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Once a vibrant, thriving farming and business community, with a strong sense of solidarity and independent spirit, the town of Lents, Oregon stood unincorporated on the outskirts of Portland to the east. The residents enjoyed the simplicity and convenience of a small, self-contained town and the benefits of close proximity to a major port and rail city. Lents was never a wealthy area but it was considered a safe and good place to work and raise a family. All the necessities of life were within walking distance and families and businesses flourished.

The decline of Lent’s vitality began in the 1930s with 82nd Ave becoming a state highway and major commercial zone. The decline culminated in the ‘70s with the construction of the I-205 freeway, which cut through the heart of town. These events contributed to a state of depression and poverty for Lents.

Despite these challenges the Lents community has always maintained a glimmer of the pride from what once made it a desirable place to live and visit. Throughout the years, various members of the community have researched and carried forward the town’s history in an effort to inform and reinstill a sense of collective pride and enthusiasm among its people.

One of the best examples of this is the book written by sisters Judith Quinlan Bunch and Joyce Quinlan Gray called Pearl Tea – Historical Stories of Lents, Oregon 1861 to 1954 (published in 2008 and reprinted in 2011). The Quinlan sisters grew up in Lents and have a family lineage in the neighborhood. The book is a wonderful journey through the town’s history told through stories, many of which their family had a personal connection to. It’s available for check-out at the Multnomah County Library and is highly recommended.

Another example is the mobile history display that was put together and presented by Ray Hites, a Lents historian, at various local events such as the Lents Fair (The display, as seen here in the photo from the 2016 Lents Fair, had historical photos and documents covering both the front and back side). When Ray stopped bringing out the display, I (author of this paper) carried on the tradition with a photo and history display which I have hosted at several Lents community events beginning in 2018.

In 2005, Randy Dagel, owner and operator of Lents Auto Body Shop from 1984 – 2016, published a paper titled The Founding History of the Lents Neighborhood Portland, Oregon, and posted it to his company’s website for the public to read (it is no longer available on the website).

These efforts and other significant contributions from dutiful residents had a hand in bringing attention to city leaders that the neighborhood was worthy of and ready for a large-scale revitalization effort, and in the early ‘90s the city’s Planning Bureau began working with Lents community members on what would eventually become the second largest Urban Renewal Area in the city of Portland.

Expedition and Founding History

Oliver Perry Lent was born near Marietta, Ohio on August 31, 1830. His wife, Martha Almira (Buckley) Lent was born at Parkersburg, Virginia on March 19, 1833 and was left an orphan in her early childhood. They were married in West Virginia in 1851, traveled back to Ohio, and soon thereafter joined a wagon train bound for California in 1852. 

Along the journey, Mrs. Lent gave birth to a child which was stillborn and they buried the child beside the trail. Reports were received that many people were dying of Cholera along the emigrant trail, so the train was split up, half taking the trail to California and the rest, of which the Lents were part, taking the Oregon trail. They were still planning to go to California, but by way of the Willamette Valley. 

At Troutdale, just east of Portland, she gave birth to a son, George Perley, and suffered from childbed fever. The family eventually settled on a tract of land called Richey Valley in the town of Sycamore, present-day Pleasant Valley, located approximately three miles east of present-day Lents. Shortly afterward, Oliver and Martha each took up a Donation Land Claim (DLC) of 320 acres in the Sycamore area, and built a cabin there where they lived for some years. 

Having been trained as a carpenter and stonemason as a young man, Oliver secured employment in Portland cutting stone blocks for the old Oregon State Penitentiary (then on Portland’s Front Street), the foundations of the old Portland Courthouse, the Post Office at Sixth & Morrison, and numerous other homes and businesses.

In 1866 Lent sold this land claim and purchased a 190-acre farmstead about one-half mile outside of the Portland city limits called Cason Prairie, named after early pioneer William Cason* whose 320 acre DLC this was part of. 

