Biography of Joseph A. Strowbridge
Oregon Biographies





JOSEPH ALFRED STROWBRIDGE.
It would be difficult to point to a single incident or phase of the career of Joseph Alfred Strowbridge and name it as the most important in his life, for along many lines he contributed to Portland's benefit and upbuilding, while at the same time he carefully managed his business affairs, becoming one of the successful residents of the Rose City, while he neglected no opportunity to promote public progress in accordance with modern ideas of city building. Far reaching and effective were his labors and his name and memory are today honored wherever he was known. A native of Pennsylvania, his birth occurred in Montour county, December 1, 1835, his parents being Philip M. and Elizabeth K. Strowbridge. The ancestral line could be traced back to John Strowbridge of Colleton, who was born in Devonshire, England, in 1500. Some of his descendants emigrated to the lowlands of Scotland in the reign of King James I, and the progenitor of the family in America was William Strowbridge, who left the land of hills and heather in 1718, and established his home at Middleboro, Massachusetts. The grandparents and the parents of Joseph A. Strowbridge, however, were natives of Pennsylvania, and in 1836 the parents removed to Marion county, Ohio, where the boyhood days of Joseph Alfred Strowbridge were passed to the age of sixteen years. He was at that time preparing to enter the Ohio Wesleyan University, but his father determined to migrate to Oregon, and in October, 1851, the family left the Buckeye state, spending the winter in St. Joseph, Missouri, and resuming the long journey in the early spring. Traveling across the plains and through the mountain passes to the Pacific coast, they arrived in Portland on the 4th of October, 1852. Mr. Strowbridge, with the assistance of three men brought his live stock from The Dalles down into the Willamette valley over the old Indian trail, while the family continued to journey by the river route. An ardent lover of nature he was greatly impressed with the magnificence of the scenery, and he often said that nothing in his later life ever appealed to him as his first view of the promised land. "The boy stood upon a high bluff overlooking the great "River of the West." The deep blue waters collected from ten thousand streams, swept by in mighty current to the sea. In the distance "Bright Willamette" winding like a silver thread through the valley, hastening to join the lordly Columbia. This lovely valley! Its wild beauty soon to be enhanced by fields of golden grain, sunkissed orchards and gardens of roses lay like an emerald in the evening sunlight, for in the crimson west the sunset gates were open and a flood of radiant light was upon river and valley, mountain and forest. The purple shades of evening hung over the foothills of the Cascade range; against the dark rich shades of the evergreen forest, the vine maple draped its pale green tapestry; beautiful ferns in tropical luxuriance were all about him, while just across the canyon Mount Hood towered thousands of feet in solitary grandeur; the snows of centuries glistening in the rosy tints of the afterglow. To him it was a glimpse of paradise. That night he camped beneath the Oregon stars and as he listened to the murmuring of the west wind through the trees like an echo from the distant ocean, a sweet and restful peace came upon him; the weary journey of three thousand miles had ended, and this beautiful land beside the western sea was henceforth to be his home."

When at The Dallies the father of Joseph A. Strowbridge became ill of mountain fever, and his death occurred a few days after the arrival of the family in Portland, so that upon the son, who was not yet seventeen years of age, devolved the responsibility of supporting the family. Moreover, a heavy fall of snow in December, 1852, which laid upon the ground for two months, made grazing impossible, and there was no feed to be had for the band of fine horses which they had brought across the plains, all of which died during the memorable winter. Mr. Strowbridge eagerly accepted any employment which he could secure, determined that his course should be one of progress and success. He soon saved a little money and in 1853 sent a few boxes of apples to San Francisco in care of Purser Meade of the steamship Columbia, this being the first shipment of fruit from Oregon to that city. Such a substantial financial return came to him through this venture that he continued to engage in handling all kinds of domestic produce. He was winning substantial prosperity, when he lost all in 1856 through the failure of Adams & Company's Bank in San Francisco, in which he had deposited ten thousand dollars over night for safe keeping. In the morning he learned with thousands of others that all the gold had been carried at night to the dock and placed on board the ship at anchor in the harbor and that the ship sailed through the Golden Gate at daybreak. Thus again disaster came to strip him but he allowed nothing to overcome his courageous spirit, and with resolute purpose set to work to retrieve his lost fortune.

