PDXplained: Why Portland is called Stumptown

What’s in a name? Or rather, what goes into the making of a name? 

Portland has earned its fair share of nicknames over the years, from the City of Roses to Bridge City to Rip City. 

But one of the earliest iterations comes from the area’s early days in the logging industry: Stumptown — long before it was associated with a delicious cold brew or a cancelled television show. 

So what’s the story behind this? Well … we did a little digging and have some answers for you to share at your upcoming Zoom Thanksgiving. 

We reached out to the Oregon Historical Society, and what follows is our interview with Portland State University Historian and Professor Carl Abbott, edited for length and clarity.

Bridgeliner: What is the story behind Portland being referred to as Stumptown (among other nicknames)?

Abbott: Portland got the Stumptown moniker in the 1850s because much of the site was originally forested. It is a lot easier to clear trees for firewood and building material than to grub up stumps, so some of them got left in the streets. They would have been inconveniences to people on foot, or horseback or driving a wagon, but not especially dangerous (nobody was zipping down the street at 40 to 50 mph). 

Bridgeliner: Most of Oregon was and is known for its logging industry — why did Portland earn the Stumptown moniker?

Abbott: Because Portland was pushing to be Oregon’s major city from early on, and streets full of stumps didn’t fit the image of an important city. It was a way for visitors or rivals to poke fun at its ambitions.

Bridgeliner: Before colonization, what did logging or forest-clearing practices look like for Indigenous People who lived in the area?

Abbott: Indigenous peoples used trees one or two or three at a time, turning them into canoes, planks for the walls and roofs of longhouses, tools, and the like. The process was laborious enough that the Chinookian people of the lower Columbia River would sometimes take planks from their winter longhouse and carry them a good distance to put up shelters at summer camps where they fished and gathered other food like berries and camas roots.

Bridgeliner: Apart from Stumptown, Portland has a wide variety of nicknames from Rose City, Bridge City, Rip City, etc. — what about this city seems to attract different nicknames? 

Abbott: Lots of cities have nicknames. Rose City was a very conscious creation at the beginning of the 20th century when the city started the Rose Festival and wanted to show off its refinement as a cultured place to live. Rip City came out of the mouth of Trail Blazers announcer Bill Schonley, I think during their championship season. I don’t think that Stumptown was used all that much for most of the city’s history, but has more recently been used more often because of its quirkiness (Stumptown Coffee) as a sort of counter to hipster pretentiousness. 

Many thanks to Carl for sharing the story of Stumptown with us. To learn more about Oregon’s history, visit the Oregon Historical Society

Thank you to our Bridgeliner Unabridged members — this original content is made possible by your membership and support.