At this time the land was still populated by local native people and had abundant wildlife. Lent built his residence in the wilderness at what would later be 10123 SE Foster Road. It was here that Lent became known as an authority on farming and ranching on the land that would later bear his name. The Lents and neighboring families began building a community and the components of a self-sustaining town.

William Johnson (1801 – 1879), his wife Elisabeth, and their four sons (Ezra, Jacob, Jasper, John) and four daughters (Mary, Martha, Miriam, Ellen) came to Oregon from Ohio by covered wagon in 1846 first settling in Oregon City. In 1849, the couple took up a 640 acre land claim bounded by present-day SE 82nd Ave, 122nd, Duke, and Clatsop. The Johnsons were the first to take up a claim in the area of the creek (then called Milwaukie Creek) that would later bear the family name. Also, present day Woodstock Blvd, east of 92nd Ave was initially named Johnson Ave. William started a sawmill on the creek in 1852 which was a good source of employment for the town. William’s gravestone in Oregon City shows that he was also a reverend as was his father Eleazar and his brother Hezekiah. The town is said to have received its name because of a coin flip between William Johnson and O. P. Lent. Lent won the name of the town and Johnson, the name of the creek.

Jacob Johnson, (Dec 20, 1828 – Jan 24, 1901) son of William and Elisabeth Johnson, was born in Highland County, Ohio and came to Oregon with his parents and siblings. After living in Oregon City with his family, he moved to Portland for a while where he attended the Portland Academy and was married to Martha Lee in 1858. In 1861 the Johnsons moved back to Lents on Jacob’s parent’s homestead and later each took up a DLC further up the creek to the east. Jacob was a farmer and for many years served as School Director, as well as a Representative in the Legislature from Multnomah County. Jacob and Martha had a son and four daughters. Their grave marker reads Oregon Pioneers for whom Johnson Creek was named.

Thomas Waterman Gates (1821-1878) and his wife Cynthia, came by covered wagon to Oregon in 1847. They took up a 640-acres DLC in 1852. The claim surrounds present-day Lents Park and is bounded by SE Powell, Woodstock, 82nd, and 97th, and includes a 40-acre piece near Powell from 97th to 102nd avenues. 95th Ave, south of Foster Rd was originally named Gates St. 

William J Campbell came across the plains in 1849 with his parents, and in the 1880s William acquired a 160-acre homestead bounded by present-day Southeast 82nd, 92nd, Woodstock Boulevard, and Flavel Street. Also a prominent member of the community, 93rd Ave was named Campbell Street in the town plat map.

Plympton Kelly (Sept 7, 1828 – Sept 15, 1896) was born near Somerset, Pulaski County, Kentucky, crossed the plains with his father, Clinton, in 1848 and took his Donation Land Claim in 1850. On July 4, 1864, he married Elizabeth A. Clark. Plypmton lived in Lents throughout his life with the exception of the winter of 1855 and 1856, when he fought in the Yakima War and the two years he was captain of a steamboat (the Independence) running on the Columbia and Willamette River. He followed in his father’s footsteps serving as a Methodist minister and was the School Superintendent in Lents from 1878-1883 . Kelly Butte, being partly located on the Kelly land claim, was given the family name. His father Clinton, a prominent voice in the southeast Portland area, is the namesake for Clinton Kelly Elementary as well as the old Clinton High School (present day Cleveland HS), SE Clinton St, and Clinton Park in the South Tabor Neighborhood.

William Kern (1813 – 1895) was born in Pennsylvania, married Mary Ann Shull in 1834, moved to Illinois, and had four children there (Emma, John William, Camelia, and Thomas). In 1851, the family came across the plains to Oregon, arriving in December. In February 1854, they settled on their DLC, 320 acres bounded by present-day 72nd, 82nd, Powell Blvd, and Harold. In 1855 Mr Kern ran for Multnomah County Commissioner, lost, ran again in 1862 and won. The Kerns had two more children, Eldon Augustus, and Lilly W in 1859. A year later, Kern initiated the establishment of the first school in the Lents area and the creation of School District 12 because he worried that his children were endangered by falling timber on their daily walks to the school at Mount Tabor. In 1862 the Kerns sold two acres of their DLC to School District No 12 for the token amount of $1.

