James John made his way to Oregon from Missouri in the early 1840s. Initially, John settled in Linnton, but he moved across the river to the area that is named in his honor a few years later. He operated a ferry between St. Johns and Linnton in the 1850s. John platted a portion of his land in 1865 and named it St. Johns on the Willamette; a post office opened in 1873 to serve the small collection of residents in this sleepy town with little industry. When John passed away in 1886, he requested that all his possessions be sold and used to pay for his burial and the construction of a school in the town.
In the 1890s steam-driven passenger trains began serving St. Johns, connecting with the Portland and Vancouver Railway. Gradually industry moves to St. Johns–Portland Woolen Mills, The Jobes Flour Mill, Portland Manufacturing Company's Veneer and Basket Factory, and the Excelsior Mill and Drydock to name a few. Telegraph operator Charles A. Cook became the town's first mayor in 1903.
Early life in the town of St. Johns was not without tensions; dancehalls and saloons were discouraged from doing business in St. Johns through restrictive tax measures and refusal to approve licenses. Construction of the city hall building in 1907, which is still standing and currently used by the Portland Police Bureau, was rife with contractor and architect drama. Residents of St. Johns and Portland voted in favor of Portland annexing St. Johns in the spring of 1915.
A bridge across the Willamette between Linnton and St. Johns was proposed to replace the ferry system that was carrying 1,000 vehicles a day at its peak in the mid-1920s. The iconic St. Johns Bridge was designed in 1928 by David Steinman; it was the most significant and most significant suspension bridge in the state when it opened in 1931. Built during the early years of the Great Depression, the project provided many residents with jobs. The bridge was not thoroughly overhauled and renovated to withstand the increase in vehicle weight, and wear and tear from volumes of vehicles until over 70 years after its opening. The rehabilitation took a little over two years to complete, and the bridge was rededicated in 2006.
St. Johns is the northernmost neighborhood in Portland with easy access to west side neighborhoods and downtown via Highway 30 across the St. Johns Bridge.
There are three pre-schools in the neighborhood: Magnolia Blossom, Montessori House, and Meadow Day. Two elementary schools are within the neighborhood boundaries: Sitton Elementary in the northwestern corner, and James John Elementary in the center. George Middle School is on the northern edge, near Columbia Boulevard, and Roosevelt High School is on the eastern side of the neighborhood.
Points of Interest
Cathedral Park at the base of the St. Johns Bridge is the pride of the neighborhood. At 23-acres the park boasts a boat launch, off-leash dog areas, large grassy fields for picnics and playing games, picnic tables, a stage, views of the Willamette and a stunning perspective of the Gothic Cathedral-inspired suspension bridge. The city acquired the land for the park in 1968 at the urging of Howard Galbraith, the honorary mayor of St. Johns. Galbraith convinced the city to clean up the junkyard sites at the base of the bridge and create a park for the community on this important historical site known as a fishing location for Indian tribes, a landing site along the itinerary of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and the settlement of St. Johns founder James John.
Pier Park is a sprawling 87-acre site in the northwestern corner of St. Johns. Named for Stanhope S. Pier, Portland city commissioner in the 1920s, who proposed the construction of a park, similar to Laurelhurst Park, on the site. Boasting a robust skate park, a disc golf course, soccer, baseball and softball fields, picnic areas, a tennis court, a splash pad, and walking paths meandering through mature trees, the park delivered on its goal to rival one of the city's most prestigious parks.
Adjacent to Pier Park is a dream of a park for dog owners! Chimney Park was once the location of an incineration facility, hence the name Chimney, and now it is a sprawling 18 acres with fencing so dogs can roam off-leash.
St. Johns can keep you busy from the moment you wake up until you're ready to lay back down. Start your morning with a freshly boiled bagel from Bernstein's Bagels and dart across the bridge for a quick hike in the less-congested side of Forest Park. If you want to indulge in a cup of locally roasted coffee and peruse the paper, visit St. Johns Coffee Roasters.
The central business district runs along N Lombard and N Ivanhoe streets between N Richmond and N New York Avenues. This area has the highest concentration of retail shops including second-hand clothes, accessories and home goods, specialty olive oils, new and vintage cameras, comic books, and shoes. If you need sustenance you can stop along this stretch of N Lombard for vegan BBQ at Homegrown Smoker, or vegan Indian Food at The Sudra, old-school tacos at Tienda Santa Cruz, or rustic Italian fare at Wood-Fired Eats.
There is no shortage of watering holes here either. Start with the oldest dive bar on the strip, 107-year old Slim's Restaurant and Lounge for solid bar food and a cheap drink. Wandering in the center of St. Johns you can also experience a mini-brewery tour by visiting Royale Brewing's taproom, The Garrison, or the newcomer to the neighborhood, Stormbreaker, before walking down the slope towards the river on N Baltimore Ave for a stop at Occidental Brewing. If it's entertainment you're after, catch a show at the Fixin' Too, a honky tonk bar and music venue, or see a movie at one of the neighborhoods two independent theaters, St. Johns Twin Cinemas, or McMenamin's St. Johns Theater & Pub.
Head east along N Lombard Street to check out the all-in-one stop, St. Johns Marketplace and Food Pod. Here you can buy farm fresh produce and plant starts from nearby Sauvie Island's Kreuger Farms stand, get a bite to eat from one of their eclectic mix of food carts, or grab a beer from The Beer Porches tap stand featuring Northwest brews. If you get a craving for handmade pasta on your way to the farm stand, stop off at Gabagool, a food cart turned brick and mortar passion project from two east coast guys who fell in love with Portland.
Get your nature fix without leaving the neighborhood by visiting the Smith & Bybee Natural Wetlands Area where you can walk the trail between Smith and Bybee lakes or, take your kayak and paddle around. If you decide to visit, be sure to bring your binoculars for better bird watching!