Courtyard Fountains: History of Gresham, Oregon

Gresham, Oregon, the fourth largest city in the state, sits between Portland and Mount Hood. It has the cool winter climate of the Pacific Northwest paired with pleasant, warm, sunny summers.  

The area’s rich history is also preserved and on display for the curious. Visitors also find plenty of outdoor activities and things to see. Gresham is also home to Senior Lifestyle’s Courtyard Fountains community. 

>> Read “15 Things to Do in Gresham, Oregon

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Find out more about Gresham, Oregon, history, people and landmarks. 

The History of Gresham, Oregon

Gresham sits on territory once claimed by the Clackamas tribe of the Chinook people in the Johnson Creek watershed. They built plank-house villages next to area water sources, including rivers and creeks. The Lewis and Clark expedition in 1805 passed by what became Gresham.

The availability of land drew Europeans to the area in the 1800s. Oregon was incorporated as a territory in 1849, and the area’s first settlers arrived by 1850 to claim land. The Powell brothers, Jackson and James, were joined by other pioneer families soon after in what was known as Powell’s Valley. Among the first settlers were Germans, Irish, Japanese, Scots and Swedes. 

The first businesses in the area were sawmills, making lumber for homes and the town’s buildings as the land was being cleared. As the area grew, Methodists moved in to establish summer camp meetings, first possibly in 1855.  

The settlement became known as Gresham in 1884 as a local merchant received a post office and named it after Postmaster Gen. Walter Q. Gresham. Reflecting its Methodist camp heritage, another post office was secured called Campground, which was another name for the area. It was revoked soon after so the area kept the Gresham name.

Gresham was incorporated as a town of 365 people in 1905 during the Lewis and Centennial Exposition. By this point, farming was the primary vocation in the town, with berries, grapes and vegetables among the main crops. 

Gresham was a way station to Portland at the time, with trains taking passengers between the two towns hourly. Gresham settlers moved on to settle the outlying communities of Boring, Estacada, Fairview and Sandy.

A city library, which began as a small collection of books in the town’s general store, became a full-fledged public library in 1913 with a grant from the Andrew Carnegie library fund.

The city continued to grow, from 4,000 at the beginning of the 20th century to 10,000 by 1970. The most recent census pegs the Gresham population at 114,247.

Notable People From Gresham

Some famous people have hailed from or lived in Gresham. Here are a few of them.

Shannon Bex

Bex is a singer and dancer and was in a reality show. She also was a cheerleader for the nearby Portland Trail Blazers pro basketball team.

She also has started a streaming platform specializing in children’s storybooks.

Ryan Crouser

Crouser is a shot putter and discus thrower. He has won two Olympic gold medals, 2016 in Rio and 2020 in Tokyo. He also holds an Olympic record in shot put.

Crouser holds world records in the shot put and was named Track & Field News’ 2021 World Male Athlete of the Year.

Katie Harman

Harman was Miss Multnomah County, Miss Oregon and then Miss America in 2001. She was crowned just days after the Sept. 11 attacks. Her first official appearance in her new role was at the World Trade Center and Pentagon to visit rescue workers.

She became a singer and actress after her pageant career. 

Gregg Eugene Harris

Harris was a key figure in the Christian homeschooling movement in the 1980s and 1990s. His book “The Christian Home School” was a best-seller.

His son Joshua Harris is a former pastor and author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” His twin sons Alex and Brett founded a Christian teen website.

Jess Hartley

Hartley is an editor, novelist, writer and game creator. She has written the novel “Exalted: In Northern Twilight” and an electronic serial, “Little Yoshida.” She also has written for dozens of online role-playing games.

She also has worked for magazines and written about the technology aficionados community.

Anne Schedeen

Schedeen is an actress with many credits in television. She had roles in many 1970s series including “Emergency!” and “Three’s Company.”

In 1986, she landed a co-starring role in the comedy “ALF” as the mother of the family. The series ran until 1990.

William P. Young

Young is an author and former Christian missionary. His most recognized book is the best- eller “The Shack,” a young adult novel that has come under some criticism by theologians. 

His most recent book is “Lies We Believe About God.”

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Top Landmarks in Gresham

Several sites in Gresham are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Here are a few.

Carnegie Library

This house served as Gresham’s first public library. The Carnegie Foundation donated the funds to build the house in 1913.

Before the building was constructed, the nearest public library was in Portland.

Charles and Fae Olsen House

Unlike some of the other notable homes, this one was built after World War II.

Charles Olsen was overseas during the war, but he and his wife Fae designed the home in letters between the two. When he returned after the war, the two built their dream midcentury home.

David and Marianne Ott House

This home was designed by architect John W. Stoors. Completed in 1952, it was one of Storrs’ earliest residential designs.

The house is considered a fine example of his well-known Northwest Regional Style.

Louise Home Hospital and Residence Hall

This historic building was originally built in 1925 as a residence for unwed and pregnant mothers. It also served as a women’s educational institution and a home for the disabled.

Currently, this is the headquarters of the Albertina Kerr Centers for Children, a mental health institution.

John F. Roberts Elk Horn Ranch

This is one of the oldest homes in Gresham, staying with the family for generations.

John F. Roberts was a child during the pioneer years, coming to the area on the Oregon Trail. He built part of this home in 1868.

Zimmerman House

This home was built during the pioneer days of the Oregon Territory. German immigrant Jacob Zimmerman built this house in 1874. 

The Zimmerman family lived in the home until 1992, until it was converted into a museum.

Make Your Own History at Courtyard Fountains

Senior Lifestyle’s Courtyard Fountains community in Gresham offers Independent and Active Living options in a resort-like environment. The fun, inviting team members at Courtyard Fountains surrounds residents with the care they need and a smile they deserve.

Find out more about Senior Lifestyle or schedule a visit today.

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