I love where we live! Sunnyside, in Southeast Portland, is the best!
There are hundred year old houses, townhouses like ours, and brand new builds. Some of the trees were planted last year, and others have been here a long, long time. Heritage tree number 241, a Japanese maple, has probably been in the front yard of this house since it was built in the 1920s.
Because of how closely the trees and houses are spaced, winter, when the trees are bare, is the only time to get a picture of it.
Sunnyside was started in the 1890s as a trolley car neighborhood. Folks would live here, a few miles from the mud and stink of downtown, and be able to take the newly installed trolley cars to work.
Back then, the houses and lots were bigger.
As the city became more crowded, newer houses were built in between the original ones. Each was built in its own style. These three very different houses stand within two blocks of each other.
There are some industrial buildings that are being up-cycled, as well. Jacob’s Garage, which housed the trucks for the Belmont Dairy, is now a set of very cool condominiums, having kept its brick-Ish charm.
Every walkabout shows us new things! As flowers come up and trees leaf out, some of the hard lines are masked and softened, but the architecture of the turn of the century is still here if you know how to look.
Besides, where else can you find a tiny free library right next to a dinosaur-infested dogwood tree?
Today we continue the life of Lou Ellen Barrell Cornell. Born in 1891, the youngest of seven children to Oregon pioneers Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, she married (and later divorced) Richard Cornell. She buried three of her five children, was prominently mentioned in a very public trial involving the Spiritualist Association, and was active in a popular benevolent group, the Women of Woodcraft.
In 1912 Lou Ellen started a campaign to save her father’s legacy, the Lone Fir Cemetery. In the 70 years since he had founded it, the place had been carelessly used and not maintained. Blackberry brambles covered the stones and the unmaintained graves were sunken and dangerous. There had even been a effort by the city to remove it. Over the next 16 years, Lou Ellen not only made sure the cemetery would remain where it was, but succeeded in getting taxes passed to pay for its maintenance.
In 1917, at the age of 25, her eldest son Warren went off to fight in World War I, becoming an Army corporal while fighting in France. He returned safely, living a long life until 1947. That same year, a volume of Lou Ellen’s verse, called “Thorns and Roses” was published, available by contacting the author at her home, 802 East Yamhill Street. Her verse was well-reviewed, having a “fine religious feeling”. I have not been able to find any of the poems, but I am still looking!
A few years later, when her sons were 28 and 22, Lou Ellen got married a second time to Edgar W. Philips. The wedding was written up on the Society page, though no information is given about the groom except that he was a native Portlander returning to town after an absence of 15 years. After the wedding, Lou Ellen remained active in the Women of Woodcraft and the Spiritualist Association, and continued writing poetry.
That same year she began giving lectures for the Spiritualist Association, such as “Is Spiritualism a Religion?” and “The Spirit of Freedom”, under the name Mrs. L.E. Philips. During this time, except for one small mention, her husband, Edgar Philips, was not visible. This isn’t necessarily suspicious. He is simply not mentioned in the paper.
In 1926, her son Lew Elwyn was divorced from his first wife, and he and their three children moved in with Lou Ellen, just blocks from where I live now in Southeast Portland. I imagine this brought lots of joy, but also a lot more work into her life. Three kids in the house to look after, cook and clean for, is a whole new layer of chores.
Lou Ellen passed away in 1931 at the young age of 59. Her son Lew moved to Beaverton and his children went back to live with their mother. Lou Ellen had been active in Women of Woodcraft until just a few months before her death. She is buried in Lone Fir, surrounded by her children, just across the lane from her parents and siblings.
The weird part, and the part that had me reading all my research over again, was that her obituary does not mention her divorce from Mr. Cornell or her second marriage. It tells of her drive to save the Lone Fir Cemetery, but not her interest in Spiritualism or her poetry.
My guess is that the obituary was provided by the family, and maybe her sons and siblings didn’t want the public to remember the lawsuits, the divorce or the remarriage, but simply the dutiful life of a mother and daughter, a woman who served her family and community. Still, I am glad to be able to learn more.
