40-room Kenton Hotel was opened at Derby and McClellan St. Cattlemen coming to Kenton from out of town could stay in first-class accommodations at the Hotel Kenton.

In 1909, the Swift’s Kenton Traction Company began operating a streetcar line to carry workers to and from the meat packing plant. A construction worker is laying rails in the photo above, in the lower right. The cars ran all day; the fare was a nickel and there were no transfers. The Kenton cars connected with the City cars on the Mississippi Line which terminated at Kenton.

Once a year, the city lines would use the Kenton Traction Car to carry thousands of visitors to and from the Pacific International Livestock Exposition (PI).


A Kenton Traction Car is stopped at the Red Steer Cafe at the Livestock Pavilion.


View of the Portland Union Stockyards in 1937.


The Portland Glazed Cement Pipe Company set up shop on Columbia Boulevard to the west of the Kenton Traction Company Trestle. In the rear, you can see Davis Safe and Lock Company.


Davis Safe & Lock Company set up a manufacturing division by Kenton Yards in the industrial area north of Kenton.


Nicolai Sash and Door Company was located west of Davis Lock & Safe.

1930s view of Kilpatrick Street and the Bank of Kenton.

The Columbia Service Garage and Gas Station on Columbia Boulevard.


Kenton’s 31-foot tall statue of Paul Bunyan was recently added to the National Register of Historical Places as Oregon’s only roadside architecture in the register. The statue was commissioned by the Kenton Businessmen’s Club to greet millions of visitors to the Centennial Exposition in 1959. Victor R. Nelson and his son Victor A. Nelson designed and crafted Paul Bunyan in the nearby Kenton Machine Works at a cost of $25,000.

Kenton Traction Company cars stopped running in December 1928 and the tracks were paved over. Within what is now the Kenton area was the second largest city in Oregon – Vanport. Since Vanport was booming, traffic patterns changed and the flow of traffic moved from Interstate Avenue which goes through Kenton to Union Avenue, and the business went with it. Kenton was in a state of decline. In 1948, a flood washed out the town of Vanport and residents left the area. It never recovered, but Kenton has gone through a revival in recent years.

The Pacific Livestock Expo held its last show in Portland in the 1980s and the buildings were sold to Multnomah County where the Multnomah County Fair remained for about 20 years. Portland’s Union Stockyards ceased operation in the 1980s. Then an Industrial Park was built in its place.

Rich in history, the Kenton Historic District was absorbed into Portland many years ago and it retains a unique character all its own. Thanks to the Kenton Neighborhood Association for help with historic information.

Last updated 10-19-16

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