The Moyer House, built by a retired businessman in 1881
The Calapooya River

Dear Liza,

In the story I am writing, the main character is a girl named Clara who has moved from Brownsville to Portland, a distance of about 100 miles. Yesterday, Grandpa Nelson took me there so I could learn more about it.

Brownsville is an old town, founded in 1846 as a place for Kirk’s Ferry, a way for folks to get across the Calapooya River on their way to and from Portland. Compared to the Willamette or the mighty Columbia, the Calapooya is tiny…but if you wanted to cross it before there was a bridge, you would need a ferry.

Since my story takes places in 1903, I was most interested in buildings that would have been standing at that time. I wasn’t disappointed! There is the Moyer Mansion, built in 1881, on the way into town from the train station. The Masonic Hall was build in 1865, and the Starr and Blakely Drug Store was built in 1875, so my Clara would have known them. The City Bank was built in 1903…it would have been the newest thing in town.

I found a nice mix of housing styles, some stylish and majestic, some small and cozy. I found one that I will use as a pattern for Clara’s house, though I don’t know when it was built.

The buttes that loom above Brownsville give it a snug feel, not like it is out on the wide flat land, but nestled and comfortable. They seem to be too small to have names, at least on the maps I have found online. Washburn and Ward buttes, way far out of town are bigger, but don’t have any effect on the feel of Brownsville. I will keep looking.

The Brownsville Ditch is an offshoot of the Calapooya River, hand dug in the 1860s to power the woolen mills of the town with water power. It was great to get a sense of where my girl is from, the place that would have been her homebase.

The Brownsville Ditch, dug to power woolen mills in the 1860s
The New building…in 1903!

Author: Judy

I am a new transplant to Portland from Salinas, a small city in Central California. This is a blog about my new city.

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