Life is always interesting, even folks who lived long ago.
You never know what you’ll find, looking through old newspapers and city records. Yesterday, I was looking at the seven children of Aurelia and Colburn Barrell, wondering what they had been up to at the turn of the last century. I decided to start with the youngest, Lou Ellen, because she was NOT buried with the rest of the family, which always gives me a big question mark.
Using my old standby, the Historic Oregonian website, I walked through every mention of Lou Ellen in the paper, trying to piece together what seems like a complicated life. I will try and give you a clear story.
Born the sixth child to Colburn and Aurelia Barrell, Lou Ellen married Richard Cornell at 19 and gave birth to5 children over the next 7 years. Sadly, three of these children died before they were ten, leaving just two sons, Warren and Lew Elwyn. During that same time, Lou Ellen lost both her parents. I can’t even imagine how terribly sad she must have been.
Maybe having all these dear ones pass away gave her a curiosity about life after death, and some time after her father’s death in 1902, she joined the Spiritualist Association. This group sees contact with the dead through seances as proof of eternal life and as a source of universal wisdom.
But for Lou Ellen, this led to her being in court, and in the newspaper, every day for months in 1908, as disagreements within the Association became lawsuits. Lou Ellen, as secretary of the Association, was ordered to produce the account books. She evaded, avoided, and even resigned her post, never giving up the records. Finally, the case was dismissed.
Lou Ellen filed for divorce from her husband Richard, the very next week, claiming cruelty and lack of support. Richard had left town already, and made no statement for the court. Her divorce was granted.
For the next six years Lou Ellen continued her work with the Women of Woodcraft, planning events and even reading her poetry at parties and meetings. In 1912, she acted in a Suffragist play put on by her former elocution teacher. She was busy and active in her community.
I will tell you more about Lou Ellen tomorrow. It is so interesting learning about our old neighbors!
Yesterday was a hard morning. I woke up tired and grouchy. I didn’t even write a blog. Even the snow which was supposed to come, didn’t, and we had cold, wet slush.
But as the day moved on, I pulled myself out of it. Drank a lot of water. Had an apple and peanut butter. Did a crossword puzzle with Grandpa Nelson.
After lunch I decided to head to Lone Fir Cemetery, in spite of the drizzle. I am researching the family of Colburn and Aurelia Barrell and wanted to see their headstones. Back in the day, Mr. Barrell was a businessman who invested in all sorts of things, and by 1854, he owned a steamship called TheGazelle and a large chunk of property on the east side of Portland.
That year, TheGazelle exploded, killing twenty people. Two of them were young friends of Mr. Barrell, and he wanted to honor them with proper burials. He established the Mt. Crawford Cemetery on his East Portland property and had very nice monuments put up. Mr. Crawford, who gave his name to the place, has a ten foot high obelisk, and Mr. Fuller, a coffin-sized slab.
Mrs. Barrell later convinced her husband to change the name to Lone Fir, because of the one fir tree that stood on the property.
That is what people know about the family. But there were seven children…. surely, in the 160 years since, someone else must have done something else interesting. I am researching old Portland newspapers online to see what they might have been up to. I will keep you posted.
From 2016 until last spring, I worked just about every day on a story that I wanted to be published, printed, and used in the local schools. I had plans for this story. It was going places.
It was a fictionalized history of Portland in 1903, and to make the history correct and interesting, I researched everything from the conditions of children working in fish packing plants to the layout of elementary schools. I created some characters I really liked, and a few that were loathsome.
And then, last February, I just stopped. It was like a brain fever broke and I didn’t need to do that anymore. Now that I’ve had some time to think about it, there were a few factors involved.
My favorite character idolized President Teddy Roosevelt. The more I learned about Teddy’s racism and imperialist views, the less I wanted this character to admire him. Since that was central to his motivation, it sort of fell apart.
I realized that for a really dramatic story, terrible things have to happen to my characters. I don’t like to even think of terrible things happening to children, much less write about them.
I realized that it was the research, the hunting of details, that I loved the most. The writing of the story was secondary.
