The bustling community of Gresham, Oregon was established amongst the verdant fields and trees that lay in the shadow of Mt. Hood by early pioneers taking advantage of the 1850 Donation Land Claim act. Gresham was first known as “Powell Valley” in honor of three unrelated settlers to the area who made a lasting impact on the development of the region – James Powell and Jackson Powell, both from Missouri, put down roots in 1852 and Dr. John Parker Powell arrived the following year in 1853.
The still heavily-wooded area then became known as “Camp Ground” as it was a stopover for pioneers taking a rest from the long, dusty trail before continuing on to Portland and the Willamette Valley. Thanks in part to the popularity of the encampment, the first post office was opened on July 12, 1871 as more developers and business owners came to the area.
In 1884 local residents of the area, hoping to receive official incorporation of the settlement, petitioned the U.S. government for a new post office and offered to name the future town after the current Postmaster General, Walter Quinton Gresham. A second petition was circulated by opposing residents to retain the name “Camp Ground”, an act that ultimately swayed Gresham to grant the post office and by doing so, name the municipality after himself.
Walter Gresham had served the Union as a colonel in the Civil War and, after finding success in the battle at Vicksburg, was later promoted to General which moved him and his family to Atlanta. Shortly thereafter Gresham shattered his knee in an accident, conclusively ending his military career. Gresham returned to his law practice and entered the world of politics where he served as Postmaster General from 1883-1884 and then later as Secretary of State from 1893-1894.
In the summer of 1884 the old “Camp Ground” post office was closed and the new “Gresham” one was opened for business, though the town itself wouldn’t receive actual incorporation until 1905. In 1904 the town’s first city council was elected as was its first mayor, Lewis Shattuck, the son of one of the early pioneer families in the area. That same year the first city hall was built on the corner of Powell Boulevard & Roberts Avenue for the sum of $3,000.
Gresham received its official township on February 11, 1905 with a population of 365 residents. The children and grandchildren of many of the early settlers quickly spread out into the surrounding areas establishing neighboring communities such as Barton, Boring, Corbett, Damascus, Eagle Creek, Estacada, Fairview, Orient, Pleasant Home, Pleasant Valley, Rockwood, Sandy, and Troutdale.
On July 18, 1909 The Oregon Journal ran a promotional piece enticing people to visit Gresham and its surrounding area for either recreation or a more permanent stay by writing, “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 splendid 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 train service that The Oregon Journal spoke of was the interurban streetcar, which had been put into service in 1903, and ran on a 36-mile line from Sellwood and Mt. Scott out to Gresham as well as Boring and Estacada. As Gresham’s population grew, the streetcars began running hourly service and the interurban line was extended north through Ruby Junction and out to Fairview and Troutdale. A second line was built in 1911 that began at 90th & Glisan along Burnside and ran out to Powell Valley and onto Bull Run.
All passenger service ceased in the 1950s, but by that point Gresham was an ever-growing town with a population of more than 3,000 people as well as acres and acres of berry farms and nurseries. Gresham served as the host of the Multnomah County Fair from 1907 up until 1969 when the land it was held on was sold to the Gresham Foursquare Church and the Fair moved to the Portland Expo Center. In the time since then Gresham has continued to grow as a major Portland suburb and is now the fourth-largest city in Oregon.