Montavilla’s history beneath our feet

By PATRICIA SANDERS

I’m sure some of you have noticed while walking around Montavilla that here and there you come across names and dates stamped into the concrete sidewalks.

These, in fact, are important clues to the early 20th Century development of our neighborhood.

So how do you find these clues and how do you interpret them?

Contractor’s Stamp, NW corner of NE 80th Ave & NE Oregon St
Photo credit: Thomas Tilton

If you look at the photo above, you can just make out a name, Bechell Bros., and a date, 1911. These indicate the name of the sidewalk contractor and when the sidewalk was poured.

Contractor stamps usually occur at intersection corners— this one is at the NW corner of NE 80th Avenue and NE Oregon Street. Less often you can find them somewhere between the intersections.

The coming of the first concrete sidewalks must have been such a blessing. Before that you could expect to dirty your skirts or trousers with dust in the summer and mud during our long rainy season.

In 1902, we find mail carrier Mr. Jensma complaining of wading through mud so deep it went right over the tops of his gum boots. He must have appreciated how some people installed wood plank sidewalks. Unfortunately these were prone to deterioration and needed frequent repaired.

In 1902, when Mr. Jensma was still wading through mud on his delivery route, the City of Portland— which Montavilla was not yet part of–planned to lay about 50 miles of cement sidewalks. But Montavilla, where many considered concrete too expensive, was behind in this respect.

As late as 1906, Hibbard Street (now 80th Avenue) was being “improved” with wooden sidewalks.

As for concrete ones, the earliest date I’ve come across so far in my Montavilla rambles is 1908. Perhaps some of you will find something earlier. If so, please add a comment below.

Meanwhile, I hope you all will have a good time learning to read the history of Montavilla’s as you stroll around our sidewalks. Maybe take the kids on a sidewalk treasure hunt?

editor’s note: Reader Kate McCarter added the following photograph and comment on social media. Thanks Kate, we love the feedback and help telling these stories!

“Before sidewalks and pavement came to Montavilla. This was taken from 82nd looking west up Hawthorne circa 1919. Note the shrubs in the middle of the road!”

Historical story ideas? Questions about Montavilla’s past? Also share a love for neighborhood history? Reach out to Pat Sanders at pat.montavilla.history@gmail.com.

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