History of Powellhurst-Gilbert

This history of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood is at best inadequate to reflect all that has happened down through the last 100 years or so that people have lived within the boundaries of the current Neighborhood.  However, early residents, and in some cases our ancestors, left us a legacy that continues today as example for us what we can accomplish together for the future.  This history will attempt to review the historic figures that once lived here, look at public events, and a brief chronological look back at the Neighborhood over the last century.


Settlers came to the Oregon territory in the mid-1800’s and dispersed throughout the Willamette Valley to establish land claims.  Many of the people who settled the Powellhurst-Gilbert area were farmers who came here because there was land available to settlers under the Donation Land Claim Act.  Their legacy is the parcelization of land into large tracts and establishment of a grid-oriented street pattern.


One of the routes that settlers used was the northern form of the Oregon Trail which later became Foster Road.  Foster Road was a farm-to-market road named after a pioneer, Philip Foster, who lived and operated a farm near Estacada.  Several early settlers influenced place names and cultural institutions in and around the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood.  Clinton Kelly (Kelly Butte), William Johnson (Johnson Creek), and O.P. Lent (Lents neighborhood) were the most prominent (Oregon Historical Society).


Travelers disembarking from boats on the Columbia River used Southeast 82nd Avenue as a north-south route to Oregon City and other points south.  Southeast 92nd Avenue was also used as a north-south axis and became more prominent as the area around it grew.  A lively commercial district developed, just south of the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood, at 92nd and Foster Road in Lents.


A steam powered streetcar railway from Portland to Lents, along SE Powell Boulevard and Foster Road began in 1892.  In 1901 the railway was electrified.


In the late 1800’s the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood was served by the Portland Traction Company interurban line which ran from downtown Portland then along SE Hawthorne Boulevard to 50th Avenue, to Foster Road, to 102nd and Foster, known as Lent’s Junction, and then to points east.  Property along the streetcar line developed into single-family  residential uses.  Development was slower in the northern end of Powellhurst-Gilbert due to lack of good access to the rail transportation.


Population in this area grew slowly through World War II.  Availability of low cost Federal Home Administration housing loans fueled by demands for housing by returning World War II veterans led to a surge of residential development throughout the community in the late 1940’s.  Growth accelerated in the 1960’s and 1970’s followed by periods of population fluctuation in the 1980’s.


The Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood grew along with the City of Portland.  What had been farmsteads gave way to demand for residential land.  Large lots were divided for new home sites continually from the early 1900’s to the present.  Portions of the Powellhurst-Gilbert neighborhood were first annexed in the 1960’s with annexations continuing until completed.



The Origin of the Name of Our Neighborhood:


The Gilbert schools were named after William M. Gilbert who was born in Indiana in 1865 and left home for California at the age of 23.  He remained in California briefly and settled in Multnomah County.  In 1891 he married Miss Mary Furey whose family owned land and farmed in the Gilbert area.  The Gilbert farm of 35 acres was said to be highly cultivated.  William Gilbert and his wife were so well respected in the area that Gilbert Station was named for them.  Gilbert station was where the interurban railway stopped.  Mr. Gilbert was on the local school board.  He promoted improvements in many streets and roads in the area and ,in fact, Harold Street was previously named Gilbert Road.  Mr. Gilbert and his wife had two children.  Don was born in 1892 and another child died in infancy.  Mr. Gilbert and his wife are buried in the Pioneer Cemetery at 82nd Avenue and Holgate Boulevard.


The Powell name is from a pioneer family in the Gresham area.  Jackson Powell came across the Oregon Trail and settled on land near Hogan Road.  In 1853, they filed to homestead the land.  A deed was signed by Ulysses S. Grant.  Mr. Powell farmed and to get supplies to Portland they traveled on Powells Valley Road, so named for their family.  It was said to be a two day trip back then requiring a stop over in a motel before heading back to the homestead.


The first school in what is now Powellhurst was called Buckley School in honor of Lionel Buckley who donated an acre of land at what is now 124th and Division.  The school enrollment increased to the point where another school was needed.  In 1924, the new school was started and in January of 1925 classes moved into the new school.  The location of the new school was between Powells Valley Road (now SE Powell Boulevard) and Baseline Road (now SE Stark Street). The Section Line Road is now SE Division Street.


The new school needed a name and several were proposed:  Wortman - 12 votes, Buckley Avenue - 11 votes, and Powellhurst - 34 votes.  Thus a new era began.  This information about the early school history is from a book titled, “History and Folklore of the David Douglas Community” published by the David Douglas Historical Society.  Several copies are in the Central Library in downtown Portland.  It should be noted that the suffix “hurst” is word that means “a grove, woods, or wooded hillock”.  There were indeed large groves of tress in photos of the area of 122nd and Division.


There have been events that have affected lives, and are remembered by those involved in these events, in the history of the Gilbert and Powellhurst areas, now known as Powellhurst-Gilbert.  The PTA has had a positive influence on school children.  Summer baseball has always been popular in the area.  The interurban railroad ran to Portland along now what’s called the Springwater Corridor.  New shopping centers, widening of major thoroughfares and establishing parks where there weren’t any before has occurred over the years.


The string of events and changes are many in this neighborhood.  However, two events stand out that exemplify the sense of community and working together towards a common goal.


In the early 1940’s, the people of the Gilbert area wanted a public tennis court but there were not funds in the school budget for it.  The land was available behind the Gilbert grade school, now Alice Ott School.  Private funds from local businesses and citizens of the area and contributed materials allowed for construction of two tennis courts.  The names of the organizations and individuals who made donations are imprinted in the concrete near the tennis courts.  The list includes many pioneer families or their descendants.  It is a monument to their spirit and determination to accomplish a goal for the common good.  Unfortunately, the tennis courts were paved over for a parking lot, which was eventually replaced with a new addition to the school.


The second event that is remembered by some is a parade that started on Foster, about at 82nd, and came out Foster to about 116th into the area where the Foster Drive-In was located.  This event was called the Chuck Wagon Roundup.  In addition to the parade there were celebrations at the drive-in location.  A corral was built for a rodeo.  Various eats could be had and one could spend a nickel or two throwing baseballs at milk jugs that never seemed to fall over.  The event was sponsored by the Gilbert PTA and a good time was had by all who attended and participated.



Provided by Jack Vahey