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Learn the twists and turns of Portland’s historic street names

Portland, Oregon has 170+ years of history. In this guide, we’re diving into the city’s oldest streets and how they got their names.

Portland's White Stag Sign lit up above Burnside Street with a pink sunset in the background.

Name a more iconic emblem of Portland. We’ll wait.

Photo by Justin Shen

Table of Contents

The city of Portland was incorporated on Feb. 8, 1851, six years after business partners and pioneers William Overton and Asa Lovejoy filed to claim the land on the west bank of the Willamette River. Now that 170+ years have passed, the city and its streets are chock-full of vibrant history.

It’s safe to say that over the years, the city has been touched by countless historical figures and happenings — many of which have shaped the names of Portland’s buildings, parks, and streets. In this guide, we’re delving into the history of Portland’s streets — specifically how they were named.

Alphabet District

An area of Portland that is especially rich in history is the Alphabet District. As the name suggests, the district’s streets are in alphabetical order — ascending from south to north beginning with Ankeny Street. Additionally, each street is named after a prominent citizen from the city’s history. Some of the more notable streets in this district include:

Burnside Street — named after David W. Burnside, a council member and successful businessman from Vermont. Burnside Bridge is also named in his honor.

Couch Street (pronounced COOCH) — named after Captain John H. Couch from Massachusetts. Couch is most remembered for creating the grid of streets in the Alphabet District.

Irving Street — named after steamboat Captain William Irving. The Portland suburb of Irvington includes some of Irving’s original property investments.

Lovejoy Street — named after Asa Lovejoy, the American pioneer and politician that worked with William Overton to incorporate Portland as a city. Lovejoy originally wanted to name Portland after his birthplace, Boston.

Pettygrove Street — named for Francis Pettygrove, who helped incorporate the city after purchasing William Overton’s share of the land claim in 1845.

An aerial view of Portland's Vaughn Street Park, the home diamond of professional baseball, in 1951.

Vaughn Street Park (between 24th and 25th avenues) was the home of Portland’s professional baseball teams until 1955.

Photo via City of Portland Archives

Vaughn Street — named after Portland’s sixth mayor, George Washington Vaughn. Vaughn was originally from New Jersey but moved to Portland in 1850.

Wilson Street — named after Dr. R.B. Wilson as he was one of the most well known early pioneers and citizens of Portland. Dr. Wilson was also married to one of Captain Couch’s daughters.

Southeast Portland

This district of Portland is especially trendy and offers plenty of opportunities for shopping, entertainment, and dining. Street art and vibrant murals are also a highlight of this part of town.

Southeast Powell Boulevard — formerly known as Powell Valley Road, was once a dirt road that farmers from Powell Valley used to access Portland. The valley (and subsequently the road) was named after Jackson Powell, an early pioneer who first claimed the land in 1851.

Division Street — formerly known as Section Line Road that once designated the boundaries of land ownership.

Northeast Portland

This art centric area of the city has seen more gentrification than most other areas of Portland. It is highlighted by the Alberta Arts District and home to the Last Thursday street art fair, hip eateries, and new age breweries.

Brazee Street — named after John W. Brazee, who spearheaded the construction of Portland’s first railroad.

Holladay Street — named for Ben Holladay, a prominent figure in the railroad industry.

Killingsworth Street — This street, which dissects Northeast Portland, was dedicated to 1880s real estate investor William M. Killingsworth.

Turn-of-the-century delivery vehicles parked outside of a bakery, where employees pose on the street

Delivery vehicles for Viking Bakery Co. at East Stark Street and East 13th Street, circa 1915.

Photo via University of Washington Special Collections

Stark Street — Dedicated to Oregon politician Benjamin Stark. Bonus: Southeast Stark Street and Southwest Stark Street were divided by the Willamette River, but in 2018, Southwest Stark Street was renamed to Southwest Harvey Milk Street in honor of gay rights activist Harvey Milk.

Bonus: Portland received its name in a community coin toss.

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