Portland, St. Johns Review

St. Johns Review [LCCN: sn00063676]
St. Johns, Oregon (later Portland, Oregon)

The St. Johns Review is Portland’s oldest neighborhood newspaper; in fact, it dates back to 1904, when St. Johns was still a separate municipality.

Located on the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, just north of the original Portland city site, ‘St. Johns on the Willamette’ was platted in 1852 by an eccentric hermit named James John. Apparently, it was the founder’s reclusive but kindly reputation, rather than any formal religious affiliation, that was the source of the “Saint” nickname he passed on to the town. From his eight-block town site, John operated a general store and a ferry service across the river. Around this same time, the Oregon Barrel Co. commenced manufacturing in the area; its plant would be the largest factory in the Portland region throughout the Civil War era.

St. Johns grew slowly but steadily over its first several decades. By the turn of the 20th century, there was a thriving downtown business district with shops and restaurants. Electric trolley service arrived in 1903, the same year that the town was officially incorporated. By 1904, when the Portland Woolen Mills relocated to St. Johns, the momentum of civic growth had reached the point where a local newspaper began to seem necessary, especially for the printing of legal notices. A man named J.C. Crome stepped up to fill this void with the St. Johns Review. The inaugural issue came out on November 11, 1904: its front page touted ‘Remarkable Growth’ and proclaimed editorial fealty to ‘the Interests of the Peninsula, the Manufacturing Center of the Northwest.’ A competitor, the Peninsula Herald [LCCN: n/a], soon appeared on the scene, but there were only enough local advertisers to support one paper, and so the Herald shortly ceded the field. But J.C. Crome’s tenure as newspaperman would also prove to be short lived: the May 26, 1905 issue of the Review announced that ownership of the paper had passed to the firm of McKeon and Thorndike. Crome left to seek his fortune in the gold fields of southern Nevada, thereafter disappearing from the historical record.

The strongest impetus yet for the growth of St. Johns came with the announcement of a Portland world’s fair, to be opened in June of 1905. The ‘Lewis & Clark Centennial Exposition’ was actually a highly ambitious scheme for civic boosting, intended to promote Portland’s economic prospects and attract investments from all points east. Staging the fair would require a large, open site somewhere outside the city center. The lot that was eventually chosen–in the vicinity of Guild’s Lake–bordered on the town of St. Johns. Enterprising locals were quick to spot opportunities for piggybacking on Portland’s boosterism, but the coming of the fair was not to be an unmixed blessing for the little town. Items published in the St. Johns Review recount how shady land speculation became rampant and local politics—already acrimonious at best—entered into a period of infighting, corruption and graft. Longstanding debates centered on alcohol prohibition (St. Johns was a “dry” town by local ordinance), the lack of electrical service, and the state of the municipal water supply, which was privately controlled and of questionable quality. A Review editorial also warned residents to be on the lookout for “sneak thieves” who must inevitably descend on their town with the influx of Exposition attendees.

Thankfully, fear of this out-of-town criminal element proved largely unwarranted. Rather, the success of the Lewis & Clark Exposition would lead to a local construction boom. Wooden buildings were replaced with structures of brick and concrete. The Portland General Electric Co. announced that regular power service would finally be extended to St. Johns. New churches and businesses, including a bank and a pharmacy, were established downtown, and Mary MacLacklin, one of Oregon’s first female medical doctors, also opened her practice here. At the Exposition’s conclusion, a pair of massive, wooden water tanks was moved from the fairgrounds into town; they provided a partial solution, at least, to the municipal water woes.

At this time, an annual subscription to the St. Johns Review could be had for one dollar. The paper continued with its strategy of printing legal notices, advertisements, local news items, and any favorable impressions of the town that visitors might offer. A few stories detail the emergence of St. Johns as something of a regional aeronautic center. Large crowds gathered on more than one occasion to view dirigible flights, balloon ascents, and daring parachute stunts.

In a 1915 vote, citizens of St. Johns voted by a margin of 799 to 499 in favor of annexation with the City of Portland. The Review pledged to carry on as a neighborhood paper, adopting the motto: “A community newspaper makes the community better.” This philosophy has served the paper remarkably well, as it has continued to be published down to the present day.

— Written by Jason Stone

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