George P. Lent (Nov 1, 1852 – Nov 9, 1935) the eldest son of Oliver and Martha, graduated from Corvallis Agricultural College (now Oregon State University) in 1876 with the degree of Bachelor of Science. In 1881 he married Mary M. Johnson, daughter of Jacob and Martha Johnson.  In 1896 he graduated from the University of Oregon law school with a degree of LL.B and was admitted to the bar at Salem the same year. He practiced law for many years in Portland and for two years was school clerk and road supervisor. Lent was a Charter member of Mount Tabor Masonic lodge and Royal Arch chapter, and of Evening Star grange, United Artisans, Portland Commercial Club, and the Portland Chamber of Commerce.  He had four sons, George B. Lent, Frank B. Lent, Perley B. Lent, and Kenneth Lent.

Oliver and Martha had 12 children. Two died at childbirth, two sons died of diphtheria in 1863, and nine lived to maturity**. Like their parents, many of them were instrumental in developing their community. In addition to raising the children, Martha carried on Sunday School work for many years in the neighborhood with her relative, Reverend Plympton Kelly. Buckley Ave, present day SE 122nd Ave, was named after Martha’s family name.

Throughout Oliver’s professional and service career he contributed broadly to his community. In 1868, the Lents donated a patch of ground near their residence on 100th Ave and Foster Rd and a one room school house was built there. In 1883 Oliver established a sawmill at 92nd Avenue and Johnson Creek, where he gave employment to many early settlers. He used bulls to move the logs and his main product was plank for the roads of Portland. 

In 1886 Oliver established the first post office and mail route which extended to the foot of the Cascade Mountains. His daughter, Mrs. Emma McGrew, served as the first Postmistress and ran the office out of her own residence until 1889 when it was moved to the I. F. Coffman*** General Merchandise store on the northeast corner of Main St (92nd Ave) and Foster Road. 

In 1888 he helped found Multnomah Park Cemetery along with his son George P. Lent, Gustaf Petersen, Robert Gilbert, and William Kern. 

Oliver and his son George were both instrumental in extending the interurban railway out of Portland into Lents which opened on June 17, 1892. The line ran from central Portland via Hawthorne Boulevard, south down 50th Ave, then east out to Lents.

In addition to his list of founding contributions he held the office of Justice of the Peace, Road Supervisor, and several times served as Master of the Grange. In his years of service to education he took on the role of School Director and later was Clerk of the School Board. Lent was also a member of the Woodmen of the World fraternal organization, and a member of the Unitarian Universalist faith. Though a Unionist during the Civil War and an admirer of Lincoln, he became a staunch Democrat after the war and ran unsuccessfully for state senate in 1892.

In 1889, Oliver sold his farm, retired, and he and Martha moved to Mount Tabor. He died at his home on April 22, 1899, Martha passing six years later on April 5, 1905.

On August 17, 1892, after purchasing adjacent land from the Gates, George P. Lent, an attorney and eldest son of Oliver P. and Martha A. Lent, platted and registered the Town of Lent with the county recorder. The official town boundaries were set at Foster Rd to the north, (present day) Tolman to the south, Oregon City Rd (present day 92nd) on the west, and Agate St (present day 97th) to the east.

* Cason came to Oregon in 1843 and was the first man to take a DLC in the vicinity. The land was later purchased by another early settler, James Stephens, who came to Oregon in 1845, started and operated one of the first ferries across the Willamette River, and whose father was the first burial at Portland’s Lone Fir Cemetery. Stephens eventually bought up 1900 acres of east side land to sell to settlers of which 190 acres was sold to Lent for $3500. Present day 96th Ave, in the original town plat map is named Cason Street.