Also, since I have lived here in Portland, I have met a few people who have published their stories. The books are well-written, well- researched, and entertaining. But the folks say that their experience with the publishing industry was miserable, frustrating, and made them pretty much zero income. So why go there?
Ego? That would be just sad. Wealth? I’m comfortable, thanks. Fame and fortune? Nope.
But I still have this research, these interesting bits of history and trivia of life back then. How to share them without publishers? Well, maybe you’re looking at it.
Online publishing is a popular venue, costs next to nothing, and demands fewer compromises. And it seems to be just about as profitable as print publishing (that is, not at all.) So maybe I will go back to my notebooks, find the best bits from my research, and put them in this blog.
About two years ago, I wrote to you about a Chinese herbalist who had worked and lived in Portland around 1903. His name was Dr. C. Gee Wo.
Back then, I learned that the doctor was from China and had studied herbal medicine both there and in Nebraska. He married a woman named Saide Celestine Starbuck and then they moved to Portland, Oregon, where he ran offices and sold medicines until he retired around 1921.
Last summer I went in a walking tour of Chinatown here in Portland, and learned that Dr. Wo had been very well known in the city, and had a clientele that included both Chinese and White people.
And then, this morning, it got even more interesting. Kol Shaver, a collector and dealer of antique and rare books in Vancouver, Washington, contacted me. Kol has been looking for information about Dr. Wo to help categorize some of his writings, and found information in my old blog! It made me ridiculously happy to be useful.
Kol runs an on-line shop at firstname.lastname@example.org and was also able to give me more information about Dr. Wo.
Dr. Wo issued a series of books entitled “Things Chinese” through his Company Chinese Medicine, which had testimonials about his medical treatments. The testimonials within the book indicate he was still living as of 1926. He was also present at the baptism of his grandson Kenneth, born to his daughter Celestine (her mother’s middle name) in 1925.
Kol told me that there is still no information about the Doctor’s burial, but Mrs. Wo and their daughter are buried right here in our own Lone Fir Cemetery, even giving me the section and plot numbers! I could go visit!
But, as Kol told me, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d never find it. Mrs. Wo’s tombstone reads “Sadie Leo, 1868-1927”. Maybe because of anti-Chinese prejudice, they chose not to use their surname “Wo”. Close by is Celestine “Guie” Tongue Cooke, their daughter, who was born in 1898 and died in 1971.
Also nearby is the smaller grave marker of Henry Leo, a son, who was born on August 27, 1903, and only lived two days. I mourned for his parents and little Guie, who would have been just five years old when she lost her baby brother.
I am so happy to have been in contact with someone who is interested in Dr. Wo.
After weeks of feeling isolated and in my own head, Wednesday was a day that felt very connected, very Portland.
First, Auntie Katie’s bookshop, Books With Pictures, was voted BEST COMIC BOOK SHOP IN PORTLAND by our local newspaper, the Willamette Weekly. Hooray!
I am sure that her hard work and dedication to customer service in having an online ordering service and door to door deliveries during the pandemic has endeared her to everyone. With so many businesses closing down, it is wonderful to see her thrive.
And in the evening, Grandpa Nelson and Auntie Bridgett walked with me to deliver first aid supplies to the Black Lives Matter protesters. A group of volunteers called Snackbloc collect bandages, gloves, and other useful items in different neighborhoods to be used downtown to support the protesters against the Federal troops.
It pains me so much to see our government beating peaceful protesters. There has been some vandalism, but these troops are not dispersing crowds or stopping it; they are attacking unarmed people, shoving them down and gassing lines of singing women.
It is as though they have come to punish these people for standing against the beatings… by beating them, like an abusive father ranting, “Stop crying or I’ll really give you something to cry about.” This is not how I want my country to be.
But I am a coward. I fear beatings, teargas, arrest and undocumented detention by unknown troops. So I help in a small way so others who are braver can help in larger ways.
I took a long walk yesterday, all the way south past Division Street, to meet my dear friend Misha at a park. It was so good to sit in the sun and chat! Of course we wore masks, sat further apart than usual, and were outside and away from other people. We are not foolish. But the company was wonderful.
