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The Founding History of the Lents Neighborhood Portland, Oregon

by Randy Dagel

Oliver Perry Lent was born near Marietta, Ohio on August 31, 1830. His wife, Martha Almira (Buckley) Lent was born at Parkersburg, Virginia on March 19, 1833 and was left an orphan in her early childhood. They were married in West Virginia in 1851, traveled back to Ohio, and soon thereafter left for California.

During the trip across the plains, the Lents’ initial plans changed, and they instead joined an expedition on the overland trail to Oregon, arriving by oxen team and covered wagon in 1852.

There is an unsubstantiated anecdote of the Lents breaking an axle and suffering irreparable damage to their covered wagon, necessitating the termination of their westward travels on the Oregon Trail. Thereafter, they unloaded their wagon, set up camp, and secured permanent shelter in nearby Richey Valley, which is located approximately ten miles east of Portland.

After having lived in Richey Valley for a short time, Lent received a 320-acre government land claim in the Sycamore area, which is southeast of Mt. Scott. In 1866 he sold this land and purchased a 190-acre farmstead just outside of the Portland city limits called Cason Prairie, named after early pioneer William Cason. This farmstead is where early on Lent became known as an authority on farming and ranching. It is also where they had 12 children, however two sons died of diphtheria in 1863 and one daughter died at childbirth. Much of this farmstead later became the site of the present day Lents Community.

The naming of the settlement of Lent, Oregon came about by a coin flip between Oliver P. Lent and another early pioneer, William Johnson. Lent won the coin toss, the new post office station was named after Lent, and Johnson was then awarded the naming of the creek that runs through the area, now called Johnson Creek.

From early on, Oliver P. Lent was very involved and contributed much to his church and community. Hard work and steady employment was important to him. Having been trained as a carpenter and stonemason as a young man, he arrived in Portland and secured employment cutting stone block for the old penitentiary near Kelly Butte. He also cut stone for the foundations of the old Portland Courthouse, the Post Office at Sixth & Morrison, the Hawthorne-Prettyman House and numerous other homes and businesses.

Mr. Lent was a leader in business, and in 1883 he operated a sawmill on Johnson Creek near S.E. 92nd Avenue that gave employment to many early settlers. He also held the office of Justice of the Peace, was a Road Supervisor, and several times served as master of the Grange.

Oliver P. Lent also had deep feelings for education. He saw the need of a school for the children of the early settlers, and thereafter donated land opposite his home as the site for one of the first Lent schools, a one-room hewed log cabin. He was also the school director and later was clerk of the school board.

Not far from the schoolhouse, the local Indians had a favorite spot called Indian Rock where they often camped and carried on ceremonial dances. Mrs. Lent often told of how the Indians would come to her back door and ask for milk and eggs. But, said Mrs. Lent, we had a big dog that disliked the Indians, and when they came he would place himself across the doorsill. We would kindly give the Indians what they asked for, but they never once set foot in the house.

The Indian trail that slanted diagonally across the land claims later became known as Foster Road. The early Indians would travel down this trail until it hit the Powell Valley trail (now Powell Boulevard), and from there followed it down to the Willamette River which took them up to Willamette Falls to fish.

Oliver P. Lent and his eldest son George P. Lent were both instrumental in bringing the first steam railway into town, with a “Lent Junction” grand opening celebration held on June 17, 1892. The line initially ran from S.E. 50th and Hawthorne Boulevard south into Lents, and in 1903 it was extended by the Portland Railway Light and Power Company up to the Cazadero Dam being built on the upper Clackamas River.

The Cazadero Dam was being built to generate electric power required to run Portland’s early electric trolley cars. Materials for the building of this dam were carried by rail up to the construction site, and on the return runs it carried produce and cheap cord wood back to Portland. After the dam was completed, the rail line was retrofitted to include transporting passengers. Early Portland citizens often traveled up into the Clackamas River country, which served as a resort and suburban area to the wealthier citizens of the city.

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Office Phone: (503) 774-7497

9038 S.E. Foster Road, Portland, OR 97266

The official town of Lent, Oregon was first platted and registered with the county recorder on August 17, 1892 by George P. Lent, an attorney and the eldest son of Oliver P. and Martha A. Lent. The center of the town was considered to be the main intersections of Foster Road and S.E. 92nd Avenue. On November 5, 1912, with a rapidly growing population, the town of Lent voted to be annexed to the city of Portland. At that time the citizens of Lent, Oregon were all united in saying that there never has been, and never shall be, any saloons in Lents. This distinction was also true because there were nearly a dozen good substantial churches in town representing nearly every religious denomination. Alcohol was not tolerated in a Christian community.

The early town of Lents was a thriving community with a sense of independent spirit amongst the friendly people who lived there. The pioneers who settled this region were strong hearty individuals with a pride of community that still shows through the citizens living there today.

LENTS TOWN CENTER

In the early 1970’s, the historic downtown Lents District and the neighborhood were split in two by the construction of the I-205 freeway, which ran right through the middle of it. Although it had languished for a number of years, it is again showing signs of new revitalization.

In 1998 the City of Portland partnered with the Portland Development Commission and established a 15 year, $75 million dollar urban renewal district.

Its charter is to assist in the development of the Metro 2040 planning of a “Lents Town Center” to be located in the original downtown core area of S.E. 92nd Avenue and Foster Road.

Ten years later, on June 25, 2008, the Portland City Council amended the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area boundaries and increased funding by another $170 million dollars for neighborhood improvements.

© Copyright 2005 – Randy Dagel – All Rights Reserved

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