** George Perley Lent (1852 -1935), William M Lent (1853 – 1863), Emma L Lent McGrew (1853 -1927), Fremont L Lent (1856 -1932), Charles P Lent (1861 -1863), Ella Lent Whitlock (1863 -1938), Oscar Eugene Lent (1865 – 1941), Rosetta Ann Lent Evans (1867 – 1921), Elizabeth Judith Lent Wood (1873 – 1955), Oliver Winthrop Lent (1875-1944)

*** Isaiah Frank Coffman (1860 – 1931) and his wife Clara B. (1861 – 1927) were the owners and operators of the I. F. Coffman General Merchandise store on the northeast corner of 92nd and Foster Road which was the first store in what would become Lents. Coffman was such a central figure in the Lents business community that he was cordially known around town as “Mayor of Lents” though there was no official position for that title.

Historic Lents, Oregon

The official town of Lent, Oregon was platted and registered with the county recorder on August 17, 1892 by George P. Lent, an attorney at law and the eldest son of Oliver P. and Martha A. Lent. The town came to be known as Lents (with the added “s”) by people commonly referring to it as “going to Lent’s”. There was a sense of independent spirit and pride of community amongst the people and the burgeoning town would soon provide all the amenities the residents dreamed of.

At this time the sole retailer was the I.F. Coffman General Store (northeast corner of present day 92nd and Foster Rd) which hosted the post office. A mail route had been established and a carrier delivered letters and newspapers to about 250 homes daily covering about 14 square miles. 

The schoolhouse was a 2 story building that had about 50 students and doubled as a church on Sundays. Main St (92nd Ave) hadn’t been cut through to the north of Foster Rd yet, and the school sat directly in the middle of what would become main street headed north. A cemetery had been established at present day 82nd and Holgate, today called Multnomah Park Cemetery. Only two months prior, the interurban railway out of Portland had been extended from Hawthorne Blvd to Lents and began operation with a grand opening ceremony at the new terminus station at (present day) SE 102nd Ave and Foster Rd.

By 1905, the Lents business district had expanded exponentially to include grocery, bakery, furniture, clothing, and hardware shops, real estate offices, a drug store, barber, and even a roller rink, and was the central market for farmers in the surrounding areas. There were no taverns or liquor stores as the town was united in a no-alcohol sales policy. The local newspaper, The Oregon Grape printed its 1st edition, and there was a public library and reading room which was operated by subscriptions and donations. The interurban railway out of Sellwood now met with the Mt. Scott line from Lents Junction and extended all the way out to Cazadero Dam near Estacada. 

A few years earlier in 1902, a fire swept through town and destroyed the schoolhouse which had already exceeded capacity, so by the following year, a new 10 room school house had been erected at the southeast corner of (present day) 92nd and Harold St. 

The population continued to increase and by 1912 had reached about 10,000. The Beaver State Herald, which relocated to Lents 1911 (previously published as a Montavilla/Gresham paper), reported that Lents was “…the largest unincorporated town or suburb in the United States”. 

Lents offered a good supply of water, electric light and power, and a local telephone system. The Mt Scott interurban, a 2-car train, stopped in town every 12 minutes to take people into Portland. The volunteer fire department had purchased a hand pulled chemical engine with money from a series of fundraisers. A wireless telegraphy station had been installed ½ mile from the town center that was capable of receiving messages from San Francisco. 

There were churches of nearly every denomination, several business, fraternal, athletic, and orchestral organizations, and a town band. The Post Office had relocated from the general store to its first dedicated building which had electric lights and steam heat and with the distinction of being the only structure in town with a cement floor. 

The student population had again outgrown the school and now a newly constructed 22-room Lents School was built at the same location as the previous building. It cost $100,000 and was considered one of the largest and best schools in Oregon. A group of mothers had formed a club to initiate the establishment of a park, which, through the work of volunteers, would eventually become the first section of Lents Park. 

The thriving business district had grown to include a restaurant, cafe, confectionery, ice cream shop, two banks, two theaters, a jeweler, a tailor, shoe repair, multiple pharmacies, medical doctors, grocers, meat markets, hardware stores, and welding and sheet metal fabrication shops. Many of the previous wooden buildings were being replaced by masonry buildings. There were at least half a dozen Lents postcards for sale in the markets showing photos of a prosperous town center. 