It was in 1858 that Mr. Strowbridge entered into partnership with C. M. Wiberg for the conduct of a retail boot and shoe business and the sale of leather and findings. Again he saw the possibilities for success in the line which he had undertaken and going to Boston, he there made arrangements with manufacturers of that city to ship him goods by way of the Isthmus route, and around Cape Horn. In this way he opened the first wholesale boot and shoe house north of San Francisco, conducting the business until 1870, when the firm of Wiberg & Strowbridge sold its store to a San Francisco firm, Mr. Strowbridge, however, retaining the leather and findings. He became a pioneer leather merchant of Oregon, and the first to import direct from the European market, buying from the tanneries in the south of France and receiving his goods through the customs house at Astoria and later at the port of Portland. In August, 1873, Mr. Strowbridge once more faced severe losses through a great fire that destroyed twenty one blocks in the business district of the city. All of the property which he had acquired, together with his stock, was either burned or torn down in order to check the fire, and it is related of him that as he surveyed the smoking ruins the next morning he remarked, "Well, the ground is left, I'll try again." This was characteristic of the courage and determination that ever dominated the man and enabled him to surmount difficulties and obstacles and push his way steadily forward to the goal of success.

In the early days of Portland's development Mr. Strowbridge became one of the first members of Willamette Company, No. 1, of the Portland Volunteer Fire Department, which was organized in 1853 by the citizens of the little hamlet for their mutual protection, and he who first saw the red glare upon the midnight sky, rang the bell, while the members of the department would speedily respond to the call and assist the fellow townsmen in extinguishing the blaze. Mr. Strowbridge was also connected with events occasioned by Indian warfare. In 1855, when the Red men were displaying unusual hostility, Mr. Strowbridge recognizing the danger in which the occupants of isolated farms were living, rode through the valley warning people and advising them to, bring their families into Portland. They came from every direction, driving their stock, and camped in the streets of the little town, until they could return in safety to their homes. These people never forgot this kind service and deeply appreciated the thoughtfulness which saved them from the horrors of Indian massacre.

Mr. Strowbridge was also associated with the work of organizing the Portland Library Association. In connection with L. H. Wakefield, he collected twenty five hundred dollars for the purpose in a single afternoon, and within a short time the money was forwarded to New York to the agent of Henry Failing, who made a careful selection of books which were then shipped by way of the Isthmus route to Portland. Mr. Strowbridge was also associated with the first company organized to build a bridge across the Willamette at Portland, but the project was not carried through as the idea was too far in advance of the times. One friend told him, "if there were a dozen bridges he would always use the ferry, that his horse might rest while he was crossing." Such were the opinions held at that time.

Throughout the years of his residence in Portland Mr. Strowbridge and his family enjoyed a high social position, occupying an enviable place in those social circles where true worth and intelligence are accepted as passports into good society. He was married in 1864 at Oxford, Ohio, to Miss Mary H. Bodman, and they became parents of four sons and a daughter: Alfred B., Joseph A., Jr., Mary H., and Henry J., all born in Portland, where they still reside; and George H., deceased. The family circle was broken by the hand of death, when on the 30th of June, 1903, Mr. Strowbridge was called to his final rest.

Mr. Strowbridge was one of the first members of the original Board of Trade, which afterwards became the Chamber of Commerce at Portland, Oregon; was also a member of the Ancient Order of United Workmen, and president of the board of directors of the Building Association which built the first Temple in Portland, Oregon; a member of the board of directors of School District No. 1, Portland, Oregon, from 1895 to 1900; and an active member of the board of directors of the Boys and Girls Aid Society for a number of years. He had been a faithful follower of the teachings of the Masonic fraternity, belonging to Willamette Lodge, No. 2, A. F. & A. M.; Portland Chapter, No. 3, R. A. M.; Oregon Commandery, No. 1, K. T.; Oregon Consistory, No. 1, A. A. S. R. His political support was given to the republican party, which in 1888 elected him to the state legislature. He carefully considered all of the vital questions that came up for settlement in the general assembly, and left the impress of his individuality and ability for good upon the history of the general assembly during that period. He was always keenly interested in Portland's welfare and progress and no one contributed more largely to the upbuilding and development of the city in early days than did he. In both the paternal and maternal lines, he was descended from Revolutionary war ancestry and the same spirit of patriotism which actuated his forebears in the struggle for independence was always manifest in his connection with the public interest of the northwest. He was a most generous and benevolent man, giving freely of his means to assist others, and yet without ostentation. Opportunity was to him ever a call to action, whether it was the opportunity to advance his individual fortunes through the legitimate channels of business or the opportunity to promote public progress along the line of municipal affairs. His life was at all times fraught with good deeds and actuated by honorable purposes, and no student of history can carry his investigation far into the records of Portland without learning of the value of his labors as a contributing element in the city's upbuilding.

From:
History of Oregon Illistrated
Vol. 3
BY: Charles H. Carney
The Pioneer Historical Publishing Company
Chicago - Portland 1922


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