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This is just a brief history of the Lents neighborhood. There is a book written by the Lents Capstone team and a copy can be found in the Portland State University Branford Price Millar Library.
The first known pioneer to settle in the Lents area is thought to be William Cason. Cason came to Oregon in 1843, but did not stake a claim to Cason Prarie for four years. Little is known or written about William Cason other than the cause of his death. On his way back from Portland on a fall day in 1865, fell off his horse. Since Cason was a bachelor, his presence was not missed. He was found the next day apparently killed by the fall, the cold, or a mixture of the two.
Oliver P. Lent, was the next pioneer to stake a claim in the Lents area. Lent was born in Marietta, Ohio in 1830. He met and married Martha Almira Buckley (related to the Clinton Kelly family, another prominent family in the Lents area) in 1851. A year later, the two of them traversed the Oregon Trail. Martha was pregnant when they left Ohio and, unfortunately, the baby died in Troutdale.
Oliver was a stone mason; he helped lay the foundation for the penitentiary, the Prettyman home on Hawthorne Avenue, and the Portland Courthouse.
Oliver and his family originally settled in the Pleasant Valley Area when an offer came up in the Cedarville area (now Gresham), to help in a sawmill. The mill was to Lent's liking, so he leased and ran the mill. The sawmill was profitable, but was too far out for Oliver so he decided to move his family to the Lents area. Oliver settled on a 190 acre plot of land he bought from James Stevens.
Lent built his home on what is now around 100th Avenue and Foster Road. There were four families in the area--Lent, Johnson, Campbell and Gates. These families were very involved with each other and often held parties and participated in activities together. The town of Lents has an interesting story about how it got its name that involves the Johnson family.
Oliver was also a farmer, road surveyor, a carpenter and justice of the peace. He helped organize school No. 12 and he was a driving force in implementing a postal route to Lents. Oliver donated an acre of his land for a school building because he wanted his children to be educated; he believed the route to Mt. Tabor too dangerous for his children. He had eight children. The school was built around 1867.
Mobility greatly affected the extent to which people would travel to obtain goods and services. At Oliver Lent's time, most people traveled by horse and carriage. These weekly (as some people remembered) trips to Portland showed that from the start, Lents relied on Portland for small amounts of goods and services.
In 1891 the electric street car was extended to Lents through another extant rail line. The inclusion of the Portland, Chicago, & Mt. Scott line by the East Side Railway Company into Lents Junction (the Lents rail stop) was significant for integrating Lents into the sphere of Portland. The Lents Junction trolley stop was the economic hub for the city as well as serving the rail line.
By 1900, the population of Lents was 438. A decade later it skyrocketed to 1,666. The population jump was due, in part, to the influx of immigrants, ranging from Polish to English, into the area.
Lents was the home of one of Portland's few plywood mills. A. J. Dwyer built the Southeast Portland Lumber Company (in 1947 it changed its name to Dwyer Lumber Company) on Southeast 100th Avenue in 1924 on 80 acres of land. The Dwyer Lumber Company was truly a family affair as members of the family held all of the top positions in both the forest area and the office area. In 1958, 75 new employees were added to the payroll for the opening of a new plywood plant next to the original sawmill. The new plant had the capacity to produce an additional 42 million board-feet of plywood.
In 1966, an addition was planned which would produce over 100 million board feet of plywood. The realization of this project was short lived as in 1968, started by a welder's torch, a four-alarm fire swept through the compound. Neighbors remember the flames shooting close to 200 feet in the air and the homes of nearby residents evacuated because of the threat of the fire spreading.
The site of Dwyer's is now owned by the Freeway Land Company. There are close to twenty tenants on the property including machine shops, trucking, freight, dispatch, concrete and asphalt, construction, engine rebuilding, railroad supply, bark landscape, and block companies.
Rewinding the clock a little bit taking us back to 1928, an odd spectacle was going on in downtown Lents at the Mt. Scott Bank.
Merchants entertained hopes that the streetcar would bring people into Lents. This did not happen, rather it took people away from Lents. Although Foster was a main road out of downtown Portland, Lents' economic hub on Foster appeared to draw limited interest, aside from local patrons.
During the process of urbanization in both the Lents community and Portland itself, the "mom and pop" stores were replaced with large chain stores by 1950. The competition of central stores elsewhere in Portland and e mobility brought by the automobile caused the Lents business district to lose vitality.
Forty years after the idea was first proposed, I-205 was built in 1983. Multiple locations were proposed for the freeway. Unfortunately, Lents was the only community that could not organize significant opposition to the freeway in their city and thus, Lents was torn in half.
One resident of Lents described the presence of I-205 not so much a psychological barrier, but more a physical barrier between the two sides of Lents. It is clear residents in Lents use I-205 as their marker of economic decline. "Lents town center...was a self-supporting community, complete with backs, barbers, a grocery and taverns, until I-205 split it in half and pushed it into an economic tailspin." The freeway is also the main source of blame for outsiders. "What was done to Lents when I-205 was built was, frankly, criminal," said then city commissioner, Earl Blumenauer. At every neighborhood meeting, the problems of traffic prevail; the overriding theme in Lents history continues to be transportation.
However, not all of Lents residents believed that I-205 would be a bad influence on the city. Some hoped it would be the salvation of Lents, similar to the aspirations surrounding the streetcar. However, both I-205 and the streetcar took away instead of bringing people to Lents.
The community of Lents, split in half by the imposing force of I-205, is holding its own. There is some hope for this small community. There is a new park, some very active churches, schools that care about the students, the facilities to help their students after school, but most of all Lents has its people. The people of Lents have shown again and again that they are able to survive any event. The town of Lents may be tossed around by the City of Portland, but it is still strong and viable.
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