Up until this time, Lents had been maintained entirely through the hard work and tenacity of the townspeople. But with a population exceeding 10,000 and without an official governing body, many felt that annexation into Portland was what was needed to get necessary improvements such as paved roads and sidewalks, better street lights, fire and police protection, and a public park. So after a petition was circulated the town voted, by a narrow margin, for annexation on November 5, 1912, and was officially annexed on July 1, 1913. 

In the decades that followed, though infrastructure and utility improvements were slow to materialize, Lents would continue to thrive and grow and there was still a strong sense of solidarity.

In June of 1914, Lents Park was officially opened as a Portland park. The Mothers Club who had been working on the establishment of the park had asked the county to donate the property to Portland and make it part of the city park system. The Mult. Co. Commissioners agreed that as long as the land was used for a public park, they would deed it to Portland. Also in June, the Lents Masonic Lodge was granted its charter. The following year, with increasing patronage, a new library building opened at 5827 SE 91st Ave.

In 1919, the volunteer fire department, being displaced from their headquarters due to the sale of the building, approached the city for a new structure to store their engine and gear. The city commissioners agreed to fund the building if the Lents firemen would provide the lot and so the new building was built at 9223 58th Ave (present day Ramona st). Auto mechanic Axel Kildahl who owned and ran Lents Garage opened a showroom to sell Dort automobiles from Flint, Michigan. That same year, 92nd Ave was paved with asphalt and a year later the wooden sidewalks, which by this time were in poor repair, were finally upgraded to cement.

The city had yet to provide police protection so in 1922 Lents residents decided to hire an officer to police the area. In 1924, the Southeast Portland Lumber Company (which changed its name to Dwyer Lumber Company in 1947) was built on the site of the former Johnson sawmill on Johnson Creek at 100th Ave. It became a major employer in the region. In 1928 Lents finally got an official Fire Station at 5707 92nd Ave (present location) and professional staff.

In 1931 Safeway opened a new store at the southeast corner of 92nd Ave and Foster Rd, and remained until 1941 when it moved a couple of blocks to the west to the corner of 90th Ave and Foster Rd. Also of note in 1941, Woody Guthrie and his family lived temporarily in an apartment in Lents (in the building that at one time housed the original Lents Library and Reading Room) while he wrote The Columbia River Songs by commission for the US Department of the Interior. 

A Goodwill Industries store arrived in 1943 at 9130 SE Woodstock Blvd and in 1947 the Powell’s Boys Club, later known as Lents Boys and Girls Club and currently known as Wattles Boys & Girls Club, opened its doors at 9330 SE Harold St.

In 1941, Lents resident and son of Lents Pharmacy owner, Fred Peterson became a commissioner for the City of Portland and served three terms until 1953 at which time he was elected as Mayor of Portland serving until 1956. During his tenure in city office, the city added an additional 32 acres to Lents Park by purchasing over a dozen of the surrounding neighborhood blocks from private property owners. In 1953, a central plan was prepared, proposing locations for a baseball stadium, athletic playing fields, tennis courts, community structures, pathways, and parking areas. Construction on the stadium began in 1956. 

Also during Peterson’s time in office, a new Oliver P. Lent School building was opened in 1950 at 5105 SE 97th Ave and two years later Clinton Kelly Elementary school was opened at 9030 SE Cooper St. Later, in 1960 John Marshall High School opened off 92nd Ave south of Powell Blvd.

Through the 50s and 60s, the Lents district would continue to offer the locals much of their daily needs but the vitality had greatly declined with the sharp increase in commercial competition from 82nd Ave.

Starting in the early 1970s and for the following four decades, the most prominent business in the Lents town center was the New Copper Penny which, expanding during the ‘70s and ‘80s, came to include a variety of establishments occupying the entire 92nd block between Foster Rd and Woodstock Blvd. Owned and established by Greek immigrant Theodosios “Saki” Tzantarmas, the block included a restaurant, night club, betting facility, and banquet hall. The giant neon sign depicting a penny with the profile of Abraham Lincoln was an iconic image known city-wide and by anyone passing by on the I-205 freeway.


