How Portland's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Like us on Facebook

davecito, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

There are 95 officially recognized neighborhoods in Portland, plus several more areas that people think are neighborhoods but aren't (hello, Hawthorne!). Many of these started out as separate communities that were later consolidated into Portland, and many of them have their roots in the great land rush of the 1850s, when the Donation Land Claim Act brought thousands of new settlers to Oregon.

We didn't bother with some neighborhoods whose names are based on topology (Hillside, Hillsdale, Southwest Hills, Sylvan-Highlands), geography (Northwest Industrial, Downtown, Far Southwest, North Tabor, South Tabor), or other obvious things (Old Town, Chinatown). We also omitted some that aren't commonly used.

Here they are, arranged according to quadrant. Yes, Portland defies the laws of math and language by having five quadrants. It's a special place.

SW PORTLAND

GOOSE HOLLOW

In August 1875, this area just west of downtown was the site of an amusing neighborhood argument. As reported by The Oregonian, some 75 geese owned by local residents were being permitted to roam free, wreaking havoc on gardens and generally creating a nuisance. When a police officer tried to drive them away, he was set upon by several local women, all claiming ownership of the birds—the geese had intermingled for so long that no one knew which ones belonged to whom. A judge ordered that the geese be split up evenly among the interested women, and said he'd incarcerate anyone who started another goose-related ruckus. The nickname Goose Hollow emerged a few years later, first as a pejorative (this was a "seedy" part of town, and the incident made the locals seem like rubes), but residents came to embrace it.

HAYHURST

This neighborhood at the western edge of Portland was named after its Hayhurst Elementary School. When the school was planned in the 1950s, it was called David Douglas, in honor of the famed Scottish botanist (and namesake of the Pacific Northwest's Douglas fir trees). When the school opened in 1954, it was changed to honor Elizabeth Hayhurst, the first president of the Oregon Parent-Teacher Association.

MAPLEWOOD

Merzperson, Wikimedia Commons

Established in 1912, Maplewood took its name from a station on the Oregon Electric Railway, which connected Portland to Salem.

MARKHAM

Named after Charles Edward Anson Markham, who was poet laureate of Oregon (1923-1931) despite only having lived in the state for the first four years of his life. As a poet, he went by Edwin Markham, and his most famous work was "The Man with the Hoe." Markham is not to be confused with Philip A. Marquam, an Oregon legislator and real estate developer for whom the Marquam Bridge (a.k.a. the I-5 bridge) is named.

SOUTH BURLINGAME

Named because it's at the lower end of Burlingame Avenue, of course. Burlingame's origin is murky, but it may have been inspired by the town of that name in California. (The neighborhood that one might expect to be called North Burlingame is called Hillsdale.)

NW PORTLAND

ALPHABET DISTRICT

Raul, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The unimaginatively named Northwest District is more commonly known as the Alphabet District because the neighborhood features 22 east-west streets that go alphabetically (starting at the south) from Burnside up to Wilson. They're all named for prominent Portlanders of yesteryear. Another prominent Portlander, Matt Groening, repurposed a few of these street names for Simpsons characters: Flanders, Kearney, Lovejoy, and Quimby.

FOREST PARK

So named because the neighborhood is next to Forest Park, which is so named because it's a forest that's also a park.

LINNTON

Running along the west side of the Willamette River, Linnton was incorporated as its own town in 1910, then merged with Portland in 1915. It was named after Lewis F. Linn, a U.S. senator from Missouri who strongly advocated for what would eventually be known as the Donation Land Claim Act of 1850, which encouraged settlement of Oregon by giving land away for free. Many of the people for whom Portland streets, schools, and buildings are named came here because of the DLC.

PEARL DISTRICT

Portland's newest and most fashionable neighborhood was nothing but warehouses and industrial buildings until the mid-1980s, when it started to get the urban renewal (and gentrification) treatment. Formerly known as the Northwest Industrial Triangle, it was given its new name in 1985 by a gallery owner named Thomas Augustine, who told a magazine writer that the neighborhood's artists, toiling away in old, crusty buildings, were like pearls inside oysters. But it had a double meaning: Augustine had already taken to calling it "Pearl's district," after his friend Pearl Marie Amhara, an Ethiopian Christian polyglot who traveled the world raising money for the poor.

