Witness Post: Marquam

The name Marquam is everywhere in Oregon: Marquam Hill, the town of Marquam, Oregon, the Marquam Bridge, Marquam Nature Park … this Witness Post highlights the iconic Oregon name. The origin of the name is from two brothers who grew up in my home town, Baltimore, Maryland.

Both Marquam brothers were entrepreneurial, adventuresome, and generous. They found different ways from Baltimore to Oregon. When they were youths, the family moved from Maryland to Indiana. The older brother, Alfred, later moved from Indiana to Missouri and then to Oregon. The younger brother, Philip, left his family in Indiana and moved to California, chasing his fortunes as a miner in the Gold Rush, before heading north to Oregon.

The Gas Station & General Store in Marquam, OR

The Town, the Business founder, the Postman

The Oregon town of Marquam is named after an early pioneer settler: Alfred Marquam. He arrived in Oregon in 1845. Alfred Marquam secured a donation land claim of 640 acres, located between Molalla and Silverton. He built his first house the same year. He soon established and opened a general store, the first in this part of Clackamas County. Forty-four years later, in 1889, the Marquam Post Office and gas station was established by the town in honor of their first business owner. The town appointed Alfred Marquam as the first postmaster.

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Coin token from Marquam, OR

The Judge, the Hill, the Developer

Alfred Marquam’s younger brother, Philip A. Marquam, earned a law degree at the Univ. of Indiana in Bloomington, Indiana, and arrived in Oregon after a detour digging for gold in the Sierras. His claims for gold not panning out, Philip was appointed a judge in Yolo County, California.

A few years later, in 1851, he moved to Oregon and lived in Multnomah County. Using his legal credentials and Hoosier charm, he was twice elected to be a judge in Multnomah County court, serving for eight years in Portland, Oregon. He also became a property developer in Portland, buying for $2,500 a hill that was part of a 300 acre donation land claim. According to local legend, Marquam purchased the land claim from John Donner, whose brother, George, was a member of the ill-fated Donner Party.[2]

Philip A. Marquam (1823-1912)

Philip Marquam was one of the early lawyers in Portland, which had a population of about 1,000 citizens at the time. Within two years he met and married Emma Kern. The couple raised 11 children, four sons and seven daughters. Many of the children grew up and made important social contributions throughout the Northwest, as far north as Fairbanks, Alaska.

After many years of purchasing different parcels of land, Philip Marquam became the largest land owner in Portland. Besides the southwest hills, where OHSU now stands, he owned property in the heart of downtown. He developed opera houses, eight-story buildings (which bore the family name) and other landmarks.

He served as a delegate in the Oregon House of Representatives in Salem, registering as a Republican. In business circles he gained a reputation as a transportation advocate and real estate developer. He urged his fellow delegates to build bridges to replace ferries across the Willamette River, thereby joining the two sides of Portland. The Marquam Bridge, which became US Interstate 5 across the Willamette (1964), was named in his honor.[3]

The Marquam Bridge construction photo 1964

The Marquam Nature Park

Marquam Nature Park is one of Portland’s most used recreational areas. Comprised of over 200 acres of undeveloped land, it is the third largest park in the city. With over seven miles of trails, the park provided an excellent hiking and running opportunities, with forested scenic views and gorgeous vistas of the region. The Marquam Nature Park is part of the larger 40-mile “Trail” portion of the 4-T Loop. The other three T’s are for train, tram, trolley, which traverse the metropolitan area in all directions.

The nature park concept was conceived in the 1970’s as a way to forestall potential development of urban woodlands. The Marquam Hill acres were among the first to be set aside through activism. Three brave neighbors – Barbara Walker, Elizabeth Crookham, and Nadia Munk – pooled their resources, collected contributions, sought grants and bought the property for the first phase of the park. The trio placed their acres in a land conservancy. In 1983 the nature park conservancy donated the Marquam Nature Park to the City of Portland.

Father and son hiking the Marquam Nature Park trails, photo by Greg Vaughn



[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Augustus_Marquam

[2] The hill was part of a 300-acre (1.2 km2donation land claim Marquam purchased for $2,500 in 1857 from John Donner, brother of George Donner of the ill-fated Donner Party. The Donner party is notorious for the cannibalism of members who died in the Sierras during a snow storm and starvation. The hill is now the site of the Oregon Health & Science University and the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

[3] Marquam was instrumental in the formation of the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company in 1887.