School District #12, formed in 1860, originally comprised a territory from the west-most boundary near the city limits of Portland (at that time), four miles eastward, and from the southern boundary of Multnomah County to Section Line Road (SE Division St), and in 1861 the first schoolhouse in the district was a 14’ x 14’ cabin built by Isacc Williams on his DLC and was located at Grey’s Crossing which is the corner of present-day 82nd Ave and Woodstock. There were around 7 students to start. The new district was organized at the concern of settler William Kern who declared it was not safe for his son to go through the dead timber, as would be necessary if he attended school at Mt. Tabor. In 1862 the Kerns sold two acres of their DLC to School District No 12 for the token amount of $1.

In 1868, the Lents donated a parcel of land near their residence on 100th Ave and Foster Rd. and a one room schoolhouse was raised there by the volunteer labor of local residents Jacob Johnson, his brother-in-law Moses Lee, Jefferson and Hiram Campbell, William Kern, 0, P. Lent and others. Upon opening, the pupils were the children of four families, Johnson, Lent, Gates, and Campbell. 

By 1878, the student population had outgrown the little schoolhouse and a new two-story schoolhouse was built on the south side of Foster Rd, opposite the Lents residence, at the terminus of the Mt Scott and Portland Railway. Only the lower room was needed for school purposes at that time and the upper was used as a Grange Hall, church, and for public and social gatherings. In 1890 the District 12 County School moved to a grading system. By 1902, there were around 100 students and the two classrooms were overcrowded. On September 12 of that year, a fire swept through the area, destroying the school and other nearby buildings. Classes were temporarily held at a roller skating rink located between Foster Rd and Woodstock Ave on the east side of Main St. 

A new school house was promptly erected in 1903 on the corner of Main St and Harold St. This building had 10 classrooms and an auditorium. By 1905 the student population had grown to more than four hundred. In 1907, County school was annexed into the Portland School district and its name was changed to Lents school by the following year. With the rapid expansion, this building was sold to a church group and moved from the property and in 1910, the first wing of a new, larger building was opened and was taken into Portland School District No. 1. By 1912, the newly constructed 22-room Lents school had cost $100,000 and was considered one of the largest and best schools in Oregon. By the time the school closed in 1949, the school’s maintenance had been largely neglected having bad plumbing, poor lighting, inefficient heating, and was propped up by railroad ties.

A new school was built five blocks to the east on 97th Ave and Steel St which opened in 1950 with around 550 students and 20 teachers. The new building cost $710,300 and is still in operation today. 

With the continuing rapid population growth of outer southeast Portland, Clinton Kelly Elementary, named for the pioneer and Methodist minister, was built at SE 92nd and Cooper St in 1952, and in 1960, John Marshall High School, named for Chief Justice John Marshall, opened on 91st Ave, 2 blocks south of Powell Blvd. In the  early years, Marshall was one of the top schools in the country; however,  it fell on hard times, challenged by dropping enrollments, poor test scores  and a population speaking over 17 different native languages. In 2004,  the school reopened as the John Marshall Campus, home to four small  schools which function as separate high schools within the same building. In 2012 until present, it became the swing site for other high schools in the district that are undergoing modernization construction funded by the City of Portland Bond Measures.

Schools timeline:

  • 1860 – School district number 12 was first organized
  • 1861 – 1867 – School house #1 (County school) – Grays crossing (82nd and Woodstock)
  • 1868 – 1877 – School house #2 (County school) – 101th Ave and Foster Rd (adjacent to the Lent’s residence)
  • 1878 – 1902 – School house #3 (County school): Foster Rd at Main St. Destroyed by fire.
  • 1903 – 1909 – School house #4 (Oliver P Lent school) – 323 Main St. (92nd and Harold)
  • 1910 – 1949 – School house #5 (Lents school) – 5526 SE 92nd Ave (92nd and Harold)
  • 1950 – Present – School house #6 (Oliver P. Lent school) – 5105 SE 97th Ave
  • 1952 – Present – Clinton Kelly Elementary – 9030 SE Cooper St
  • 1960 – Present – John Marshall High School – 3109 SE 91st Ave

