“What population(s) originally lived in St. Johns, and are those communities suffering now as a result of gentrification?” —Leah Drew
That’s the winning question from our latest PDXplained voting round. Here’s what we learned, starting from the very beginning:
The area now known as St. Johns was originally inhabited by members of the Chinook tribe, which had villages up and down the Columbia River basin before American settlers arrived and committed the original act of gentrification.
It wasn’t until the early 1900s that St. Johns started becoming the town we know today.
Thanks to a new rail line connecting Portland to St. Johns, major businesses like Portland Woolen Mills and St. Johns Lumber Co. either opened or relocated there, creating industrial jobs and attracting a blue-collar workforce to the peninsula.
St. Johns has held onto its industrial identity better than other parts of Portland (the 108-year-old dive bar Slim’s is just one example), but there are plenty of signs of gentrification downtown, from new apartment buildings to high-end coffee shops.
Anxiety about change in the neighborhood bubbled up publicly last month at a community meeting about a proposed tiny home village for homeless neighbors.
Despite the success of a similar tiny home village in neighboring Kenton, many long-time St. Johns residents (most of them white, we’re told) packed into the room to protest.
The backlash had echoes to another dark moment in St. Johns history, when residents assaulted a group of East-Indian immigrants who’d come to work in the town’s lumber mills.
And it’s also home to one of Oregon’s most diverse high schools, Roosevelt High, where 73 percent of students are non-white and more than 20 languages are spoken in the halls.