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Volume Three, Number Seven

150 Years on the Willamette River

St. Johns, Oregon 1847-1997
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Legacy of James John

Settlement on the River Thrives

--Ferry Connects East & West--

1840s - Westward travel in the 1840s required much fortitude and ambition as crossing the country was done mostly on foot, usually with a wagon loaded with provisions. James John seemed to always be a little ahead of everyone.

In 1841, John traveled from Missouri to California along the same route that would later be used by gold seekers rushing west to seek their fortunes. After spending a year and a half in the Sacramento Valley, he travelled to Oregon with Hudson Bay Co. employees along one of the fur trading routes.

After working for William Doughty a short time in the Tualatin Valley, John moved in 1844, purchased a town lot in Linnton and built a warehouse. In 1846, James John moved across the Willamette River to this area which is now St. Johns, becoming the first settler to locate on this peninsula. This entire area was an Indian hunting and camping ground for hundreds of years.

John built a brick building which he used as both his home and a store. Soon other settlers would join John in moving to the peninsula and making land claims. As the population increased, John recognized the need for a better way to cross the Willamette. In 1852, he applied for a license to establish a ferry where the territorial road from Ft. Vancouver to Hillsborough crosses the River, from Linnton to St. Johns.

In 1865, John had C.W. Burrage survey and plat a townsite of eight blocks and had it filed with the recorder of Multnomah County on July 20. The town was originally named St. John. An addition to this townsite was dedicated by James John on Nov. 28, 1868. John built several homes in the town and surrounding area. Selling them or renting them as the need may be. At least one of those homes survives today on Edison, but has been extensively improved and enlarged for space.

The town's founder was considered to be public minded and insisted that all citizens should be publicly educated. Memories of the man include tales of his visions of bridges crossing the Willamette large enough to hold carriages and even trains. Those who knew him said that he spoke often of how everyone should be able to be educated. Today, James John Elementary School carries his name so that all will remember his belief in public education. Inscribed on his simple headstone are the words "Friend of Education."

The information for the above story was largely derived from an history thesis written and researched by David Hoien Overby. Direct quotes from his thesis appear in italics. The rest of the story was written by our editor, Bridget E. Smith who has lived in St Johns, Oregon since 1990. The Historical Gazette has been published by the Alma Haus Press and this site continues to be maintained from this location.
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Bridget E. Smith, editor & publisher

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