Decline and Revitalization

In 1932, the State of Oregon designated 82nd Ave a state highway and major commercial strip development set in. Lents began to see more and more business competition. In 1950 the Southeast Fred Meyer Shopping Center was built at SE 82nd and Foster. A decade later, in 1960 the Eastport Plaza Shopping Center, a 28-acer indoor mall, opened at 82nd and Holgate. Then in 1968 the Safeway which had been located at 90th and Foster moved west to 82nd and Foster across from the Fred Meyer, further decentralizing Lents access to groceries. The addition of this new competition was a major blow to the Lents business district. Most of Lents businesses could not survive and there were now vacant storefronts than active ones and by the 70s there were mostly 2nd hand stores, taverns, and dilapidated buildings. But the final, hobbling blow to Lents was the construction of the I-205 freeway which cut right through the heart of the town. The demolition and construction which lasted from 1975 to 1981 had a devastating effect on the neighborhood, displacing hundreds of homes and leaving many of the displaced residents with few options for new housing. Particularly hard-hit were senior citizens. 

In the early 90s, the City of Portland Planning Bureau began working with members of the community to develop the Lents Neighborhood Plan which was approved by the Lents Neighborhood Association in 1995 and adopted by the city in 1996.

In 1998 the city partnered with the Portland Development Commission and established a 15 year, $75 million dollar urban renewal district. Ten years later, in 2008, the City Council amended the Lents Town Center Urban Renewal Area boundaries and increased funding by another $170 million dollars for neighborhood improvements and added 5 years to the project.

Since 2000, the city of Portland has invested $207 million in the Lents community. Prosper Portland, who manages the city’s investment in Lents (along with the Housing Bureau), has completed Phase 1 of the planned projects, and the Phase 2 projects are pending (as of Feb 2023).

The vision for the revitalized Lents neighborhood in the 1996 Adopted Lents Neighborhood Plan through the City of Portland Bureau of Planning was as follows:

Lents will…

  • Be a thriving urban center in outer Southeast Portland where people enjoy living, working and going for activities and recreation.
  • Be respected as a great place to be and an area where expectations are high for an improved quality of life.
  • Combine the character of an “urban village” with the economic vitality of an area-wide employment center. 
  • Provide a full range of neighborhood commercial, medical and social services. 
  • Incorporate traditional and alternative forms of housing, providing a strong population base in the heart of outer southeast.
  • Have an expanded network of parks connected with a greenway trail system to allow the residents of Lents to be able to travel, by foot or bicycle, to areas around the neighborhood without coming into significant conflict with the automobile. 
  • Have some streets turned into public places with residents’ front yards extending into a green environment.
  • Be a major employment center in the region, drawing from the neighborhood as well as the metropolitan area for their work force. 
  • Have a pedestrian-friendly environment and include more pedestrian crossings, increased connectivity between east, west, north and south, and improved signal timings at crosswalks to help reduce automobile and pedestrian conflict. 
  • Served by high capacity transit, such as light rail, as well as bus service.
  • Have a multi-modal transportation center with commercial tie-ins at street level for boarding by shoppers, workers, and residents.

First People of the Clackamas and Willamette

The land that is now known as Lents was originally part of the territory inhabited by a band of the Upper Chinookan speaking Indians called the Clackamas. They frequented the area to fish and forage along the creek now known as Johnson Creek but more broadly, they had vast settlements in the valleys of the Clackamas, Willamette, and Sandy Rivers. Other tribes that would have traversed this land include the Willamette (a band of Chinooks that lived on the west bank of the Willamette), the Wapato, the Kalapuya, and the Molallas.