SE PORTLAND

BROOKLYN

Some parts of Portland stole their names from other places, but Brooklyn wasn't one of them. It was Brookland at first, so named in 1851 by Giddeon Tibbets, the first white settler in the area, because of its many rivers and creeks. It evolved into Brooklyn a few decades later. The neighborhood was crime and poverty-stricken in the 1960s, but by the 1980s had been turned into a pleasant residential area, taking advantage of its adjacency to the east side of the Willamette River.

CRESTON-KENILWORTH

Named for two of the parks in it. The Creston part, like many local names, comes from a land developer. But the Kenilworth part comes from Sir Walter Scott's 1821 novel of that name. Scott's books are also referenced in Portland's Woodstock neighborhood and in Waverly and Ivanhoe. It was trendy in America in the late 1800s to name stuff after Scott books. Watch for land being developed now to have names like "Bella," "Edward," and "Twilight."

FOSTER-POWELL

Named for two of the three streets that form its triangular boundaries (the other is 82nd Avenue). It's the only hyphenated neighborhood named that way. Foster Road comes from early resident Philip Foster, a prominent farmer and the brother-in-law of F.W. Pettygrove, one of Portland's founders. Powells Valley Road, named after the family of Jackson Powell who homesteaded land in the Gresham area in 1853, became Powell Boulevard.

HOSFORD-ABERNETHY

This mouthful of a neighborhood, home to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), was named for two 1800s fellows: Rev. Chauncey O. Hosford, a Methodist minister and schoolteacher (and at one time the owner of the property at the top of Mt. Tabor), and George Abernethy, Oregon's first governor. Why those two? Because the neighborhood is actually named after two of its schools, Hosford Middle and Abernethy Elementary.

LENTS

Oliver P. Lent was an Ohio stone mason who came to the Portland area with his wife in 1852, settling in what is now Lents in 1866. He became a prominent farmer and rancher, and he won the right to name the settlement in a coin toss with fellow settler William Johnson (who got to immortalize himself in Johnson's Creek as a consolation prize).

MT. TABOR

In 1853, some Methodists in this area were starting a church and wanted to use an area name, only the area didn't have a name yet. So they gave it one: Mt. Tabor, after the mountain in Biblical Palestine. Rev. Clinton Kelly's son Plympton suggested it. The mountain at the center of this neighborhood is actually a volcano! (Not the fun kind, though—it's what's called a volcanic cinder cone. And it's not much of a mountain either, being only about 425 feet higher than the land around it.)

REED

Simeon G. Reed worked in the liquor and grocery business for wealthy entrepreneur William S. Ladd, became an investor in various river-based concerns, and soon came to be involved in land development. He got rich. The neighborhood named for him is home to the liberal arts college that's also named for him.

RICHMOND

The neighborhood is named after Dr. Richmond Kelly, son of Rev. Clinton Kelly and brother of the Kelly boy who suggested calling it Mt. Tabor back in 1853.

SELLWOOD

Sellwood, technically known as Sellwood-Moreland, contains Westmoreland and is adjacent to Eastmoreland. Those were named after real estate developer, lawyer, and judge Julius Caesar Moreland. Sellwood was named after Rev. John Sellwood, and started as its own city, incorporated in 1887. Portland annexed it in 1893.

SUNNYSIDE

Most people call this funky area Belmont, after the main street that goes through it. How it got its official name of Sunnyside is unknown, though considering the climate in Portland, it may have been sarcastic.

WOODSTOCK

The title of a novel by Sir Walter Scott. See also: Creston-Kenilworth.

NE PORTLAND

ALAMEDA

The word is Spanish for a grove of poplar or cottonwood trees ("alamo"). None of these trees ever lined Alameda Street or its namesake neighborhood, but it came in thanks to its secondary meaning of a “tree lined avenue.”

BEAUMONT

Actually Beaumont-Wilshire, but nobody calls it that. From the French for "beautiful mountain"—a stretch, since the subdivision is only slightly elevated, but developers wanted to emphasize it.

CONCORDIA

Derek, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Named for Concordia University, which has been the center of the neighborhood since 1905. The university gets its name from the 16th-century collection of Lutheran doctrinal teachings, and is one of 10 colleges and universities in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s Concordia University System.

