Biography of Ira F. Powers
Oregon Biographies





IRA F. POWERS.
One of the substantial business enterprises of Portland is the Ira F. Powers Furniture Company. Ira F. Powers, Sr., the founder of the business, was for a long period not only one of the leading manufacturers and merchants of this city but one whose high sense of honor, personal integrity and broad humanitarianism gained for him the high regard and unqualified confidence of his fellowmen. The American branch of the family was established at Littleton, Massachusetts, at an early period in the colonization of the new world and the lineage is traced back in England as far as the twelfth century. The name of Powers, or Power, is from the old Norman name le Poker and is as old in England as the time of William the Conqueror, one of whose officers at the battle of Hastings bore that name, which appears on the roll of survivors in Battle Abbey. The name was changed to the present form in 1683 and through succeeding generations representatives of the name continued to reside in New England. Walter Power, the founder of the American branch of the family, was born in 1639 and died February 22, 1708. He was married March 11, 1661, to Trial, a daughter of Deacon Ralph and Thankes Shepard, who was born February 10, 1641. A genealogical record says: "Little is known of Walter Power, but probably he had not received advantages of much early education but depended upon strong sinews and sterling good sense to establish a home for himself and family. Trial, his wife, seems to have been a woman of some education. At the time of their marriage they settled in or near Concord, now the town of Littleton. In 1694 Walter Power bought of Thomas Waban and other Indians one fourth part of the township of Nashobe. His remains were doubtless laid in the old Powers burying ground, as were also those of his wife, who survived him many years."

Their third child, Isaac Power, was born in 1665 and was married April 14, 1701, to Mrs. Mary Winship, the widow of Samuel Winship and the daughter of John Coulter. Isaac Power seems to have been prominent among the sons of his father and to have taken the lead in affairs. He was captain of the military; a petitioner for town incorporation; moderator of the first town meeting and continued to hold office for many years. He was twice elected to the great and general court and was colonial agent for conveying lands. One of the children of Captain Isaac and Mary Power was Gideon Power, the third of their family, who probably lived in Lexington, Massachusetts, as his name appears on the town rolls as a soldier in an old French war. He married Lydia Russell and they had four children, the third being Jonas Powers, who was born December 6, 1738, and married Betsey Tower. They became residents of Vermont and had a family of nine children. Of these Asa Powers, the second in order of birth married Rebecca Shippinwell, of Chester, Vermont. Of this marriage there were born eight children, the eldest being Levi Powers, whose birth occurred July 9, 1791. Leaving his old home in Vermont he established a branch of the family at Ballston Spa, New York. There he wedded Mary Frost, who died March 2, 1872, while his death occurred April 17, 1882.

While Levi and Mary (Frost) Powers were living at Au Sable, Clinton county, New York, a son was born to them May 5, 1831. To the boy the parents gave the name of Ira. He was carefully trained under the parental roof but from the age of twelve years had to depend upon his own resources for a livelihood and the inferior educational advantages of the community in which he lived enabled him to make comparatively little progress along the line of mental development save that a naturally quick and receptive mind and a retentive memory enabled him to learn many valuable lessons in the school of experience. In the course of time his continually broadening knowledge promoted him to a place where his intellectual power far exceeded that of the majority of his fellowmen with whom he came into contact, enabling him correctly to solve intricate business problems, carefully to formulate plans and to execute them with dispatch. His opportunity came with the discovery of gold in California, which drew him to the Pacific coast. The long journey around Cape Horn being completed he made his way to the mines, where he engaged in a search for the precious metal for thirteen years, meeting with considerable success, prospecting during that period in various parts of California and Idaho.

In the spring of 1865, however, Mr. Powers turned his attention to commercial pursuits, establishing a second hand furniture business in Portland in partnership with A. Burchard. The new enterprise proved profitable and was conducted until they suffered heavy loss by fire in 1875. In the meantime Mr. Powers had extended his efforts to include the manufacture of furniture, which he began in 1872 under the firm style of Donly, Beard & Powers, their plant being located at Willsburg. In 1875 he established a factory on Front street, at the northwest corner of Jefferson street. where he was located for six years. Subsequently the business was at the foot of Montgomery, while later the plant was removed to South Portland. In 1882 the furniture store on First street was destroyed by fire with a loss of forty thousand dollars. In 1884 there occurred a fire in the factory with losses amounting to sixty three thousand dollars, covered only by eleven thousand dollars insurance. It was after this that the plant was built on a three acre tract of land in South Portland, but here the factory was carried away by the Willamette freshet in 1891, causing a loss of one hundred thousand dollars. All of these losses occurred within a period of ten years. On the 1st of March, 1911, the company removed to its present building at the corner of Third and Yamhill streets, where a general house furnishing business is conducted. In 1893 the business was incorporated under the firm style of the Ira F. Powers Manufacturing Company and Mr. Powers remained as president until his death. This has become one of the important productive industries of the city, its trade increasing as the result of the thorough workmanship and attractive style which is characteristic of the output.