The Clackamas regularly camped and fished at a spot on the creek near present day 100th Ave and Foster and held ceremonial dances at a natural stone amphitheater toward the hill to the south east (now called Mt Scott). This spot was called Indian Rock by the colonizing settlers and the stone was later quarried and used for local roads and to line the creek bed. 

Foster Rd was built on what was originally a trail cut by the local tribes to travel to (what would become) Powell Valley Rd then directly west to the Willamette River and up to the Willamette Falls (at present day Oregon City) where they fished for salmon and steelhead. When the City of Portland was established in 1851, this was one of the prominent routes used by settlers entering Portland and was considered the end of the Oregon Trail.

The rivers were at the heart of the Upper Chinook’s way of life and their settlements were grouped primarily around the waterways. Typical of Upper Chinook settlements, the Clackamas villages were substantial and permanent. Each cedar plank lodge could house 20 to 30 people and a village population could be in the hundreds. If there were any of these structures on the section of land now known as Lents, at the time of colonization, it has not shown up on any documentation. 

They carved canoes from cedar trees, 25-30 feet in length for transportation and traveled seasonally to hunt game and collect camas root, wapato, and berries. The Clowwewallas, a band of the Clackamas that lived at the Willamette Falls, built scaffolds using cedar planks that stretched out over the falls to harvest fish with dip nets and spears. Salmon at the Falls were plentiful enough to enrich the Clackamas beyond simple survival; other tribes came for trade fairs to purchase salmon or to pay tribute for the privilege of fishing in Clackamas territory.

As was the custom of many other tribes in the area, the Clackamas people practiced flattening of the head. The practice was carried out during infancy, the child secured into a bundle and the forehead pressed with a flat board at the angle of the nose. This was considered a sign of beauty and status, and only free men and women could have flattened heads. Slaves were usually from other tribes, but debt slavery also occurred.

When Lewis and Clark visited the area in 1806, the Clackamas tribe was estimated at about 1,800 people living in 11 villages, though by that time the populations had already been diminished by disease in the mid 1700s, possibly smallpox, carried from the coast by European and American explorers and traders. The population would be further decimated in 1829 when the first oceangoing vessel to sail up the Willamette carried many sick sailors, ailing from a fever (influenza or malaria). The illness spread from crew to shore rapidly and over the course of the winter of 1829-30 at least nine tenths of the Clackamas people perished, devastating the  tribe.

Early relations with fur traders along the Willamette and Columbia rivers  were more or less congenial. The tribesmen appreciated the tobacco they bought from  European, American, and Hawaiian traders. Some fur traders from Fort Astoria  intermarried with local women and settled to farm in Willamette Valley. Less  ethical  traders employed alcohol to bribe and manipulate. Relations began to worsen  when traders sought to control Willamette Falls and when settlers began  streaming into Oregon beginning in1841.

In 1850 Congress passed the Donation Land Act to promote settlement in Oregon Territory. Land grants of 320 acres were available to white males, with an additional 320 acres available to married couples. This resulted in  a flood of immigration to the Northwest continuing until the DLCs ended in 1855. Half-blood Native peoples were also eligible to file DLCs. Epidemics of smallpox, malaria, and measles continued to reduce the population of the Clackamas to only 88 by 1851, and on January 10, 1855, the remaining 88 people, signed a treaty that ceded all of their lands in exchange for a ten-year annuity of $2,500. After the treaty was ratified March 3, 1855 the Clackamas were to relocate to Grand Ronde Reservation while retaining some rights in their former homeland. In the midst of violence and starvation during the Yakima War in the summer of 1855, Clackamas County area Indians were suddenly rounded up and forced to the reservation. 

Most  of the promises made to Native Americans in these treaties were never fulfilled.  Once on the reservation, most people were landless and struggled to survive. The Clackamas, who numbered only 55 on the Reservation in 1871, blended into the general population of Grand Ronde by the 1920s.  In 1954, the federal government severed trust relations with the Tribes of Western  Oregon, leaving the Grand Ronde people homeless until the decision was reversed in 1983. The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde continue to fight for survival and recognition in Oregon and nationally.