CULLY

Gets its name from Tom Cully, one of the many settlers in the early 1850s who took advantage of the Donation Land Claim Act.

GRANT PARK

That'd be Ulysses S. Grant. As an army lieutenant, he spent a year stationed at Fort Vancouver (in Washington, across the Columbia River from Portland) and made local friends, one of whom (attorney general George H. Williams) he appointed to his cabinet when he later became president. After his presidency, he visited Portland in 1879 and in 1883. The Grant Park neighborhood includes U.S. Grant Place, Grant Street, and Grant High School.

HOLLYWOOD


This is one of Portland's smallest neighborhoods (about 0.18 square miles), and it's centered around the Hollywood Theatre, a 1926 movie palace that is now a lovingly restored three-screen art-house. Before the theater came along, this neighborhood was part of the adjacent Rose City Park district. So impressed were the locals by the ornate cinema that they broke off a chunk of Rose City Park and renamed it Hollywood. As it happens, the area was already informally named Hollyrood, after the Scottish Holyrood, so it wasn't much of a change.

IRVINGTON

The subdivision was platted in 1887 by descendants of Capt. William Irving, an important figure in the early maritime history of Portland. The neighborhood includes some of the land that Irving settled in the 1850s as part of the Donation Land Claim Act.

KING

Historically the part of Portland with the highest concentration of African American residents, this neighborhood was called Highland until 1989, when Union Avenue (which runs down the middle of it) was renamed Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. A name change for the neighborhood quickly ensued.

SABIN

Like many Portland neighborhoods, Sabin is named after one of its public schools. The Sabin School was named after Ella C. Sabin, who was the city superintendent and a high school principal in the late 1800s.

SULLIVAN'S GULCH

A.Davey, Flickr //  CC BY-SA 2.0

Named for Timothy Sullivan, an Irishman who came to Oregon with his Tasmanian wife in 1851 and settled on this land. Sullivan's Gulch is wedged between the Lloyd District and Irvington, and often gets lumped in with them. But in olden times, it was a lush, beautiful area filled with running water. (During the Great Depression, it was also full of shantytowns.) Its southern border is I-84, the Banfield Freeway, which residents considered renaming Sullivan's Gulch Pike in 1955 before thinking better of it.

NE and SE PORTLAND

LAURELHURST

In 1909, 462 acres of farmland were sold to a development company founded by two Portlanders and two Seattleites. The company had just finished a Seattle project called Laurelhurst, named for the local laurel shrubbery ("hurst" is an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning a wood or grove), and they reused the name for Portland. They apparently liked it a lot: they named their own firm, formally organized in May 1909, The Laurelhurst Company.

MONTAVILLA

Streetcars running through Mount Tabor Village, as it was known in the 1890s, abbreviated it "Mt. Ta. Villa" on their destination signs. Later that became "Monta.Villa," which evidently had a nice ring to it because residents adopted it as the official name.

N PORTLAND

CATHEDRAL PARK

The park is under the St. Johns Bridge, on the east side of the Willamette River. The bridge has a gothic look to it, hence the name.

HAYDEN ISLAND

An actual island in the Columbia River, which separates Portland, Ore., from Vancouver, Wash. Oregon claims Hayden Island, but the man it's named after, Gay Hayden, mostly owned property in Vancouver, not Portland. He owned most of Hayden Island, too, and lived in a fancy house there.

KENTON

In the early 20th century, Kenton went from being a small farming community to a company town built by a meat-packing company. Developers had Kenwood in mind for its name, but another settlement in Oregon was already using it, so they went with Kenton. Both names were probably inspired by Francis McKenna, one of the prominent real estate developers of the day. There's a big Paul Bunyan statue here.

OVERLOOK

This subdivision, platted in 1906, is on a bluff with a view of the Willamette River. You might say it "overlooks" it.

PORTSMOUTH

There was an attempt to form a city of Portsmouth around Portsmouth Avenue and Lombard Street in the 1880s, but plans fell through. The area is near the mouth of Portland's harbor, which may have inspired the name. There are also old cities by that name in New Hampshire and Virginia, both namesakes of the seaport and naval base in England.