On the way, I passed this large brick school. I noticed the sentimental chalk graffiti first, then the wonderful bas-relief mosaic murals.
The four murals are each about five feet wide and twenty feet high and show nature as it changes during the seasons. I took pictures to remind me, and looked them up when I got home. They were created by Lynn Takata in 2008 when she was the artist in residence at the school. Ms Takata is a local artist and art teacher at several POrtland colleges.
I was so impressed with such textured, complex, detailed work, and the appreciation of nature that it reveals.
Then, I was intrigued by the Japanese characters under the name RICHMOND over the main entrance.
The school is Richmond Elementary Japanese Immersion School. The building was built in 1908, and is the oldest standing school in Portland. It became an immersion school in 1989. The program has been very successful, growing to include Mount Tabor Middle School and and part of Grant High School. The program includes cultural education and even trips to Japan!
It is closed now, of course, because of the Corona Virus. But I am sure that as soon as it is safe, hundreds of kids will be back, learning everything kids do, in Japanese and English, learning how big the world really is.
And once the doctors have found a way to keep us safe from the virus, I hope you are able to get back to school, too.
One of the shops I love most in our little Sunnyside neighborhood is called Noun, “a person’s place for things”. It has a delightful collection of curated second hand things and newer artwork, and is temporarily closed, of course. But it has a wonderful new window display that has taught me new things.
In the window is this hand lettered and sewn paper creation that looks like a quilt with writing on it, and I got to stop and read it the other day. It is called Nobody Passes and it goes like this:
The day is set, like a stage for feet
With a ridge of white clouds painted high
Across the canvas of the sky,
With pavement gleaming and too clean,
A shimmer of grass that seems too green,
And houses alert in every side,
Showing a stiff and conscious pride.
The day is a stage and life is a play,
But nobody passes down this way.
I was intrigued, and looked up Helen Hall online. She was born in 1886 and lived in northwest Portland. When she was about twelve, either because of a fall or scarlet fever (history is slippery) she became paralyzed and could only get around by wheelchair.
Since her house was a typical Victorian with steep, narrow stairs, Helen spend most of the rest of her life in her upstairs bedroom. When she got older, she started taking in sewing work that she could do from home. Her sewing machine was set up by the window so she could look out.
She started writing poetry, mostly about her work and what she saw happening on the street outside her window. Her poems became well known, and were published in The Nation and Sunset, among many others. Her poems were praised and “true” and “poignant”.
Hazel died in 1924 at the age of 38. Her home, at 106 NW 22nd in Portland, still stands and is on the National Register of Public Places. There is a small park next door, and seems like a good place for us to visit,once we can go out and visit.
I love learning new things about my wonderful city. I hope you get to come see me real soon.
Once we sadly said goodbye to Sauvie Island and headed back towards town, lunch was definitely next on the agenda. Auntie Bridgett pulled over in front of a small, idiosyncratic cafe called The Lighthouse Inn.
This building has been here since 1865 and carries a lot of history.
Shortly after the town of Linnton was established in 1844, this was a branch of The First U.S. National Bank and Post Office, and even a barber shop. The brass grill of the teller window and the tiny brass post office boxes are still there, adding to the story.
There are reminders of the area’s location on the Willamette, and its importance to the shipping industry that built the city. Each table has a ship’s bell above it with a pull rope (I guess if you want more beer, like, right now. The tables are held up by ship’s chains, welded to hold their shape. For many years, starting in the 1950s, this was where longshoremen would come after a long cold day loading and unloading ships, to get a drink and something hot to eat.
There is a wonderful old drawing of the river steamer The Portland II between the men’s room and the ladies’.
In other decorative touches, the walls are paneled with at a crazy quilt of different types of wood, and over several of the tables are old English railroad signs. Every place you looked, there was something interesting, quirky, and just plain odd. I loved it.
We chatted with the owner, enjoyed french fries, fried chicken and ahi tuna, caught our breath, and continued on to do the shopping.