Notwithstanding that the business was a constantly growing one Mr. Powers did not devote his entire attention to this line, his resourceful ability enabling him to accomplish substantial results in other connections. His name became a prominent one in banking circles and he was, moreover, actively associated with interests which bore upon the general development and prosperity of the city but had no direct effect upon his own finances. He was a member of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Manufacturers Association and he was active as one of the builders of the Morrison street bridge, while of the Madison street bridge he was a stockholder.

Throughout his life Mr. Powers was actuated by a spirit of helpfulness that was again and again manifest in his relations with individuals and also in association with organized charities and benevolences. The homeless boy appealed strongly to his heart and it is said at times he had as many as five such boys in his home, doing all he could to train them for positions of usefulness and honor in the business world. It was largely through his instrumentality that the Boys and Girls Society was organized in Portland. The homeless and friendless never sought his assistance in vain, his charitable spirit reaching out to all, while his material assistance was the tangible expression of his warm heart. He was in thorough sympathy with the basic principles of those organizations which recognize the brotherhood of mankind and thus it was that after coming to Portland he cooperated in the work of the Masonic fraternity here. He became a member of Gold Run Lodge, F. & A. M., while in California, and transferred his membership to Harmony Lodge, No. 12 of Portland, of which he served as treasurer for twelve years. He also joined Portland Chapter, No. 3, R. A. M.; Oregon Commandery, No. 1, K. T.; and Al Kader Temple, A. A. O. N. M. S. He belonged to Pilot Peak Lodge, I. O. O. F., at one time and to the Ancient Order of United Workmen, while his political allegiance was ever given to the republican party.

Ira F. Powers, Sr., was twice married. In 1860 he wedded Miss Minnie Wilson, who died four years later, leaving an only son, Frederick, now of Maine. In 1870 Mr. Powers wedded Mary Sullivan, a native of New York city, who in an early day was taken to the west by her parents, D. and Jessie Sullivan, and afterward accompanied her mother from California to Oregon. By the second marriage there was but one son, Ira F., of this review.

The death of the mother, Mrs. Mary Powers, occurred in 1875. Mr. Powers survived until the 8th of September, 1902, when he was called to his final rest at the age of seventy one years, leaving not only the fruits of former toil as represented in important manufacturing interests, but also an untarnished name that had long stood in Portland as the synonym for commercial enterprise and probity.

The son, Ira F. Powers, Jr., was born in 1872 in Portland, one block from the present site of the business and in the pursuit of his education attended the public and high schools of his native city, subsequently becoming a pupil in the Bishop Scott Academy. Between the ages of seventeen and twenty years he was in his father's store, after which he spent a year in the furniture business at La Grande, Oregon. Subsequently he became a traveling salesman but in August, 1902, resigned his position to become secretary of the Ira F. Powers Manufacturing Company and following his father's demise he succeeded to the presidency of the concern which is now known as the Ira F. Powers Furniture Company. He is ably carrying forward the business founded by his father and is recognized as one of the reliable and progressive merchants of the city. The trade has steadily grown from year to year until it has assumed extensive proportions, the warehouse occupying a floor space of one hundred and thirty thousand feet, while eighty five people are employed in the conduct of the business which includes everything in the line of house furnishings.

In 1906 Mr. Powers was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Nichols, a resident of this city, and they have become the parents of two children, John Thompson and Elizabeth. The family home is a beautiful modern residence in the attractive suburban district of Rivera. Mr. Powers gives his political support to the republican party and his interest in the development and upbuilding of his city is indicated in his membership in the Chamber of Commerce, the City Plan Commission and the city industrial committee. He has membership in all of the leading clubs of Portland and is a Mason of high standing, having attained the thirty second degree in the consistory. He is also a member of the Shrine and is likewise identified with the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks.

From:
History of Oregon Illistrated
Vol. 2
BY: Charles H. Carney
The Pioneer Historical Publishing Company
Chicago - Portland 1922


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