ST. JOHNS

megan, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A settler named James John (or Johns—he signed it both ways on documents) came to the area in the 1840s. A widower and something of a hermit, he was also known for his compassion and service. He operated a general store and a ferry service on the Willamette. The locals liked him, calling him "Old Jimmy Johns" and "St. Johns." St. Johns was a separate incorporated city from 1902-1915, when residents voted to join Portland.

UNIVERSITY PARK

Methodists established Portland University in 1891, but it lasted less than a decade before financial problems forced its sale to the Catholics, who reopened it in 1901 as Columbia University. It was renamed University of Portland in 1935, and it remains the focus of the University Park neighborhood to this day.

N and NE PORTLAND

HUMBOLDT

Most of the many American places called Humboldt are ultimately named after the German naturalist Baron Friedrich Alexander von Humboldt. Portland's Humboldt neighborhood may have also been more directly inspired by Humboldt County and Humboldt Bay in California, or by a tavern called Humboldt House (owned by the Kroetz family) in East Portland in the 1880s.

BOISE

Walklandia, Flickr // CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The Boise subdivision, formed in 1892, may have been named for Reuben Boise, a prominent citizen of the 1850s for whom Boise Elementary School was named. But there's no record of any official connection between him and the Boise plat; moreover, he pronounced his name "Boyce," while folks in the Boise neighborhood say "Boisy." There was also W.L. Boise, a notary public around the turn of the century whose name appears on real estate documents. And of course there's Boise, Idaho, which the developers may have been thinking of. No one knows for sure.

ELIOT


This was the center of the city of Albina before Albina was folded into Portland. It was named after Rev. Thomas Lamb Eliot, a Unitarian minister who came to Oregon in 1867 and quickly became one of the area's most influential religious figures. He was also president of the Portland Children's Home, the Oregon Humane Society, and the Portland Associated Charities, with additional work in the art association and library association.

PIEDMONT

The word comes from the Italian for "foot of a mountain," thus "foothill." It was officially platted in 1889 and may have been Portland's first planned community.

LLOYD DISTRICT

Ralph B. Lloyd moved from California to Portland in 1905, returned to L.A. in 1911, struck oil, got rich, moved back to Portland, and bought a ton of land. The area named for him is also home to the Lloyd Center mall.

TECHNICALLY NOT OFFICIAL NEIGHBORHOODS BUT PEOPLE ACT LIKE THEY ARE

ALBERTA ARTS DISTRICT

This hip artsy area, centered around Alberta Street, is mostly in the Humboldt and King neighborhoods. The street got its name in 1891, when the English royal family—including Princess Alberta, fourth daughter of Queen Victoria—was all the rage.

ALBINA

A separate town consolidated into Portland in 1891, named for Mrs. Albina Page, wife of one of the founders.

HAWTHORNE

There is no Hawthorne neighborhood. In fact, the hipster-y section of Hawthorne Boulevard that people think of as "Hawthorne" doesn't belong to ANY neighborhood: running east-west, it's the dividing line between the Buckman and Sunnyside neighborhoods to the north and Hosford-Abernethy and Richmond to the south. At any rate, it was named after Dr. J.C. Hawthorne, cofounder of Oregon's first mental hospital.

JOHN'S LANDING

Found in the disappointingly named South Portland neighborhood, John's Landing isn't named after the same person as St. Johns, but after the B.P. John Furniture Company, a major manufacturer back when it was an industrial area.

LADD'S ADDITION

Portland's oldest planned residential neighborhood (now part of the Hosford-Abernethy hood) was named for the man who developed it, William S. Ladd, a New Englander who came to Portland in 1851 and subsequently became very, very wealthy. Ladd's Addition, notable for its X-shaped grid of streets, was never home to Mr. Ladd, whose mansion was in the fancier part of town.

MISSISSIPPI DISTRICT

The increasingly popular dining, music, and arts center, situated on Mississippi Avenue, is mostly in the Boise neighborhood. Why'd they call it Mississippi Avenue? We'll give you a hint: its part of a cluster of parallel avenues that also include Michigan, Missouri, Minnesota, Montana, and Maryland. Sometimes the obvious explanation is the right one.

More from mental_floss...

April 7, 2015 - 8:15pm
submit to reddit